Zoho has a wide a range of online software applications, including their Online Office Suite, CRM, Accountancy, Project Management and Business intelligence, to mention just a few.
One of their most popular is Zoho Assist, a web-based remote access tool that is built specifically for IT departments and technical outsourcing businesses.
Does Zoho Assist prove that the cloud is mature enough technology to provide this type of functionality for professional IT people?
- Want to try Zoho Assist? Check out the website here
The model for Zoho Assist isn’t a radical one to anybody who has used another remote access tool.
But, does offer a slightly different approach to connecting the client and guest systems, that may have some advantages.
Once you’ve established an account on the Zoho Assist website, you are provided with a session number and a link that you can email to the user of the machine you wish to access.
This link will download and run a client app at the remote end, though the user is told that this isn’t a permanent install, and it is deleted after the session is closed.
If this is likely to be a connection that you make often, it can be installed, and you can even schedule a connection from the technicians’ web interface.
The technician’s computer can use a web browser to reach out, but Desktop apps are available for Windows, Mac and Linux, mobile apps for iOS and Android, and a browser extension for Chrome. While the client end can be Windows, iOS or Android for a temporary connection, and Windows, Mac, Linux and Raspberry Pi software allows for repeatable unattended access.
Once the right software is running at both ends, and the system’s owner has confirmed access, a windowed version of the remote desktop appears.
We’ll talk about the interface later but say now that it’s mostly self-explanatory in use.
The designers have provided a mechanism that allows the technician to operate the remote computer like they’re sat at it. While also coordinating with the local user through chat, creating annotations, remote printing and performing file management.
It can handle multi-monitor systems, rebooting, wake-on LAN (if you have that plan), bulk deployment of the unattended access installer, session recording and screen sharing.
That last feature is especially neat, as the technician can show the user his screen to show the settings, or whatever, that he has. Or, they can let the remote user try something on a machine that isn’t the one they are using, in a controlled situation.
In the greater scheme of remote access tools, the only major omission appears to be the ability to use VoIP communication, enabling a technician to talk to the user of the computer they’ve taken over.
This feature is in the Enterprise version of the tool, but not in the free or lower cost plans, unfortunately.
Almost irrespective using the desktop app or web interface, the experience is practically identical.
Once a connection with the remote system is established, a scaled version of the remote desktop is presented with two chevron icons overlaying left and right.
The left one provides access to most of the tools and features, while the one on the left opens a chat panel.
On the remote system, a subset of common functions is shown in a panel in the bottom left, allowing the remote user to use chat, swap screens, annotate and end the session.
It’s all very clear and concise, and most users won’t need much in the way of training.
In addition to the primary functions, the web interface where you send the links to initiate a session includes all manner of additional functions regarding the management of remote access at a technician, department and company level.
Here you can administer technicians, review recordings of their work and even rebrand the tool to project a business-specific look.
Here you can also configure integrations, which include all the Zoho products, ZenDesk, ServiceNow, FreshDesk and Jira.
For those with a special software infrastructure, Zoho Assist has a documented API enabling it to be linked with custom software solutions.
And thankfully, given the nature of the product, the web portal provides many security-related settings for those with valid concerns about remote access.
Being able to remotely control a computer from any global internet location isn’t without some risks, though Zoho Assist does attempt to mitigate these perils effectively.
However, it doesn’t go quite as far as some products, like TeamViewer, if you are security obsessed.
For communication between the sessions, Zoho Assist uses industry-standard, SSL and 256-bit AES protocols, protecting against a hacker intercepting the link and acquiring the encryption keys.
Multi-factor authentication is also available to enhance verification, and for those dealing with computer users that aren’t part of the same company, you also can use SMS and time-based OTP as secondary factors of authentication to control precisely the connection parties.
But one of the most important security features is also the simplest; the session consent mechanism. Users must agree to establish the connection and can exit the session, providing them with the control that they might require in some circles.
As part of the overall protection scheme, all the Zoho data centres have 7x24x365 security, are constantly video monitored, require biometric-based two-factor authentication to access and even have, according to Zoho, bullet-resistant walls.
A distributed grid system also provides resilience against localised natural disasters and provides very high levels of availability and user data security.
We must point out first that it does have a ‘Lifetime free plan’ that a single technician can use to access up to 5 unattended computers entirely for free.
It lacks a few features, like the file transfer tool, but is very usable, and for those wanting to explore the full Zoho Assist experience, a 15-day trial is also available.
The other pricing plans for Zoho are mildly confusing, so it is worth understanding the differences between ‘Remote Support’ and ‘Unattended Access’ licenses.
Remote Support comes in Standard, Professional and Enterprise for $10, $15 and $15 per technician per month for those paying monthly. And, if you pay annually, those costs drop to $8, $13 and $21 on average per month.
Standard tier allows two concurrent sessions and the ability to reboot remote machines and reconnect. Professional does all that Remote Support can, and add mobile apps (iOS and Android), two-way screen sharing, can be rebranded, offers advanced reporting and four concurrent sessions.
And, Enterprise boosts that to six concurrent sessions, offers custom domain mapping and voice and video chat.
Where it gets slightly odd is an entirely separate plan called Unattended Access. This plan allows you to remotely access 25 computers for just $10 per month, or $8 if you pay annually. This option has no limits on technicians, comes with rebranding, mobile apps and advanced reporting.
The split in features over these two plans appears to be an attempt to divide customers into two distinct usage types. We’d argue that most users of these tools need the functionality that is in both Remote Access and Unattended Access, and they should be merged.
We’re unconvinced that this split does the product any favours from a sales perspective.
If you are not sure which is the one you need its best to talk to Zoho sales who can talk you through the complicated feature and licencing models and help get you on the version that does all the things you need.
Overall, as remote-control applications go, Zoho Assist is very serviceable, and being so cheap makes it an easier justification for IT senior staff to make.
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