Mesh Central

#Linux #Tech #RemoteAssistance

I have tried various remote assistance solutions and so far none had completely met our expecations.

We purchased Zoho Assist because its web-based control centre is ideal for a small team of independent Linux consultants like us, all the while having the features you'd expect from an enterprise-grade product. We were happy to purchase endpoint licence packages for paying customers, and fall back to DWS for less critical systems as well as personal machines.

While I have nothing against Zoho and am supportive of DWS, both solutions have a huge drawback in my opinion: we are relying on a third party to manage traffic to our customers, and we have no control over the data we put on their servers. Not that I believe that they are ill-intentioned, but we have to admit that we are also at the mercy of their technical and business choices: they may decide to suddenly change their pricing structure (this has happened with competing products like Logmein or Teamviewer), or they could change the product, remove features, move them to different tier, etc. and we wouldn't have much of choice, would we?

Having settled on Zoho Assist I was content with our choice and was not really looking for an alternative. That is until I stumbled upon a project called Mesh Central 2 while scouring Reddit, and was immediately seduced.

Mesh Central 2 originates from the team that developed the tools to manage AMT (Active Management Technology), an Intel feature integrated into business PCs equipped with the vPro option. It is the equivalent of the BMC (Baseboard Management Control) module you can find in servers under various names (iDrac for Dell, iLO for HPE, IMM/XCC for IBM/Lenovo). An out-of-band system that allows you to manage the machine at a hardware level, even before the operating system has been loaded. You can thus remotely power on, power off, enter the BIOS menu, etc. without user intervention.

Mesh Central expands on the AMT hardware remote features and adds remote access to Windows, Linux (Intel and ARM), BSD (Intel) and MacOSX desktops, all this from an easily self-hosted web dashboard running on Node.js.

And it works wonderfully.

My only (minor) gripe is that it is not visually appealing (the interface feels a bit dated), but since it is Open Source, under an Apache 2.0 licence and available on GitHub, it is customisable (a few tweaks to the CSS can make a huge difference) and allows for easy branding.

Do not be put off by its “beta” status: it is fully functional and the amount of enterprise features is astounding. There are so many configuration options that its documentation is not even close to listing all of them, but the main developers are very reactive on Reddit and Github and will answer users' questions rather quickly.

I was able to quickly put in place a working solution with Active Directory authentication, ACLs, FIDO U2F and TOTP, and deployed agents to a few dozen client systems (desktops and servers running Windows and Linux).

I think we have a winner here: a product that is functional, enterprise-ready, open source, free as in speech, free as in beer, backed by a heavy-weight corporate sponsor (meaning that they are not desperate for funding) and that is very active on GitHub.

And even though the main developer is based in the Intel offices of Hillsboro, Oregon, when watching his tutorial videos I was able to recognise what I believe is a hint of a Québec accent: Yay ! un compère francophone du Canada ! :)

I don't know why I had not heard of Mesh Central 2 before but I am definitely a convert! I think that comes autumn we will not be renewing our Zoho Assist licences…