In broad terms, remote access refers to workers being able to access data or resources from a remote location. Traditional remote access solutions used dial-up technologies to allow employees to connect to an office network via telephone networks connecting to remote access servers.
Virtual Private Networking (VPN) has replaced this traditional physical connection between the remote client and the server by creating a secure tunnel over a public network (e.g., the Internet).
The term "remote access," however, still refers to remote users being able to access internal company resources. So, while VPN is the technology for securely connecting two private networks (and can also mean secure connections between two large private networks), remote access VPNs generally refer to individual employees or "clients" connecting to the "host" corporate network.
Beyond just connecting to remote resources, however, remote access solutions may also enable users to control the host computer over the Internet from any location. With "remote desktop" software, you can operate a remote computer as if you were seated in front of it.
Often used interchangeably with: VPNExamples
Microsoft's Remote Desktop Connection client, which allows you to remotely control another computer, is built into Windows XP and later versions of Windows and also available for Mac users. Apple also offers Apple Remote Desktop software for network administrators to manage Mac computers on a network.