When to use VPN and Remote Desktop (RDP)

Warning message appearing on McGill-owned computers: “Your Windows license will expire soon”. If you see this notification on a computer that you have borrowed from McGill, connect to the McGill VPN to resolve this issue. You may have to reconnect to VPN if the message reappears.


While you are working remotely, VPN and Remote Desktop (RDP) may be required to access some files and systems, but not others. We recommend that you connect to VPN and RDP only when required, to ensure the best possible performance.

What is VPN and RDP?

McGill VPN allows for secure communications over the Internet to McGill's network.

  • It mimics being on the McGill network.
  • You use it to access files and programs on the McGill network that normally require access from on campus.

Remote Desktop (RDP) lets you connect to your Windows work computer through the Internet to access files or tools on your work computer.

  • RDP provides direct access to your machine.
  • You use it for files and programs that require you to be on your McGill computer.

When should you use VPN and RDP?

Expand the menus below for a list of systems and resources that can be accessed without VPN / RDP, and a list of those that may require it.

VPN for Students

At the moment, there is increased demand on VPN connections. To manage the demand on McGill VPN resources, we are employing what is called "split tunneling", which allows us to direct non-McGill internet traffic away from VPN in order to ensure access to everyone who needs it.

Student resources that do NOT require VPN:

You may need to use VPN to access:

  • Internal research equipment
  • Data on McGill servers
  • Specialized lab computers

This may have an impact on your access to resources that you need for your coursework or research. If this is the case please contact the itsupport [at] mcgill.ca (IT Service Desk) by email or phone at (514) 398-3378 to discuss your situation.




VPN and Remote Desktop for Teaching

When setting yourself up for remote teaching:

Teaching resources that do NOT require VPN:

You may need to use VPN and/or RDP to access:

  • Internal research equipment
  • Your computer at the office 
  • Specialized lab computers



VPN and Remote Desktop for Staff and Administrative functions

Note: Some McGill systems and applications can be accessed without RDP or VPN. Using these tools when unnecessary may cause reduced performance of the application and can put undue stress on McGill’s servers and bandwidth.

Staff and Administrative resources that do NOT require VPN:

  • Office 365 (includes MS Teams, Outlook, OneDrive, and additional applications)

You may need to use VPN to access:

You may need to use RDP to access:

  • Your computer at the office
  • Specialized software



When using RDP note:

  • Consider moving local files that comply with the McGill cloud directive to your OneDrive for Business folder so that you do not need to rely on a remote desktop connection throughout the day.
  • When you are finished accessing your McGill computer, it is important to logoff the remote desktop session. Do not choose “Shutdown”. Shutting down your McGill computer will require a manual on-site intervention to power it back up.
  • A remote desktop connection only needs to be launched once. Do not relaunch a second RDP session from your McGill computer to access another system.
  • VPN only needs to be launched once. Do not relaunch VPN after you are connected by RDP to your McGill computer. Any files or resources requiring VPN will recognize the first instance.
  • Banner can be accessed directly (without RDP) once you establish a VPN connection to the following link.
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