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GIS Software Guide: Accessing GIS Software Remotely on a PC

This guide provides information on how to access and use GIS software. Much of this information is about licensed products, therefore it is geared towards current affiliates of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Virtual Computing Resources

The Virtual Lab is managed by ITS and provides UNC at Chapel Hill affiliates to software that is normally only available in computer labs and libraries. All applications available through the virtual lab are free to use.

The Virtual Computer Lab (VCL) provides UNC at Chapel Hill affiliates with access to software and hardware that may be difficult to install on their personal machines. The VCL is managed by ITS Research Computing and users can find their FAQ page here.

The Davis Library Research Hub offers two connection options through the VCL. Most users will want to use the "DAVIS LIBRARY RESEARCH HUB Esri Microsoft 2022 (Full Blade)" option, which provides access to ArcMap, ArcCatalogue, ArcScene, ArcGIS Pro, Jupyter Notebook, and the Microsoft Suite. The "Business Analyst" build allows users to access ArcMap for geocoding addresses using locally stored data or for conducting network analysis with an unlimited number of features. For help or questions about the Business Analyst option, please contact our GIS Librarian.

Accessing ArcGIS Pro on The Virtual Lab

Connecting to the Virtual Lab

  1.  Navigate to https://virtuallab.unc.edu and login using your onyen.
  2. Choose an authentication method and accept the UNC-CH Security Message
  3. Install the software needed to run the virtual lab: click "Detect Receiver" to see if the software needed to run the virtual lab is already installed. If the software is installed, it will automatically detect it and load the virtual lab main page.
    1. If the software is not installed, click the "I agree" checkbox and then the "Download" button.
    2. Install the Citrix Workspace Application that you just downloaded. The installation should take no more than 2 minutes.  It may prompt you to restart following installation of the application. Note: There is an option to "Enable app protection", which if checked disallows taking screenshot. If you choose to enable app protection, you will have to uninstall and reinstall the application in order to disable app protection. 
    3. Once installed, click the "Continue" button to proceed.
    4. Click the button to open the Citrix Workspace Launcher and check "Always allow virtuallab.unc.edu to open links of this type in the associated app."
  4. Once on the virtual lab main page, click on the "Apps" icon at the very top.
  5. Click on the ArcGIS Pro icon (second icon from the top) to launch ArcGIS Pro.
  6. Under "ITSTL-AVD-Prod" click on the desktop icon and then login with your onyen.
  7. You will be connected to the virtual lab app. Access the start window as you normally would to access Microsoft and Esri applications.

Accessing ArcGIS Pro on the VCL

Before You Connect

Setting Preferences

Before connecting to the VCL, users should set their user preferences so that the remote desktop opens as a full screen window.

  1. Go to the following link and log in using your onyen: https://vcl.unc.edu/.
  2. After you login, select "User Preferences" in the left-hand panel.
  3. Select the "RDP Preferences"
  4. In the first dropdown menu, titled "Resolution", select "Full Screen".

If you follow these instructions and the VCL Image still opens smaller than full screen, you should also set your local remote desktop settings to allow full screen displays. To do this, go to the Remote Desktop app on your computer and show Options > Then under the display tab change display configuration to large and potentially use all my monitors for the remote session.

Schedule a reservation

  1. Go to the following link and log in using your onyen: https://vcl.unc.edu/
  2. After you log in, select the “Reservations” option on the left-hand panel.
  3. Select “New Reservation”, then select either “DAVIS LIBRARY RESEARCH HUB Esri Microsoft 2022 (Full Blade)” or "Business Analyst" in the drop-down menu. The description should say “Full blade Windows 10 with Microsoft Office, ArcMap, and ArcGIS Pro” or "Business Analyst Data", respectively.
  4. Schedule a reservation for the time needed.
  5. Click “Create Reservation”.
  6. The “Current Reservations” screen will display.
  7. In order to connect to the VCL, you must first connect to UNC’s VPN (Virtual Private Network). While you are waiting on your reservation, connect to UNC’s VPN (instructions).

After connecting to the VPN and your VCL reservation is available, you are ready to start using the VCL.

Connecting to the VCL

  1. When the reservation is available, click “Connect!” A screen will display that provides the IP address of the Remote Computer, the UserID (your onyen), and a Password, specific to the VCL reservation. The screen has a Get RDP File button. Note that the password for the VCL reservation is not the same as your onyen password. Copy the password provided and click “Get RDP File”.
  2. The Remote Desktop Connection will launch. Click Connect.
  3. Paste the password you copied in step 1 then click "OK".
  4. A message will display warning that the identity of the remote computer cannot be verified, asking if you want to connect anyway. Click Yes.
  5. You will be connected to the VCL Image. Access the start window as you normally would to access Microsoft and Esri applications.

Please note: The VCL is a remote computer, so whatever work you create on the computer will need to be saved elsewhere. Please see the section on "Saving Your Work on Virtual Computing Resources" for important information about saving your work.

Ending your Session

  1. Be sure to save your work to OneDrive or another network drive.
  2. Close all programs.
  3. Click the start button in the bottom left corner of the screen, then the power icon. Finally, click “Disconnect”, at which point your page will close.

Saving Your Work on Virtual Computing Resources

It is not recommended to save your data on either the virtual lab machine or the VCL, as the data does not persist/is periodically deleted. Instead, ITS recommends using OneDrive for the Virtual Lab. See the ITS page for more information and specific recommendations. For the VCL, we recommend using OneDrive, another form of network storage, or saving their files to their personal machine. 

Unfortunately, accessing files directly from OneDrive with ArcGIS Pro is not supported by ESRI and can cause errors that include lost data, corrupted files and projects, and other errors (see ESRI’s official statement on using ArcGIS Pro with OneDrive).

Students wanting to use the virtual lab or the VCL to access ArcGIS Pro should save all necessary data and project files in a OneDrive folder, download the folder locally to the virtual lab machine they are using, and then re-upload the folder to OneDrive when they are finished working