Archive for March, 2009

Windows Terminal Server 2003 and Citrix XenApp: An Overview Comparison

March 22, 2009

 

In the last few weeks I’ve met with a couple different clients that use Windows Terminal Server to provide applications to their end users.  While their environments worked pretty well and were very cost effective, they still have some pretty common problems.  Performance was usually an issue depending on how many people were connected and what apps they were using.  Servers often had to be rebooted affecting all the users with connected sessions.  The conversation of whether to move to Citrix XenApp and why often comes up so I thought I’d put together a high level summary of some of the performance and end-user experience benefits of using Citrix over Terminal Server 2003.

First let’s start with Overall Performance.  Terminal Server is great for smaller environments and smaller numbers of users but if you have multiple servers that need to be clustered and support larger numbers of concurrent users XenApp wins hands down.  Here’s why:

          Virtual Memory Optimization:  XenApp performs DLL rebasing for application to reduce memory conflicts.  This improves your application performance and can enable a single server to support more concurrent users.

          Session Sharing:  Apps launched by a user automatically share the underlying terminal services session which gives you better server utilization.

          Universal Print Driver:  Reduces bandwidth and memory use and increases print times.  Advanced print options are also added.

          Session Bandwidth Tuning:  Enable the ability to fine tune a users experience.  This can be very effective when dealing with low-bandwidth challenges.

Application Response is the 2nd big advantage to using a XenApp solution.  Some of the advantages include:

          SpeedScreen:  Improves the performance of multi-media content and delivers synchronized audio and video to the client.  It also improves the web surfing experience with pages that contain Flash content.

          Session Reliability:  XenApp can keep sessions visible even when the network connection is lost.  This can be important especially if you’re using wireless for some of your endpoint devices.

          Smart-Card Support:  Auto-detect for apps that are smart-card enabled.

          Content Redirection:  Application can be automatically redirected to a local browser for better performance. 

          Native Multi-Monitor support

          Pass-thru authentication for Terminal Services sessions

Finally, Mobility is yet another advantage that XenApp has over standard Terminal Services.  These include:

          SmoothRoaming:  Allows users to move between different devices and maintain their sessions.  Support for SmartCards is also provided.

          Dynamic Display Reconfiguration:  XenApp automatically adjusts the session to the existing display which is usefully if users are moving between heterogeneous endpoint configurations.

 

These are just some of the advantages a Citrix XenApp environment can provide.  There are many more reasons to consider moving to a Citrix XenApp solution including advanced configuration options, compatibility, management, security and scalability.  So if you are currently using terminal services as a solution or considering it you should really look in to what Citrix has to offer and how it can provide an excellent ROI for your company.

Ubuntu and VDI

March 12, 2009

Earlier this week I decide to nuke the Windows XP OS on one of my old desktops I had laying around the house.  As with most Windows desktops it had become slower and slower and had more and more problems.  So instead of doing the annual “wipe it clean and start over” routine with Windows XP I decide to install the Linux based Ubuntu 8.10.  Let me just preface this by stating I am not a Linux guy.  I know enough to run some commands, mostly around administering VMware ESX. 

About the PC

Let’s see how can I put this gently …… this thing’s a total turd!  It’s an old Dell Dimension 4100 that I’ve had since the 90’s.  It used to be white but now it’s more of a sun faded nasty yellow.  It has a 36GB hard drive, 768MB of RAM and a wireless PCI card…..try to control your excitement. 

Installation

Download the Ubuntu software from the web, burn a CD and you’re off to the races.  Everything is GUI based so CLI-challenged individuals like myself can actually accomplish something.  Installation was actually easier and faster than installing Windows and boot time was cut in half or better (1 minute 45 seconds cold boot time).   Now if you love Microsoft Office and will only use Office and never consider using something like Sun OpenOffice…..this Utunbu thing is probably not for you.  Really I only ever use the PC for surfing the Web or connecting to web-based apps so it’s perfect and best of all its completely free…..yeah no Microsoft Licensing to deal with (bummer!).  You’ve got Firefox as a web browser and you’re good to go. 

Thin Client computing….

So I started thinking that this would make a decent semi-thin client for VDI.  I constantly run across clients with old desktop PC’s that are faced with whether to replace them or implement a VDI solution like Citrix or VMware and get a little more mileage out of the existing hardware.  I remembered reading something recently about the VMware View Open Client that was just released so I downloaded it and installed it.  In less than 3 minutes I was connected to our VMware test lab across the internet and everything worked perfect.  It also has a client to connect to Terminal Services so I could connect to our Terminal server at work if I needed to.

So if you need a very cheap way to connect to Terminal Services, Citrix or VMware View this is something to consider.

You can download the VMware View Open Client here: 

http://linux.softpedia.com/progDownload/VMware-View-Open-Client-Download-45094.html

WYSE Thin Clients in Your Environment

March 8, 2009

As VDI is used more and more across the enterprise, the use of thin clients becomes an obvious choice when it comes time to replace client hardware.  Some of the advantages to going the thin client route are:

          Cost – Thin clients are usually half the cost or less of a standard PC.  Prices can range from $200 to $500 generally.  Thin clients also need much less maintenance and support which is a huge cost for any company.

          Footprint – Thin clients take up a fraction of the physical footprint of a PC but more importantly they have a fraction of the carbon-footprint.  These devices usually draw around 10W of power compared to 80W+ of a PC.  If your company has hundreds or thousands of desktops this can mean significant savings on your power bill.

          Longer Refresh Cycles – because thin clients have no moving parts they don’t need to be replaced as often.  Where we see typical refresh cycles on desktops and laptops of 3 to 5 years, thin clients can go twice as long.  This also translated in to big savings for companies with a large desktop infrastructure.

There are many different manufactures for thin clients but perhaps the largest and most popular is WYSE.  WYSE makes a wide range of thin client devices from the most basic all the way up to a thin laptop client.  They also develop software specifically in this space such as their TCX Multimedia and multi-display capabilities. 

There are several “OS” choices to consider when you are looking in to thin clients for your environment.  You have 4 choices from WYSE:

          WYSE Thin OS – The simplest and lightest weight of the 4.  This is perfect for your most basic client needs.  It supports ICA and RDP protocols and is very inexpensive.  Examples:  S10, V10L

          Windows CE – The mid-range client OS which adds a local IE client and support USB CD-ROMs, ZIP drives and Smart Cards.

          Linux v6 – A full function scalable OS with a local copy of Firefox and Java.  It is fully customizable and supports all the functionality you would probably need.

          Windows XPe – The most robust of the 4.  Essentially a thinned down version of Windows XP.  Enables the ability to run local applications including video and Java.

I recently sat through a presentation from Citrix and WYSE demonstrating their latest and greatest and was very impressed.  If you are considering implementing a VDI solution for your business you should definitely check out their product line.  In most cases WYSE will give you free demo product to try-out for yourself.  www.wyse.com

XenServer Backups

March 1, 2009

We have seen Citrix XenServer becoming more and more popular as an enterprise level virtualization platform lately.  The question often comes up, “What is the recommended way to do backups of our XenServer environment?”   With virtualization platforms like VMware that have been around for several years now there are plenty of vendor based and 3rd party tools like VCB, Vizioncore vRanger Pro and Veeam to help you with backups.  XenServer and Hyper-V are relatively new to the game and don’t have as many options (yet).  After doing some research and talking with our Citrix resources I figured I’d put together some of the highlights of XenServer backups and a few links.

          Backup Agents:  Treat your VM’s like you would any physical server.  Install your backup agents such as Backup Exec, NetBackup or whatever it is you use and then backup normally.

          Storage Level Snapshots:  Leverage this technology whenever possible to provide point-in-time backups of your VM’s.

          3rd Party Vendors:  Check out 3rd party tools such as InMage DR-Scout to help re-evaluate your backup strategies.  http://www.inmage.net/dr-scout.html

For more technical/detailed instructions on backing up XenServer check out this great link from the XenSource.com site:  http://docs.xensource.com/XenServer/4.0.1/installation/apbs04.html