Product Reviews

Citrix Fine-Tunes a Winning Formula

MetaFrame suite is all you need for terminal services.

For years, Citrix had features and performance that Windows’ Terminal Services couldn’t match. But Windows Server 2003 Terminal Services now offers many of these Citrix MetaFrame features, including: Load-balanced Terminal Services farms, map-backs of client hard drives, support of serial ports, sound and so on.

Citrix’ new MetaFrame Access Suite, which includes MetaFrame XP Presentation Server for Windows Feature Release 3 (FR3), MetaFrame Conferencing Manager 2.0, MetaFrame Password Manager 2.0 and MetaFrame Secure Access Manager 2.0, gives companies serious reasons to consider—or continue working with—the MetaFrame line.

[Last month, Citrix revamped its Secure Access Manager, now at version 2.2. It can now integrate intranets, Web pages and portals into its MetaFrame access infrastructure and secure it all via SSL.—Ed.]

Presentation Server is the core product in the Access Suite, and FR3 offers several interesting new features. Optional integration with Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) provides more comprehensive and centralized monitoring of terminal servers. A new Tablet PC-compatible ICA client for Windows, ICA clients for Java and Mac OS X, and native support for Windows 2003 all help make FR3 a compelling upgrade for existing MetaFrame users.

FR3 also includes improvements to MetaFrame’s graphics-handling routines, providing snappier response and smoother displays. Universal printing is a welcome addition and, frankly, a reason all by itself to consider MetaFrame if you’re currently not using it: Universal printing provides a single print driver for color and high-resolution printing, allowing clients to print to their locally-attached printer without installing every printer driver known to mankind on your terminal servers.

Presentation Server comes in three flavors. The Standard Edition is the base product and includes most of the features a smaller business would need. The Advanced Edition adds load balancing, allowing you to create terminal server farms. The Enterprise Edition adds additional administrative and management features, including a resource manager, installation manager, the management pack for MOM and more.

Also note that Presentation Server is available for Unix, allowing you to turn Solaris, HP-UX and AIX servers into terminal servers. Presentation Server for Unix supports the same broad range of ICA clients, including Win32, Unix, Java and Mac OS X.

But there’s more to the Access Suite than just Presentation Server’s terminal services enhancements.

MetaFrame Conferencing Manager 2.0 allows multiple users to simultaneously use the same terminal session for application sharing. This is a subtle, powerful feature for companies that have distributed teams who want to work together. Rather than using teleconferencing protocols (and the accompanying complex firewall issues), everyone simply shares a remote terminal session. It’s faster and more efficient than most application-sharing schemes (such as Microsoft LiveMeeting or Interwise), easy to set up and intuitive to use.

MetaFrame Secure Access Manager 2.0 adds on to Presentation Server and provides single sign-on, over-the-Web access to enterprise resources (see Figure 1). Secure Access Manager provides connection encryption to maintain privacy and doesn’t require a complex VPN infrastructure.

Citrix' MetaFrame Secure Access Manager
Figure 1. The MetaFrame Secure Access Manager provides secure, single-point access to any enterprise resource via the Web. (Click image to view larger version.)

MetaFrame Password Manager 2.0 integrates with Presentation Server and Secure Access Manager to provide password security and single sign-on to Windows applications, Web applications and even host-based applications running in the terminal server environment.

If your organization needs to deploy complex applications to remote users, then the Access Suite can certainly help. By running legacy applications, host emulators, and other solutions on a MetaFrame server, you can provide remote access to users without having to modify those applications. That’s actually the whole point of Windows Terminal Services. But MetaFrame adds capabilities like Web-based remote access, which Terminal Services doesn’t provide out of the box. Even Microsoft’s Web-based Remote Desktop Connection client is just an ActiveX version of the regular RDC client; it doesn’t tunnel traffic over HTTP or provide a significantly different experience. Meta-Frame opens up Terminal Services to Unix users as well as to any platform capable of running Java. Microsoft Terminal Services only supports Windows and Mac clients out of the box.

Where the Access Suite becomes compelling, however, isn’t necessarily broader client support or even Web-based remote access; many organizations can live without those features and rely solely on Windows’ built-in Terminal Services. The Access Suite’s ability to centralize password management makes it possible for users in your organization to work entirely remotely, never establishing a VPN to your network and relying solely on their MetaFrame session.

Secure Access Manager makes their sessions completely secure, providing encrypted access even to legacy applications that would otherwise require more complex VPN solutions to support remote users. In many ways, you can think of the Access Suite as providing a more full-featured, mature, and enterprise-ready solution than Microsoft gives you out of the box. Sure, you can get by on Terminal Services, but the Access Suite’s additional features and capabilities result in a professional, more secure, and more flexible overall solution.

About the Author

Don Jones is a multiple-year recipient of Microsoft’s MVP Award, and is an Author/Evangelist for video training company Pluralsight. Don is also a co-founder and President of PowerShell.org, a community dedicated to Microsoft’s Windows PowerShell technology. Don has more than two decades of experience in the IT industry, and specializes in the Microsoft business technology platform. He’s the author of more than 50 technology books, an accomplished IT journalist, and a sought-after speaker and instructor at conferences worldwide. Reach Don on Twitter at @concentratedDon, or on Facebook at Facebook.com/ConcentratedDon.

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