Alternatives to Citrix Presentation Server (Part 3)

by [Published on 25 July 2007 / Last Updated on 25 July 2007]

Taking a look at Genuit Thinworx and Provision Networks VAS, and recommendations on where to find more information.

If you would like to read the other articles in this series please go to:

Introduction

This is the last article in the series about Citrix Alternatives. First we will describe the last two products Thinworx and Virtual Access Suite will be described, followed by the conclusion and recommendations for more detailed information.

Genuit Thinworx

Thinworx is one of the newer players on the market. The manufacturer Genuit is based in Canada. This description is based on version 2.8, but version 3.0 will be released soon (or even may be released).

Thinworx's central point is the Controller. In version 2.8 this part is a Single Point of Failure, but in version 3.0 they have a solution built-in. Other components are the Application Servers (Terminal Servers), a portal component and the Ad Server component. This Ad Server is pretty exceptional. This component can show advertisements in the portal, can be useful for ASP, but will not be used much internally. At least one server should host the role Domain Agent, which handles the communication with Active Directory.

The first time you start the administrator console you need to specify the controller computer and the communication port. Like most consoles you need to get used to the console. The options on the left will open on a new tab in the right pane, but you get used to it pretty quickly. For communication, the standard username “sa” is used. Remember that this account is used on every application server for connection with the controller if you want to change the password.

Configuration of Thinworx is pretty easy, because only the most used features are available. Do not forget to add the portal server and the gateway, otherwise clients cannot connect to the applications. Thinworx only supports Published Applications. When creating a Published Application you can specify the amount of licenses available for that particular application. Load Balancing exists with three counters (CPU usage, Memory usage and Server Priority) which can be combined and given a weight value. Monitoring is very basic in Thinworx, but Genuit offers some nice reports.

The only way to connect to the published applications is by using the Thinworx portal. It’s a pity that you still need to install a client where administrative rights are needed. The client part has some wonderful options. Examples are session management (users can see which applications they have open on other workstations or disconnected sessions can reconnect those), termination of the application by the user, shadow management where users can shadow each other. Unfortunately, Thinworx does not support Full Seamless Windows, when you minimize the application a grey screen will be displayed. Also Thinworx does not support session sharing.

Advantages:

  • Web-based SSL connections possibilities;
  • Advanced options for end user like terminating their own sessions and shadowing options;
  • Report functions with ability to store reports in PDF format.

Disadvantages:

  • Single Point of Failure via the Thinworx Controller;
  • No 100% Seamless Application Publishing (and without session sharing);
  • Some options rely on the RDP protocol and cannot be configured using the Thinworx manager.

Provision Networks VAS

Provision Networks is one of the younger players in the market, but are already experienced because they are a spin-off of Emergent Online Thinessentials tools. Provision extended these products with their own full SBC product previously known as Framework Enterprise. From April 2007 they combined this product with their VDI software solution and called it Virtual Access Suite.

With the integration of both products the VAS suite also has a central point called the Broker (this term is out of the VDI market). This broker is connected to all other components like the VMware Virtual Center machine and the Terminal Servers. The installation is amde up of one single MSI where you can select which options you would like to install. Provision Networks has included within their product the most features to manage the environment. For example they have a hybrid profile solution, printing solution, UBS support, Redirection support, Desktop Management, Virtual IP, Application restrictions, CPU/Memory optimization and more. Some of these components need to be stored separately on a server, so you should consider where you want to store all these components.

After the first installation you should create the database. With the 5.8 release, management is organized into one console, including your VDI and/or Blade PC infrastructure. Although this VDI/Blade PC part is pretty impressive, within this article I will focus on the Terminal Server part. The new console is easy to use. The VAS suite supports Published Desktops, Published Content and Published Applications. Provision also has a very good implementation of seamless windows. They are definitely in the top for this feature.

Also the Load Balancing feature contains the most used evaluators including user load support. You can configure the load weight of each counter and also specify that a combination or one counter can create a full load on the server. As already described, VAS has many features, so these cannot described in full detail in this article. I will pick out some options briefly. For example you can configure your application restrictions based on access hours and group rights, configure time zones based on client or user/group level, configuration of the desktop with drive mapping, printer mappings, registry settings, wallpaper settings and so on. VAS also has host access restrictions, so you deny access to machines out of the Terminal Server environment based on the client within the VAS suite.

These clients can be made up of user, group, device TCP IP addresses or device name. These clients should be added into the console before they can be used for assignment (no direct Active Directory connection). It is a pity that the suite does not have any reporting possibilities, but Provision is working on that feature. Like most other products VAS has Portal and Secure Access solutions included.

The latest release of VAS has a client available for the Windows, Linux and Windows CE platform. The Windows client has desktop integration, so you can configure it in a way that applications automatically appear in the Start menu or on the desktop.

Advantages:

  • VAS includes the biggest set of available features;
  • Besides a Terminal Server product you get with the same product (for the same price) a complete VDI/Blade PC software solution;
  • Very good seamless implementation.

Disadvantages:

  • No reporting functionality;
  • Active Directory objects should be added to the product, before resources can be assigned to them;
  • Because of all features installation of the component should be considered thoroughly.

Are there more out there?

After three articles all available products have been described and discussed. Not really actually. There are still more, but even I have overlooked some of the available products. For example, I have also seen a French company with their AppliDis software, which offers SBC technology. Also there are other products available that do not use Windows Terminal Services for publishing desktops, content or applications. But from the end user point of view the functionality is the same. GoGlobal is an example of such a product and probably there are more which I have never heard of.

Conclusion

Within this three part article series we have discussed and described the well-known alternatives for Citrix. We mentioned the most outstanding features of each product, how they perform in terms of basic functionality and what is missing in the product. Every product has its advantages and disadvantages. Each product contains the most basic functionalities (all operating at a decent level) and some special features which are not available in other products. The decision of which product you should evaluate/implement depends on the needs and other systems available in your infrastructure. Also check the article Selecting an SBC Product for your Environment or see product reviews on my personal website.

If you would like to read the other articles in this series please go to:

The Author — Wilco van Bragt

Wilco van Bragt avatar

After working for a couple of consulting firms as a senior technical consultant and technical project leader Wilco started his own freelance company VanBragt.Net Consultancy in April 2008. Wilco is certified n Citrix (CCIA, CCEE/CCEA, CCA), Microsoft (MCITP, MCTS, MSCE, MSCA) and Prince2 (Foundation). Wilco is also a RSVP (RES Software Valued Professional), Citrix CTP (Citrix Technology Professional) and a Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional) on RDS.

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