Citrix edges VMware, Microsoft in VDI face-off

BYOD adds complexity to hosted VDI implementations

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The Ericom PowerTerm WebConnect (PTWC) product is a gateway system for client devices and hosted VM resources. Both the client devices and hosted VMs are vastly heterogeneous, perhaps in the extreme. There are two likely components, a gateway server that is recommended to be hosted in a DMZ zone behind a firewall, with a single port facing the world -- SSL on Port 443. In turn, the gateway server connects through secondary firewalls to internal host resources that include Ericom's AccessNow Server, Ericom Blaze Server, Terminal Services (if desired) and the cabal of user-configured host resource infrastructure that is built and hosted outside of the scope of Ericom's control.

The result is that PTWC is all about optimizing protocol relationships between hosts and guests, and little to nothing about the security, configuration and image management for VDI host instances. Do that on your own. We did.

Additional Gateway Servers can be defined and joined together. Likewise, additional PTWC servers can be licensed and joined together to form load-balanced and redundant grids for extensibility and high availability purposes, but we did not test this. Hosted VDI VM or application services instances are controlled by infrastructure outside of Ericom's domain, but Ericom can perform LDAP, Active Directory or Novell eDirectory proxy authentication.

Once the server is set and configured, user devices running HTML5 in a web browser, Windows XP+, Linux (many versions), Apple OSX 5+ Intel, iOS, Android, Windows CE/XPe, Win7 Embedded, and Google Chromebook can use the Gateway Server through one of three entries.

The entry points are an Applications Portal web interface; the Application Zone that launches apps or desktop sessions via the RDP or Blaze protocols; or AccessToGo. Java is required for all clients except where ActiveX can be an alternative. The PTWC client software is deployed via the gateway using ActiveX downloaders (default for Windows) or a Java downloader -- so Java must be enabled on the client device. Both Java and ActiveX downloads can be customized.

The Applications Portal serves applications as an app server; clients can choose from a selection of them. We could dish-up Microsoft Office, or a game of Solitaire. Full RDS-like sessions, applications, or Microsoft's AppV (if pre-configured and installed) are supported.

The XRDP protocol allows more recent versions of Linux to become VDI host sessions, too, although Ericom manages PTWC through Microsoft IIS-based resources and Microsoft MMC snap-ins. Windows or Linux VDI host brokered sessions are managed through the DeskView Connect Broker Administration MMC snap-in.

The client device experience was very good, and perhaps the equal of Citrix's Receiver. We tested high-res Windows and Linux sessions, and determined the quality to be very good. Many communications protocol settings are available to tailor which protocol is used for what session to which VDI host. As we don't use modems and 56K lines any more, it was difficult to discern much difference in protocol setting in terms of connection quality. Web services, client and application VDI hosting, also was uniformly strong across our sample devices.

Ericom's PowerTerm WebConnect is a very astute and customizable VDI brokerage system. As such, it doesn't have the low-level integration with Active Directory that VDI-in-a-Box and Horizon View does. We needed to craft images and instances almost wholly outside of what PTWC does.

Henderson is principal researcher for ExtremeLabs, of Bloomington, Ind. He can be reached at kitchen-sink@extremelabs.com. Lars Johnson is a researcher at ExtremeLabs.com.

How We Tested Hosted VDI

We used two networks, a local lab network connected by a GBE switch to HP, Dell, and Lenovo server hosts with a second network in our NOC connected by Comcast Business Broadband. The NOC, and ISP nFrame 70miles away, is an Extreme Networks Gigabit Ethernet-switched network consisting of HP, Dell, and Lenovo hosts along with an iSCSI-based SAN on a Dell/Compellent Series 30 SAN.

We used various client access devices including iPad Mini (iOS 6.4), Blackberry Playbook2, Toshiba Excite 10 Tablet, Lenovo T530 notebooks running LinuxMint 14 and another running Windows 8, both with virtual machines running Oracle VirtualBox 4.2. We also used an HP m140 Mobile Thin Client device, which runs embedded Windows 7. We accessed tablet devices via Wi-Fi onto our lab network, from our host sessions in our NOC at nFrame in Carmel, Ind. Except for our Windows 2012 Server examination, we used Windows 2008R2 server instances as VM hosts and for infrastructure with Windows 7 Professional and Windows 8 Enterprise Windows instances.

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