Quite simply, this is the ability to work away from the office with the ability to access emails, files and applications. Unfortunately that's where the simplicity ends. The variety of devices these are available on and the technology used for their delivery is the basis for scope of products available in this space.
In the current climate efficient use of staff time and flexible working is of paramount importance. Organisations today need to turn around opportunities as quickly as possible to compete in the current on demand world. This needs information to be available almost immediately. Proving remote access to that information is essential in achieving this goal.
Ten years ago a dial-up modem in your laptop or home computer with a single or bank of modems at the office was the de-facto standard, however the widespread use of broadband technologies has completely changed this picture.
The technologies used to connect now are primarily VPN (Virtual Private Network) or SSL (Secure Socket layer Connect) connections. With a VPN connection there are primarily two options PPTP VPN, which has a native windows client, or IPSec VPN for which each manufacturer provides its own client software. The SSL based remote access solutions use any browser to run the connection, as we see later they however still have underlying client software or plug-ins in most instances.
For full remote access which includes remote email, file and application access Citrix is the biggest player in the market, followed by Microsoft. Although competing, both co-operations also work quite closely as many of the Citrix products sit on a Microsoft platform.
Citrix has a number of offerings depending on the size of your organisation and the way you want users to access these applications. For the small organisations with a maximum of 75 users, Citrix provides a product called Xenapp Fundamentals™ (formally Citrix Access Essentials). This is an all in one product that runs on Microsoft Terminal server that provides users with access to their applications, emails and documents from any browser over a secure SSL connection. At the office a dedicated server is needed with Windows Terminal services installed on which the XenApp product sits. The client side needs a Citrix client/plug-in installed on their machine to gain access.
For organisations upward of the 75 user mark or for those that require different levels of failover and resilience the main product is Citrix XenApp (Advanced, Enterprise and Platinum editions) which scales to multiple servers, similarly based on Windows Terminal Sever. In conjunction with XenApp Citrix provides an Advanced Gateway device which handles the SSL processing for these larger or more resilient setups. In the same way the client end just needs the same client/plug-in to function.
Let's look at what Microsoft provides in a similar space. The base product from Microsoft is Terminal Services, which traditional gave users a remote desktop connection to the in-house Terminal Server. Traditionally this connection was provided over a VPN connection, and although this is still available with Windows 2008 the delivery is now over SSL similar to Citrix and provides application access again through a browser. Microsoft has split Terminal Services into a number of different components to achieve a similar application delivery to Citrix. However with this change you need multiple servers to get true SSL access. With one server you need both SSL and remote desktop access to the server for access.
With the growing use of Virtualisation, the remote access space is also being affected. The options above all looked at remote access by delivering applications. The power of virtualisation has now provided a base to deliver and entire user desktop and not just applications. This allows you to have a contained environment for each used as opposed to one environment tailored to fit all.
The main players in this space are as you would expect Citrix, VMware and of course Microsoft. Citrix is the current market leader with its XenDesktop product, followed by VMware with its VMware View product. Microsoft's product is only available in its Windows 2008R2 operating system. They all require a varying number of servers to work but with all the solutions there is one or more servers that has virtual machines for each user with the users specific OS and settings. The users can then access this through a browser over SSL, in the same way they would access a more traditional application delivery solution. Where do I get started?
As you can see, there are quite a few options to consider. The best option for you will depend on the number of users, the level of redundancy needed, the speed of connection to the office and what applications will be used remotely. With this information in hand we can work out the best options going forward.
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