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Server-based computing and its effects on the Enterprise

The Internet community has increased from 15.3 million to 68.6 million in the last two years. We have seen the introduction of numerous new computing devices from powerful servers, desktops and notebooks to Java-based network computers, Windows-based terminals and hand-held information appliances. In addition, workers are now spread around the world in branch offices, homes, hotels, customer sites and many other places. The complexity and cost of delivering business-critical applications to today's worker at the right times and in the right places have become overwhelming.

Challenges of Enterprise-Wide Application Deployment
Faced with an ever-changing computing environment, IT professionals must improve the efficiency of business critical application deployment. In order to reduce the total cost of computing ownership for their organization, they must also leverage everything in their current computing infrastructure--hardware, applications, networks and training. All of this must be accomplished along with:

Managing and supporting users in a timely and cost-effective manner.

  • Extending access to business-critical applications to dispersed users--regardless of connection, location or device.
  • Ensuring exceptional application performance.
  • Providing tight security for enterprise-level computing.

These challenges have made enterprise-wide application deployment even more daunting because the products developed up to this point have only addressed one, or possibly two, of the following obstacles.

Management
From a management perspective traditional enterprise application deployment is often time-consuming, expensive and difficult to maintain. Not only do administrators have to physically distribute applications to every client, but they also have to deal with version control issues, remote support, multiple system configurations and data replication. When confronted with thousands of users, the cost of application ownership can quickly spiral out of control.

Access
Today's corporate computing landscape comprises a heterogeneous mix of desktop devices, network connectivity and operating systems. Access to vital Windows-based applications is difficult or, in the case of Internet/intranet computing, nonexistent--and often involves costly upgrades, problematic emulation software and complete application rewrites.

Performance
Most corporate applications today are designed for high bandwidth networks and powerful desktop computers. This type of application design puts tremendous strain on congested corporate networks and yields poor performance over lower-bandwidth, remote connections. Because of this, many users simply avoid using the vital applications and data to get their work done. When this happens, redundant work and significant decreases in productivity are often the result.

Security
Security is also a challenge, because in traditional client/server architectures, business-critical applications and data live on both the server and the client desktops spread throughout the world. Not only does this increase the risk of unauthorized access, but it also increases the risk of lost or stolen information.

A Better Approach: Server-based Computing
Server-based computing is a model, in which applications are deployed, managed, supported and executed 100 per cent on a server. It uses a multi-user operating system and a method for distributing the presentation of an application's interface to a client device.

With server-based computing, client devices--"fat" or "thin"--have instant access to business-critical applications via the server. This, without application rewrites or downloads. This means improved efficiency when deploying business-critical applications. In addition, server-based computing works within the current computing infrastructure and current computing standards, and with the current and future family of Windows-based offerings. This means improved returns on computing investments--desktops, networks, applications and training. The end result--Server-based computing is rapidly becoming the most reliable way to reduce the complexity and total costs associated with enterprise computing.

How does Server-based Computing Work?
The server-based computing model employs three critical components. The first is a multi-user operating system that enables multiple concurrent users to log on and run applications in separate, protected sessions on a single server. The second is a highly efficient computing technology that separates the application's logic from its user interface, so only keystrokes, mouse clicks and screen updates travel the network. As a result, application performance is bandwidth-independent. The third key component, centralized application and client management, enables large computing environment to overcome the critical application deployment challenges of management, access, performance and security.

Server-based computing is made possible by two Citrix technologies: Citrix Independent Computing Architecture (ICA) and Citrix MultiWin. A de facto standard for server-based computing, the ICA protocol shifts application processing from the client device to the server. MultiWin, the technology licensed by Citrix to Microsoft to jointly create Terminal Server, enables multiple users to simultaneously access applications running on a server.

What is Independent Computing Architecture (ICA)?

ComputingArchitecture ServerbasedComputing NetworkComputing TraditionalClient/Server
Processing Model 100% Server Download and Local Execution
Execution Execute
Hardware Footpring Thin or Fat Fat Fat
Application Architecture Monolithic, Component 2 or 3 - Tier
  Component or 2 or 3 Client/Server
Native Device Variable or Fixed Variable Variable Function
Function (PC, NPC, Function (NC) (PC)
NC, WBT)
Native Windows or Java Java Windows
Application Type

Independent Computing Architecture (ICA) is a Windows presentation services protocol from Citrix that provides the foundation for turning any client device--thin or fat--into the ultimate thin client. The ICA technology includes a server software component, a network protocol component, and a client software component.

On the server, ICA has the unique ability to separate the application's logic from the user interface at the server and transport it to the client over standard network protocols--the IPX, SPX, NetBEUI, TCP/IP and PPP--and over popular network connections--asynchronous, dial-up, ISDN, Frame Relay and ATM.

On the client, users see the work with the application's interface, but 100 per cent of the application logic executes on the server.

The ICA protocol transports keystrokes, mouse clicks and screen updates over standard protocol to the clients, consuming less than 20 kilobits per second of network bandwidth.

Role of ICA
ICA is highly efficient--it allows only keystrokes, mouse clicks and screen updates to travel along the network. As a result, applications consume just a fraction of the network bandwidth usually required. This efficiency enables the latest, most powerful 32-bit applications to be accessed with exceptional performance from existing PCs, Windows-based terminals, network computers, and a new generation of business and personal information appliances.

Server-based Computing Compared with Network Computing and Traditional Client/Server Computing
While all three computing models have a valid role in today's enterprises, it's important to note the differences between them. In the network computing architecture as defined by Sun, Oracle, Netscape, IBM and Apple, components are dynamically downloaded from the network into the client device for execution by the client. But with the Citrix server-based computing approach, users are able to access business critical applications--including the latest 32-bit Windows-based and Java applications--without requiring them to be downloaded to the client. This approach also provides considerable total cost of application ownership savings since these applications are centrally managed and can be accessed by users without having to rewrite them.

Some of the other differences in the three types of architectures are listed in the following chart:
Basically, the server-based computing approach delivers all the benefits of both host computing and personal computing.

Server-based Computing--Key Features and Benefits

This innovative software enables enterprises to:

  • Bring server-based computing to heterogeneous computing environments providing access to Windows-based applications, regardless of client hardware, operating platform, network connection or LAN protocol
  • Offer enterprise-scale management tools to allow IT professionals to scale, deploy, manage and support applications from a single location
  • Provide seamless desktop integration of the user's local and remote resources and applications with exceptional performance

Heterogeneous Computing Environments
Heterogeneous computing environments are a fact of life in the enterprise, comprising an installed base of many client devices, operating systems, LAN protocols and network connections. However, for the enterprise interested in making Windows-based applications available to all users, server-based computing enables an organization to leverage its existing infrastructure, yet still provide the best application fit for both users and the enterprise. This type of approach supports all types of hardware, operating platforms, network connections and LAN protocols. As a result, organizations can deliver the same set of applications to virtually any client device, anywhere, with exceptional performance.

Enterprise-Scale Management Tools
Organizations building application deployment systems will want the added benefits of server-based computing system software to gain robust management tools that help scale systems and support applications and users enterprise-wide. With these tools, administrators will be able to significantly reduce the costs and complexities of deploying, managing and supporting business applications across the extended enterprise.

Seamless Desktop Integration
With server-based computing, end users of both Windows and non-Windows desktops gain an enhanced computing experience through broadened application access with exceptional performance that is bandwidth independent, as well as complete access to local system resources, even though applications are running remotely from the server.

Server-based Computing Solution Scenarios
With server-based computing, customers can increase productivity and develop a competitive advantage by gaining universal access to the business-critical applications they need to operate successfully, regardless of the connection, location, or operating systems they may be using.

The following solution scenarios demonstrate how server-based computing can help customers overcome the challenges of enterprise-wide application deployment.

Branch-Office Computing Problem
To better serve and support customers, many enterprises are opening branch offices. However, this is creating many difficulties for administrators who do not have the resources to adequately staff these new offices. One such problem is database replication. Many times, individual LANs are built for each branch office. Configuring and managing these branch-office LANs--and the information on them--creates numerous management challenges.

Another problem is application performance. Since most branch offices are connected by WAN to headquarters, vital data and applications must travel back and forth across the network. This type of setup creates numerous user delays and unacceptable application response. Previously, the only option was a bigger WAN connection, which meant increasing costs, not just once, but on an ongoing basis.

Solution
Server-based computing is a better solution because it minimizes network traffic, even for Windows-based, 32-bit applications. This approach allows applications to be deployed, supported and managed from a central location.

Cross-Platform Computing Problem
In today's era of global consolidation, many enterprises are buying and/or merging new companies into their organizations, as well as adding their own new employees and locations around the world. Typically, this has resulted in a widely diverse set of client devices, operating systems, processing power and connectivity options across the enterprise.

For IT professionals, trying to leverage existing technology investments while deploying business-critical applications--especially the latest 32-bit Windows-based applications--to all users has become more and more difficult. As a result, organizations have had to resort to using problematic emulation software, purchasing additional hardware, investing in costly application rewrites.

Solution
Server-based computing is a better, more cost-effective solution because it enables virtually any existing device in the enterprise to access Windows-based applications without special emulation software, changes in system configuration or application rewrites. This means that enterprises can maximize their investment in existing technology and allows users to work in their preferred computing environments.

Web Computing Problem
Web Computing is taking off. But to deploy interactive applications on an intranet or the Internet, application development is required.

The Java applet "download-and-run" model is not an extension of any current computing technology. New software and often-new hardware are required to successfully deploy these solutions. Every time the application changes, the web-based application needs to change as well.

Solution
Server-based computing enables administrators to launch and embed corporate Windows-based applications into HTML pages without rewriting a single line of code. Plus, it eliminates the need to manage and maintain two separate sets of code.

Remote Computing Problem
The changing work environment is allowing more and more employees to work away from the office--at home, hotels, customer locations, etc. This means that a wide variety of network connections are being used to access corporate applications. Unfortunately, the lower the bandwidth, the lower the application performance. Because of this, many remote users are avoiding corporate applications altogether, as they'd rather work than wait.

Another factor is application management and support for remote users. Administrators are forced to spend excessive amount of time trying to diagnose and correct problems over the phone. Unfortunately, the problems are usually not resolved the first time.

Solution
Server-based computing works better for remote users because it keeps all application processing on the server, meaning less traffic is sent across the network. Plus, it's optimized for low-bandwidth connections so user can get LAN-like performance over analog or ISDN modems, WANs, wireless LANs and even the Internet.

By eliminating the need for on-site staff, server-based computing also makes it easier for administrators. They can deploy and manage vital applications and support remote users, all from one location.

Thin-Client Device Computing Problem
Traditional mini- and mainframe-computing deliver some of the same "centralized computing" benefits as server-based computing. The problem is that these types of machines weren't designed for the thousands of GUI-based Windows applications that are available today. Furthermore, users on these types of machines are familiar with the text-based interface and are typically slow to adopt new operating systems.

Also, many of today's new devices--such as Windows-based terminals, PDAs, wireless tablets, and information appliances--are not compatible with the Windows-based, business-critical applications being used in the enterprise unless rewrites are performed.

Solution
With server-based computing, the latest Windows-based programs can be extended to these thin devices without application rewrites. This enables users to work in their preferred environments and still access the Windows-based applications they need to work successfully. Plus, organizations can reap the benefits resulting from reduced overhead, lower acquisition costs and fewer moving parts.

 

`It is not a choice, but a requirement.''

Information Courtesy: Citrix Systems

Server-based computing is the new mantra that Citrix Systems is touting as the most efficient way to maximize an organization's IT resources, reduce the costs and complexities of application deployment, management and use and lower the total cost of ownership. Alan Pettit, vice president, Citrix Pacific, explains to Network Magazine what this new concept is all about and why Citrix is upbeat about its solution, particularly in the Indian marketplace.

Citrix pioneered the thin client architecture. What is the focus today?
Thin client architecture is still the focus. For the first time ever, we divorced the hardware from the software and have created the server-based computing model where we say IT managers need not worry about the hardware. All applications and data are deployed, managed and executed on the server. Client devices can be thin or fat and will have instant access to these applications.

Does it mean that there is a shift towards the mainframe era where all activities were concentrated in the centralized system?
No, what we are talking about is greater efficiency using existing legacy systems; bringing about a marriage of all technologies to give users access to applications anytime, anywhere and from any device. By the way, our ICA architecture offers drivers for over 200 devices.

Server-based computing also gives IT managers the flexibility to install/deinstall applications based on user needs and enables high application performance. It works with a range of platforms-Windows NT to Unix to Java. So customers need not replace their existing systems nor do they have to overhaul their network infrastructure.

What are the tangible benefits customers would get using your technology?
The fact that over 80 per cent of Fortune 500 companies are using our software and solutions is testimony to the versatility of the concept in a wide range of industries-be it banking, sales, financial institutions, manufacturing companies etc. The changing IT landscape is driving the need for server-based computing. Many enterprises today are realizing that users want access from many devices without any compromise on performance. It also offers enhanced benefits to IT managers with a tremendous amount of control and efficiency. Users can access 32-bit Windows based applications from virtually any client device including the legacy 286, 386 and 486 PCs, Pentium computers, network computers, Windows Terminals, Unix workstations, and Macintosh systems. Moreover, all information is centralized on the network and there is no fear of data loss.

What is the level of awareness among IT managers as far as server computing goes and how do you view India in terms of market potential?
It is certainly a new concept and we have to do a lot of evangelizing and educating the customers. We have been conducting roadshows and seminars regularly and also highlighted customer experiences wherever possible. India has a very savvy IT community and they are well aware of these concepts. We have over 250 customers using our MetaFrame product.

In fact we are setting up what is called the CALC-the Citrix Authorised Learning Centres where professionals would get trained on various aspects of server-based computing. We are associating ourselves with a leading training institution in India and will set up several such CALCs and offer certification courses. We will train the trainers who in turn will train the users in the enterprise.

Right now, we are seeding the marketplace; the growth is slow but sure like in Japan. There is a tremendous opportunity for server-based computing in areas such as banking, call centers and multinational corporations located in India. We are also looking at an ASP model for driving growth and bringing down the costs.

- Aparna Achar

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