The vendors who have submitted products for this review have put their expertise into commercial applications and brought their knowledge and tweaks to the mass market in relatively easily deployable packages. Like cars, the sky is the limit when it comes to tweaking for performance, however a point comes when a system or network hardware upgrade is more friendly on the wallet than to continue pouring dollars into modifying the existing system. Hopefully these relatively cost-effective applications will extend the life and improve the users' experience enough to get a few extra miles from either cheaper servers or existing equipment that may otherwise need costly replacement.
Thin client machines themselves by their very nature should technically need replacement very rarely. However, with their growing popularity, users are beginning to demand more intensive tasks of them that they may not necessarily be capable of in their current state.
A thin client is a dumb terminal with very limited processing capabilities, therefore whatever processing power the end user machine exhibits is derived through the network cable from the server. This brings up the two critical points in the thin client equation: the network and switching infrastructure, and the server power/capacity.
The applications in this review basically take stock of the traffic running across the network and server and work with it to prioritise the flow of data to the critical machines and applications that need it. This is similar to how an individual computer manages multitasking: non-critical tasks are given a lower priority than performance-critical tasks such as multimedia or processor intensive data crunching.AppSense Performance Suite 2.0
Application Manager is a security tool that allows the administrator to harden servers by blocking known "loopholes" in server-based computing and protect the system from unauthorised application. The Server Based Toolkit, as its name suggests, provides extra administration and user tools. More information on these other applications can be found at AppSense's Web site.
The installation of this application was a piece of cake, the CD automatically ran the install/setup routine when it was inserted, its default settings were to install the whole suite, however we selected custom install and just installed the two accelerator applications (Performance Monitor and Optimizer). The rest of the installation was fully automated. The system relies on a common data store and also has a deployment management console built in.
As Figures 1 and 2 show, the administration and configuration is via a very easy to use Microsoft Management Console (MMC). The console is mainly text based, however it is still very user friendly. The MMC used in the Expedian/TScale applications is far more graphical.
This is a very refined suite of applications definitely a lot of work has gone into its development from people who are obviously well versed in server-centric environments. For a total solution, one would be hard pressed to go past the AppSense Performance Suite.
|Product||AppSense Perfomance Suite|
|Phone||1300 767 550|
|Good range of software/hardware supported.|
|Excellent feature set.|
|Well priced, providing the site has at least a quad-processor server and at least 20-30 terminals|
|AU$1,098.90 for 12-month software subscription; on part with Jetro.|
The installation of Expedian could not have been more straightforward with a wizard taking the operator through all the necessary tasks to get the application onto the machine.
Both the configuration and administration are handled easily through the Expedian Optimizations console, which has a familiar MMC (Microsoft Management Console) interface. The menu system is very straightforward, logical, and detailed leading even the novice of users through the tasks with ease. There are plenty of detailed graphical displays that are very easy to understand and that show the results of both the intended and applied configuration changes.
As you can see from Figure 3 when compared to Figure 5. the Wyse and RTO Software applications are virtually identical. This is because Expedian is actually an OEM version of TScale.
|Price||AU$780 single processor; AU$1,560 dual processor|
|Phone||1300 889 973|
|Only single and dual-processor versions available.|
|Included features are very well designed.|
|Per-CPU, licencing model; similar in pricing to Tscale.|
|Support contract costs based on number of processors, but work out considerably cheaper than Jetro and AppSense.|
Once the setup routine has been initiated and the password has been given, the user is guided through the rest of the installation. Of particular note, one of the information windows pops up at the beginning of the install with a very simple and easy to follow checklist notifying the operator of each prerequisite that needs to exist for the setup to be successful. Most software vendors have a similar list in their documentation, or worse, wait until there is a problem halfway through the install and then throw up a message like "xyz missing please install xyz and then restart setup". However, not too many developers actually put it in the install routine up front for the operator to quickly run through prior to commencing the application install, so thumbs up to Jetro for including this in CockpIT. The user is prompted for a username and password in the Domain Administrators group, so the most logical and secure thing to do is create a specific administrator account for the Jetro program.
Along with the administrator interface, which is launched after setup completes, a second browser opens with instructions on how to add and activate a server to the admin console. After following these steps, the administrator can begin viewing the servers' status/load as well as configuring the system to suit their requirements.
The administration is very graphical with several large icons and menu systems leading the user through the interface clearly and concisely.
While not necessarily a specific dedicated server accelerator product, CockpIT includes some server optimisation tricks in its swag of features. This application is well suited to enterprises looking for an easy-to-use one-stop solution with a variety of features. Credit must be given to its very well-designed and user-friendly interface as well.
|Price||AU$265 per concurrent user|
|Phone||+ 972 2 652 15 85|
|Supports Citrix and Microsoft protocols, and allows delivery of applications over HTTP.|
|Good feature set.|
|Concurrent user licencing model makes this relatively expensive for larger sites.|
|€16 (~AU$27) per user per year; on par with AppSense.|
Shaping allows the administrator to specify which applications run in what space, even down to keeping different applications running on specific CPUs in a multi-processor server. For example a four-processor server can be told to run Microsoft Word on processors one and two only while processors three and four are kept for Outlook and Internet Explorer. TScale can also control the priority of specific applications usage of the CPU(s) too.
The application optimisation improves the efficiency that the applications execute as well as tweaking the virtual memory. The engineers at RTO seem obsessed with "runaway" or "rogue" applications chewing through memory and CPU resources and thereby impeding the user experience. The TScale tools allow administrators to control these issues and thereby control and smooth the users experience.
The installation, configuration, and administration of TScale are virtually identical to the Expedian application from Wyse. Which leads us to ask: which came first Expedian or TScale? After a bit of research, we found out that Expedian is an OEM version of TScale that's sold by Wyse; the products are virtually identical in all other respects.
In summary, the Expedian product and the TScale product are both very easy to deploy and administer. Either one should definitely be on any enterprise's short list for further evaluation.
|Price||AU$726 single-processor; AU$1,460 dual-processor; up to eight processors|
|Vendor||Crescom Info Tech|
|Phone||03 9569 2166|
|Single to eight-processor versions available.|
|Included features are very well designed.|
|Per-CPU licencing model; similar to Expedian.|
|Support contracts on a per-CPU basis; almost half the price of the Expedian contracts.|
Running a full performance test on these packages would have been very difficult and complex. Short of running a benchmark on a "clean" server, installing the optimiser, tweaking the performance, and then running the benchmark again -- and going through this entire procedure once for each package -- it would be very difficult to construct a fair and reliable performance comparison.
Unfortunately, given the timeframe and logistics involved, we couldn't set up a test rig of this size and complexity; one that would be able to max out a thin-client server. There are some very nice simulation tools out there but it is very difficult to create a static "virtual" test rig that could reliably be used to test each product.
For this reason, we decided it was best to dispense with a head-to-head performance test and concentrate on an overview of each application, paying particular attention to each vendor's unique features. If you'd find it valuable to see a full performance test some time in the future, please e-mail email@example.com and let us know.
In the meantime, our recommendation is to use this review as a guide to each acceleration application and then create your own shortlist of desired features to suit your thin client deployment, this should definitely assist in cutting down the field.Specifications
|Product Name||AppSense Performance Suite||Expedian||Jetro CockpIT||TScale|
|Company||AppSense||Wyse||Jetro Platforms||Crescom Info Tech|
|Phone||1300 767 550||1300 889 973||+972 2 652 1585||03 9569 2166|
|Price||AU$4995||AU$780 single processor, AU$1560 dual processor||AU$265 per concurrent user access||AU$726 single processor, AU$1460 dual processor, AU$2926 per four-processor system, AU$4390 per eight-processor system, AU$7326 for performance management console|
|Warranty||AU$1098.90 for 12 months software subscription||90 days then AU$225 per year for single processor, AU$448 per year for dual processor, discounts for longer contracts; unlimited phone support AU$440 per server per year||12 months, then Ã¢,Â¬16 (~ AU$27) per concurrent user per year||Per year, AU$132 per single CPU, AU$264 per dual CPU, AU$528 per quad CPU, AU$792 per eight-way CPU; discounts for longer contracts|
|Thin client platforms supported||Citrix MetaFrame, Terminal Services||Citrix MetaFrame, Terminal Services||Citrix MetaFrame, Terminal Services, HTTP||Citrix Metaframe, Terminal Services, New Moon|
|Server platforms supported||Windows NT/2000/2003 Server||Windows 2000/2003 Server||Windows 2000/2003 Server||Windows 2000/2003 Server, management console requires these platforms or Windows XP|
This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
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Look out for...
When looking to optimise your thin client servers to enhance the user experience or make your server dollar go further, here are some of the issues you should consider:
This audit will reveal whether or not your company is in a position to deploy a thin client server acceleration application, or whether some money can be spent improving the environment to achieve the performance and reliability increase. Remember, an accelerator will not fix existing problems in the network. In fact, it may even cause more problems to a poorly-deployed network foundation.