I come from an AS/400 background, so I'm comfortable with the terminal concept. The idea of installing a terminal and not touching it for years appeals to me. But does this technology work in the real Windows NT enterprise world? Can you use thin client/server computing (TCSC) with hundreds, even thousands of users?
The answer to both questions is yes. To give you the information you need to decide whether thin client/server solutions will be useful in your enterprise, I've interviewed representatives of nine organizations with thin-client technology in production. These people represent a wide variety of industries: retail, military, hospitality, education, banking, shipping, distribution, manufacturing, and health care. I'll set the stage by giving you a brief background on TCSC and an overview of some current market trends. Next, I'll take a look at the future of thin-client technology. Finally, I'll present the nine case studies and let you judge how effective a solution TCSC can be.
Thin Client/Server Technology
A thin client is a network-dependent terminal capable of displaying remote applications that run entirely on an attached server. A thin-client device can be a PC, network computer (NC), or terminal. The key to thin-client computing is that applications run on the server—not on the client. An NC or PC that runs all or part of an application is not a thin client.
A thin-client device uses one of three protocols to communicate with the server: Independent Computing Architecture (ICA), Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), or X. These protocols transfer display information from the server to the client, and keyboard and mouse input from the client to the server. Although these protocols serve a technical purpose, they also have a significant effect on the thin client/server market. Citrix owns ICA, which runs on a wide range of devices: PCs, NCs, Windows-based terminals, and non-Windows-based terminals. ICA can adapt its performance characteristics by running compressed for remote devices and uncompressed for locally attached devices. ICA also supports shadowing, which lets an administrator take control of a thin-client device. Shadowing is useful for end-user support and training.
Microsoft owns RDP, which runs on Windows CE-based terminals and Windows-based PCs. A licensing agreement between Citrix and Microsoft limits device support in RDP. The 1997 agreement states that for 2 years, RDP will support Windows-based terminals and ICA will also support Windows-based terminals—and all other thin-client devices. As Citrix is doing with ICA, Microsoft is optimizing RDP to work well in both remote and locally attached conditions. RDP does not currently support shadowing.
X is an open-standard protocol that X terminals use. X is optimized for locally attached devices and does not perform well in remote-computing situations.
The magic in TCSC is on the server side. Several years ago, Citrix modified NT Server 3.51 to let multiple user sessions run on one server: A properly equipped server can run as many as 60 to 100 NT sessions. In 1997, Microsoft licensed this technology from Citrix and, in 1998, released a new version of NT called Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0, Terminal Server Edition.
Here's how Terminal Server works. Suppose you have 50 users running Microsoft Word on terminals attached to a server running Terminal Server. A portion of Terminal Server's disk and RAM are allocated to each user. Terminal Server must keep track of each user's activity separately. Terminal Server transmits screen output using a thin-client protocol. As a user types on the keyboard, the keystrokes travel via the protocol to Terminal Server, which processes the requests. Word thinks it's running on one dedicated workstation and is unaware of other users. From Terminal Server's point of view, a portion of Word is loaded for each user, and another portion is shared among all users. For a detailed explanation of how Terminal Server works, see Mark Russinovich, "Inside Microsoft Terminal Server," July 1998.
If Microsoft licensed Citrix's technology to come up with Terminal Server, does Citrix provide any additional functionality? Citrix supplements Terminal Server with a product called MetaFrame. MetaFrame provides support for ICA, shadowing, load balancing, and other administrative features. All of the administrators I interviewed chose the ICA protocol because of its superior remote support over RDP. If you want ICA, you need MetaFrame.
Where Thin Client/Server Technology Fits
Adding thin clients to your existing environment doesn't mean you must rip out your PCs and replace them with thin-client devices. The traditional PC environment and the thin-client environment coexist well (to learn more about mixing PCs and thin clients, see Christa Anderson, "Can a Hybrid Network Work for Your Enterprise?" October 1998). However, most of the organizations I profile in this article replaced existing dumb terminals. These organizations discovered that replacing older terminals with newer terminals is easy, and that doing so lets you run your legacy applications and provide users with access to the latest NT applications.
The technical aspects of replacing existing systems are easy to handle—the difficulty comes from political considerations. Let me explain. Suppose you determine that your users need peripheral devices, whether a 3.5" drive, CD-ROM drive, scanner, or printer. Users can share these devices on the network, which is not a technical challenge. However, when users are comfortable being the masters of their machines, they don't want administrators to take total control of those machines. It's the "personal" in PC that users crave. Yet from an administrator's point of view, every time a user saves a file on a PC, that machine becomes a different PC from all the other PCs the company is supporting, thus complicating the computing environment. Some of the administrators I interviewed have braved the political challenge and replaced PCs. Others don't want to tackle that challenge—yet.
My goal for this article was to interview companies that have thin client/server technology in production. Therefore, the companies I've profiled aren't a representative sample of the entire IS industry, or even the NT market. Windows NT Magazine surveys show that the majority of NT shops are still skeptical about thin-client technology. The primary question these skeptics ask is, "Does it work?" This article answers that question with real-world evidence from IS professionals with TCSC in production. To begin, here is a summary of trends in these thin-client implementations. The trends fall into four categories: environments, total cost of ownership (TCO), setup and configuration, and support.
Environments. Because Terminal Server was not available until June 1998, most thin client/server installations in production today use Citrix WinFrame 1.7. All the administrators I interviewed said that they would upgrade to Terminal Server for its NT 4.0 application support and interface. In addition, the administrators all said they would upgrade to MetaFrame. They gave me four reasons for this decision, the most important being MetaFrame's ICA support. Each installation uses a portion of its thin client/server solution in a remote environment, and the administrators reported that ICA offers a significant remote performance advantage over RDP. The second reason for adding MetaFrame is its shadowing feature. Third, many of the administrators I interviewed chose an NC device that supported additional protocols to allow connectivity to UNIX and IBM hosts. Such NC devices support only ICA. Finally, the MetaFrame load-balancing feature lets you cluster multiple Terminal Server servers. With this capability, you can create an application server farm to provide failover and load balancing. Currently, Terminal Server does not natively support load balancing; however, you can purchase Balanced Cluster Service (BCS), an RDP load-balancing solution from Cubix, or use the simple IP rotary solution Douglas Toombs outlines in "Load Sharing for Your Web Server," April 1998.
Reduced TCO. Many factors go into calculating TCO, but the most significant are administration, maintenance, software distribution, and user futzing. All the administrators I interviewed cited a substantial reduction in the costs associated with these four factors in their TCSC implementations, and this reduction has significantly reduced TCO. Although none of the administrators has done a formal or scientific study of TCO, they can easily give examples of how their thin client/server environments required only a quarter to a third of the administrative resources of a similarly configured PC environment.
An additional factor in TCO is hardware price. No one I interviewed complained about the costs associated with large servers, and no one complained about the cost of terminals, although in some cases thin-client terminals cost almost as much as PCs. The consensus is that the reduced TCO of TCSC is well worth the hardware costs.
Although reduced TCO balances hardware and software costs for these administrators, some think Terminal Server's price is too high. Others complain about buying a copy of NT Workstation for every thin-client device, although they might not use the devices simultaneously. Still other administrators complain about the price of MetaFrame, saying that although they need ICA features, they think the product's price tag is too high.
Setup and configuration. All the administrators spent time configuring their networks, servers, and applications. However, after they configured their thin client/server environment correctly, the environment was relatively easy to support. The biggest configuration challenge these administrators reported was getting 16-bit applications to work correctly. The second biggest challenge was getting 32-bit applications to work correctly. The lesson here is that you can find off-the-shelf application configuration support from many suppliers, but your custom applications might present your biggest configuration challenge, because, with them, you're on your own.
The administrators commonly use Citrix load balancing or IP rotary balancing to create application server farms or clusters. The farms provide failover clustering, in which a working server takes over a failed server's load. Applications replicate across nodes in the cluster, so the administrators need to install applications on only one server in the cluster. The other servers in the cluster run realtime replication software that automatically distributes the application across the remaining nodes. No software is required for the client devices; therefore, upgrading 1000 users to a new version of Microsoft Office in 2 hours is possible. Several of the administrators I interviewed accomplished such upgrades.
Support. The consensus among the administrators I interviewed is that your supplier must have Citrix WinFrame experience. An experienced supplier can guide you through developing a solid architecture, setup, and configuration. Why WinFrame experience? Because Terminal Server is too new for suppliers to have any depth of experience with it. The best Terminal Server suppliers gained their experience with WinFrame; the ideal supplier is someone with Terminal Server, WinFrame, and MetaFrame experience.
When IS managers start talking to one another about their success with TCSC, this technology will increase in popularity. I have a few observations and speculations about where TCSC will go in the future, if TCSC takes off.
Unlike PCs, thin-client devices often hide CPU type or speed from the IS professional. A 50MHz PowerPC processor, for example, would be pathetic as an NT Workstation-based PC but is more than adequate as a Windows-based terminal. Some interesting partnerships are forming in the Windows-based terminals market. First, Intel has joined with Network Computing Devices (NCD) to manufacture the next generation of Intel-based Windows-based terminals. Motorola has joined with Neoware Systems to produce a PowerPC-based Windows-based terminal.
Why are two of the largest chip manufacturers getting involved with Windows-based terminals? Over time, Windows-based terminal suppliers will continue to reduce the size of the terminals and their cost. Eventually, the guts of a terminal might be no bigger than a CPU and stuffed inside a keyboard or perhaps a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA)-sized device. Motorola, for example, could leverage its existing terminal and wireless technologies to create a suite of wireless thin-client devices to use for a myriad of data-capturing situations.
Currently, terminal manufacturers are producing Windows CE-based and proprietary operating system (OS) devices. The licensing fee for Windows CE can run as high as $25 per unit, which is a significant portion of the overall device cost. In contrast, terminal vendors have long had their own OSs, which add only pennies to the overall price of a terminal. If RDP does not perform as well as ICA, ICA will continue to dominate as the terminal protocol of choice, and suppliers will continue to use their proprietary OSs at a reduced cost. If RDP performs at least as well as ICA in all situations, Windows CE devices will eventually dominate. However, ICA supports so many OSs that Windows CE will find it impossible to replace all of them in the foreseeable future.
ICA performance and features are crucial to the long-term success of Citrix. RDP performance and features are crucial to the success of Windows-based (RDP-only) terminals. The race is on. May the best vendor win.
Balanced Cluster Service (BCS)
Cubix * 702-888-1000 or 800-953-0155
Dell Computer * 800-560-8324
Cruise Technologies * 847-797-0520
QPC Software * 716-381-4610
Traveling Software * 425-483-8088
IBM * 800-426-4968
Citrix * 954-267-3000
Pharos Systems * 888-864-7768 or 281-333-2082
NT Server 4.0, Terminal Server Edition
Microsoft * 800-426-9400
Wilson WindoWare * 800-762-8383
Neoware * 800-636-9273
NCD * 800-800-9599
Sequent * 503-626-5700 or 800-257-9044
Tektronix * 800-547-8949
Fulltime Software * 800-245-8649
Citrix * 954-267-3000
Opera Software * 1-47-23-23-48-68
Wyse * 800-800-9973
Fort Hood, Texas
Challenge: Leverage wireless LAN capabilities to locally access large volumes of equipment maintenance data and digitally transmit maintenance and parts information from repair site to central maintenance management office. System must be mobile and work in wartime outdoor field conditions (e.g., heat, dust, rain) and be easy to set up and uninstall by non-IS professionals. Needs to take less than 30 minutes to set up and provide coverage over a 1KM radius.
Evaluation: The US Army chose a unit at Fort Hood to assess the viability of using wireless LAN technology in a simulated wartime environment in which maintenance personnel, using thin clients, access and transmit maintenance and supply data to a central server. The unit needed to use off-the-shelf solutions to reduce costs and make replacing equipment easy.
Solution: The army's mobile wireless LAN system included a nonruggedized laptop computer server (166MHz, 128MB of RAM, 3GB hard disk) running Citrix WinFrame, an additional 9GB external hard disk (to house Fort Hood's large online technical library), UPS, freestanding wireless radio frequency (RF) repeaters and 500 milliwatt access points (APs) to improve signal coverage, and 10 thin-client CruisePADs. Online applications include Adobe Acrobat Reader 3.0 to let technicians view Portable Document Format (PDF) files and an army-developed maintenance and repair application.
The thin-client CruisePADs were configured with monotransflective screens that let mechanics clearly see the screen in bright sunlight. For nighttime use, the CruisePADs employed backlighting. Each CruisePAD has a protective wraparound cover and a ruggedized transit case to protect the equipment in transit. During deployment operations, the unit keeps all environmentally sensitive equipment, such as the server, external hard disk, APs, and UPS, in a vehicle-mounted shelter.
Results: The army tested the system by deploying the Fort Hood maintenance unit from Texas to reestablish maintenance operations at the army's national training center in California's Mojave Desert. No major system failures occurred throughout the 2-week test. The complete system solution significantly improved data access and transmission efficiency, and the thin clients performed well in the harsh outdoor environment. The life of a battery charge ran approximately 6 hours to 8 hours, which was adequate for the unit's daily needs. However, the memory requirements of loading an Adobe Acrobat session (approximately 14MB of RAM per client), meant that the unit could place no more than six thin clients in operation without causing response delays or freezing.
Recommendation: Lieutenant Colonel Mark Melius, the army's project officer, believes that with proper configuration and equipment selection, wireless LAN technology can be used in the harsh environments that manufacturing or construction operations face. Using thin clients greatly reduces the incidence of hard disks crashing, dirt in keyboards, and end-user futzing. "This stuff works," Melius said. He recommends buying ruggedized laptops as servers, thin-client pads, and wireless equipment. "Every time you set up and take down, you increase the chances of damaging your equipment. Wireless LAN greatly decreases your risk."
Challenge: Support 210 employees in eight remote locations with only two IS support staff. Need to replace aging Wyse terminals and give end users access to office productivity applications.
Evaluation: American Light, an electrical contracting and wholesale lighting company, had 50 PCs in production and a lot of administration costs. To reduce those costs, the company considered using IBM servers and NCs. However, American Light was impressed with Dell's lower cost and customer support (representatives from Dell called on American Light as the company made its purchasing decision). American Light also considered using IBM's NCs, but Neoware's NCs beat IBM on price.
American Light considered centralizing its WinFrame servers but found the resulting performance unacceptable. "There is no way that multiusers could run Windows applications remotely at 56Kbps. The most we were getting was five users on a machine. We average 19 users locally. We also had business application traffic on the same line," said Tom Riland, American Light's director of IS. American Light decided to locate a WinFrame server at each of the company's eight remote locations.
Solution: American Light purchased 150 Neoware NeoStation 520/540 NCs with 20MB of RAM and no hard disk. Each remote location has a Dell PowerEdge 4200 server with 256MB of RAM, an 18GB hard disk, and one CPU. Each server runs Citrix WinFrame 1.7 and handles around 19 Neoware devices. To further reduce TCO, American Light will use ICA with its remaining PCs.
American Light backs up user data centrally with SynchSort BackUp Express. This software performs compression and encryption and makes a differential backup once a week. According to Riland, "The servers have been rock solid. We can remotely administer the servers via ICA."
Results: "Our basic philosophy is simplicity. We spend most of our time doing application development. We \[initially\] got scared with PC prices, but after we were fully deployed, we realized there are a lot of savings in administration," Riland said. When users log on, they have a choice of business and productivity applications. The business applications connect to an IBM RS/6000 (UNIX) server in Austin and include order entry, payroll, human resources, and accounting applications. American Light also runs a wholesale distribution package and a construction industry application.
"We're going to use Neoware with a built-in browser to use the intranet. You can download the new Netscape browser to the server and the Neoware units will update the flash ROM automatically. When you turn them on, they update to the latest version of browser or OS automatically," Riland said. "The phones are quiet. If something breaks, it's usually the 56Kbps links."
Recommendation: Tom Riland recommends a thin client/server environment to any company supporting remote sites. "I hate to admit it, but I haven't even been to some of our sites. This technology allows easy remote administration," he said.
House of Blues
Los Angeles, California
Challenge: Centrally support each restaurant in a nationwide chain with a variety of applications, including Platinum Technology's Financials, a food inventory system written in Access, Exchange, and office automation.
Evaluation: "After setting up our sixth full-blown network \[each with 10 PCs to 35 PCs\] at each restaurant location, we asked, 'Why don't we centralize the whole damn thing?'" explained Rick Smith, vice president of IS and technology for House of Blues (HOB), a nationwide chain of restaurants. "Our main interest in this technology is that it lets us focus on the business issues: build distributed systems or centralize them. Microsoft Terminal Server lets us centralize without losing the performance. The architecture—hardware, development, maintenance, support, software—it's all easier than a distributed system. For example, Platinum Financials uses SQL Server as its database. If I distributed the application, I would need to build a separate SQL Server box at every venue. With Terminal Server, I could centralize the entire application."
Solution: To host all applications and users from Los Angeles, HOB uses Terminal Server on multiple servers to host the client portions of Platinum Financials, Exchange, a food inventory system, and office automation. HOB has a 4 * 200 server for Platinum, a 4 * 200 server for SQL Server, and a 4 * 200 server for Exchange. The company currently supports 100 concurrent users on two dual-processor load-balanced Compaq Proliant systems. Rick Smith estimates 20 users per processor at 24MB per user, for a total load of 512MB of RAM on each server. HOB added Citrix MetaFrame to Terminal Server for ICA protocol support. "MetaFrame really shines on dial-up," he said.
Results: HOB went live on beta 1 of Terminal Server and has updated the client portion of its applications by making changes to its load-balanced servers. "A few hours later, the clients were updated. No field visits!" Smith said. "You hear a lot about the negative side of WAN performance, but if you set it up right, you can even beat the performance of a local PC client in some cases."
According to Smith, "Our food inventory system is written in Access. Think of deploying an Access system over a WAN. We can run it now with Terminal Server—it's now multiuser and multivenue. We pull the data out of the UNIX POSIX systems over 128Kbps. We just put an icon on the desktop, and it handles all communications over the WAN. It's much simpler and faster than RAS. You can take a terminal out of the box and have it running in 5 minutes. The bad side is that I could not plug it directly into my Cisco switch. We might try a new venue with terminals instead of PCs. But I'm not convinced that terminals can do everything we need.
"The shadow function from Terminal Server is very handy. It lets me help any users at any time at any venue. We have yet to read the manual. We paid a guy who knew Citrix WinFrame really well to help us set it up."
Recommendation: Smith said, "Go in with an open mind, because this solution will do more things than you think it will. Don't be cheap. Put more power than you need on the server. Performance will no longer be an issue. Also, don't fight the battle of trying to remove PCs from PC users. There's enough benefit without trying to go all terminals or thin clients. Have you ever seen someone successfully argue someone out of a love affair? Don't try to remove users' PCs unless the CFO or the owner is totally behind you and won't desert you. If you need multimedia, Lotus, or Excel, then buy a PC. Otherwise, buy a terminal. Find the balance."
Morristown, New Jersey
Challenge: Replace thousands of dumb terminals in branch offices throughout the world. Support various applications, including project-forwarding, SAP R/3, Office97, and Telnet applications. Need to deploy new Windows-based G U I freight-forwarding applications within 1 year.
Evaluation: Panal Pina, a company providing worldwide freight-forwarding service, heard that Office 97 applications running on Citrix WinFrame perform poorly. What the company discovered, however, was that Office 97 can perform well on WinFrame. "Our accounting runs huge Excel spreadsheets with lots of calculations. It's three to four times faster than running it on a Pentium desktop," said Panal Pina's systems administrator, Lee Fernandez. "I was skeptical at first, but WinFrame has proved us wrong."
When he evaluated Citrix MetaFrame, Fernandez found the shadowing capability of ICA to be valuable. Because the RDP protocol does not support shadowing, Fernandez considers MetaFrame a must-buy, although he hates paying the extra license fee. "Adding the 5000 dollars per 15 users for MetaFrame is way too expensive. It's doubling my price over WinFrame," he said.
Solution: Panal Pina uses Wyse Winterm terminals and DOS clients served by Citrix WinFrame on Data General servers. In the US, Panal Pina has 16 4 * 200 servers with 1GB of RAM each. Panal Pina clusters these servers using Citrix's load-balancing feature. The North American operation consolidates all application serving into central hubs. Each server farm handles 10 sites, which are connected to the farms by a frame-relay network. The North American server farms support 700 users; each server can handle 10 to 30 users. Currently, Panal Pina can support 12 simultaneous users on a 64Kbps frame relay and 30 users on a 128Kbps frame relay. "Citrix ICA protocol is very efficient," Fernandez said.
Outside the US, Panal Pina locates its servers in each site because the telecommunications infrastructure across Europe and Asia can handle only limited bandwidth. In Europe and Asia, Panal Pina supports over 1000 users with Citrix WinFrame running on 49 Data General 2 * 200 servers.
Results: Talking about Panal Pina's North American TCSC environment, Fernandez said, "It makes our support department look good. It has maximized our support staff; we need fewer people to support this. Beyond shadowing, the second-best feature of WinFrame is rapid deployment of applications. We were able to upgrade SAP's client application overnight. \[Without Winframe,\] that job would have taken us over a month. We would have needed to send someone out to the sites to upgrade all the PCs."
Fernandez estimates that supporting thin clients requires one-quarter the number of staff that a similarly sized PC environment requires. "At one point in our implementation, we had 50 percent terminals and 50 percent PCs. I supported all the terminals, and it took four guys to support the PCs," Fernandez said.
Panal Pina has not purchased a desktop PC (excluding laptops) since March 1997. "Most users don't want to give up the freedom of the PC. But when you show them the performance difference, they willingly give it up, Fernandez added.
Recommendation: Lee Fernandez had a lot of advice for administrators interested in thin client/server implementations. Here's a summary of his recommendations.
When you set up user profiles, use mandatory profiles. That way, if you have one profile for hundreds of users, you can make one change to change the profiles of all your users. Fernandez explains, "My 400 users are broken into three profiles. I could probably use one profile for all the users and use scripts to make changes. Use a good scripting utility like KiXtart or Perl, not batch files built into NT."
Keep all data and applications on the server, "because even over a 100Mbps link, \[data transmission\] was slower. There is not a lot of good technical information."
Find a solution provider that really understands Citrix. "Data General took care of us in the beginning. You don't want to do this on your own. You need to partner with someone who has experience. You really need experience with NT to get it set up correctly. Data General is like IBM was back in the old days: Essentially, all hardware is the same stuff. You're really buying services."
Citrix's Web site is an excellent resource, "but you really need to keep on top of it. You need to keep up with the patches. It's not rocket science, but it takes a lot of time."
Watch out for the older Wyse Winterms. "A BIOS older than version 2.64 does not allow remote updating. This means you need to hook up a laptop with LapLink and update each Winterm manually." Fernandez also experienced a 10 percent failure rate on Wyse Winterms and hopes Wyse can improve the terminals' quality.
Challenge: Replace aging manufacturing application with SAP R/3 on NT. Replace aging 3270 terminals, PCs, and Macs without increasing support costs. Reduce TCO and support requirements for 2000 desktops and maintain centralized control of software distribution. Want interoperability with HP UNIX workstations used for CAD.
Evaluation: US Surgical, a manufacturer of minimally invasive surgical tools, evaluated several terminal manufacturers but chose Tektronix because of its interoperability with UNIX clients. In addition, the Tektronix terminals have an embedded Web browser, a feature US Surgical wanted.
Solution: US Surgical uses 600 Tektronix WinDD terminals running on nine servers. Each server is load balanced and can handle about 100 users. Each of the Tektronix terminals, 125 CAD users, and 50 remote dial-up users can access the company's SAP R/3 manufacturing application. The SAP application uses Oracle on UNIX as a back-end database engine. US Surgical also uses Tektronix's built-in browser to access a human resources intranet application. Other users run WRQ, Microsoft Office, and departmental accounting applications.
"As PCs or Macs reach the end of their life cycle, we'll look at replacing many of them with terminals with a Web browser and a Java OS embedded. We want to stop visiting the desktop in response to broken hardware requests. We also want the ability to run the browser on the workstation in some cases—machines that are not assigned to a particular person," said Stephanie Johns, US Surgical's manager of LAN/desktop technology. US Surgical is using Microsoft's Systems Management Server (SMS) to update the company's PC software.
Results: "\[TCSC\] has reduced desktop cost and centralized management. It works. I use a terminal as my primary machine," Johns said.
Recommendations: Stephanie Johns offers the following recommendations to companies interested in implementing TCSC. "First, be careful when you hear about 500-dollar terminals. You want a monitor that performs \[as well as\] and looks as good as a PC. We bought 17-inch monitors, which brought our total terminal cost to around a thousand dollars. Second, if you want centralized management, you must put powerful servers on the back end. Third, you need to get close to your business requirements to make sure \[your TCSC solution\] really works for your environment now and in the future. For single-function users \[TCSC\] is great, but multiple functions require more work. For example, if you need access to CD-ROMs, faxing, and scanning, you'll need to install CD-ROM towers, fax servers, and centralized scanners. They must be on the network, not attached to someone's PC. Your users coming from terminals will have no problem, but users coming from PCs are not receptive to terminals. Finally, plan to put in some time just to get the application to work. You'll need to tweak many applications before they'll work well in this environment."
BJC Health System
St. Louis, Missouri System
Challenge: Replace mainframe-based healthcare applications (patient registration, clinical documentation, scheduling, and laboratory and pharmacy data tracking) that are not Y2K-compliant. Replace proprietary dumb terminals with graphical terminals; new terminals must support X-based applications. Use older 386 and 486 IBM-compatible PCs to run NT-based applications.
Evaluation: BJC Health System, a nonprofit healthcare provider serving two states in the Midwest, ran performance and compatibility tests against all major NT-based multiuser systems. The company chose NCD WinCenter Pro for its superior performance and support for X terminals.
Solution: BJC Health System installed four 4 * 200 Compaq load-balanced servers running NCD WinCenter Pro. The company uses Octopus' DataStar replication software to automatically replicate changes on one server to the other three servers. Client devices at BJC Health System include 150 NCD Explora X terminals and 230 older 386 and 486 PCs that run ICA for the DOS protocol.
Results: "Users can move from machine to machine and get their own desktop," said Dave Schultz, MIS manager for BJC Health System. "This is centralized computing at its best. One person in MIS can support 380 thin-client devices." Achieving similar results to those other companies have achieved, BJC Health System pushed application changes from a server to 380 clients within 2 hours.
Dave Schultz voiced some complaints about Microsoft's Terminal Server licensing model. "The new Microsoft Terminal Server client licensing sucks. I made a bunch of business proposals based on Citrix's concurrent usage model. Currently, I have 260 concurrent licenses for 380 devices. With the new Terminal Server licensing model, I would need 380 client access licenses (CALs) and NT Workstation licenses. The immediate net increase is $48,000. One of my hospitals has 1400 beds—with a thin-client device at every bed. With concurrent licensing for roaming users, I could get away with two hundred licenses. With the new scheme, I need 1400 licenses. That's a serious amount of money. Microsoft could kill this technology with its licensing scheme."
Recommendations: Dave Schultz says, "Make sure the business model fits: You're looking for a set of workers who use a monolithic set of applications. Be prepared to spend more time than usual in the up-front configuration." Schultz recommends taking a long-term approach to implementing TCSC: "Look real hard at where you're going to be in 18 months to 36 months. You want to avoid the turmoil that obsolete thin-client devices will cause."
AT&T Wireless Services
Challenge: Support retail stores located in 10 states.
Evaluation: AT&T Wireless Services provides cellular phone service to 10 western states. During an evaluation of its computing environment, the company discovered that ICA traffic consumed 80 percent less bandwidth over a T1 line than in a similarly configured remote PC environment. "Citrix's ICA protocol is lean and mean," said Rod Crownover, AT&T's western area IS services manager.
Solution: AT&T created Citrix WinFrame application server clusters at two central locations—Sacramento and Seattle—that are connected to individual stores via T1 or frame relay. Each server is a Compaq 5000 4 * 200 with 1GB of RAM and serves about 50 clients. The servers use IP rotary for load balancing. AT&T deploys 400 Wyse Winterm 2310 terminals in its retail stores, training rooms, and for temporary employees. AT&T finds the Wyse terminals smaller, lighter, and less expensive than PCs.
Results: "It took us a year to migrate our 12,000 desktops from Windows 3.11 to NT 3.51. We needed to make massive changes to the PC hardware to support the applications," Crownover said. In contrast, AT&T upgraded to a new version of Office 97 using WinFrame and the Wyse terminals in 2 hours. "WinFrame gives us centralized processing, easy remote support, and lower cost than a desktop. We haven't needed to add any desktop support people, even though the organization is growing at 20 percent," Crownover added. "Easier spares, no moving parts, and interchangeable, stable boxes—not much to them. This solution lets you set it and forget it. About 60 percent of our 12,000 desktops could use this technology."
AT&T plans to stick with ICA even after the company upgrades to Terminal Server by purchasing Citrix's MetaFrame. "All the things we wanted, we got," Crownover said.
Recommendation: "The cheaper you can put up the desktop, the better. Why do you need a PC? Every time someone saves something to \[a\] PC, it's different from box to box," Crownover said. "What do you do with older PCs?" I asked. Crownover replied, "I tell the end user to keep the monitor, keyboard, and mouse and replace the box with a Wyse terminal. Once a PC has reached maturity it's not worth the cost of maintenance."
The biggest problem AT&T encountered was configuring 16-bit internal or customized applications for the WinFrame environment. Crownover noted that 16-bit applications run at half the speed of an equivalent 32-bit application, saying, "we had to tweak it for about a month before we got it right. Some of Citrix's Value Added Resellers have been really good at helping us overcome these configuration problems." Crownover recommends finding an experienced Citrix Value Added Reseller (VAR) to help with deployment.
SUNY Health Library
Stonybrook, New York
Evaluation: The library needed to replace aging 3270 terminals. Roger Kelley, the library's systems administrator, began by putting PCs in public areas but found it hard to secure the computers. He also tried using Exodus Technologies' NTERPRISE on a Digital Alpha server to serve Boundless X terminals but ran into problems with the TN3270 software and scrapped the solution.
Challenge: Give library patrons the ability to use Web-based technology to search catalogs, journals, and databases from around the world. Budgets and staff are down, so the solution must be cost-effective and require no additional support personnel. Patrons must not be able to change the configuration of the client device. The library needs to keep track of printer usage and charge fees for that usage.
Solution: The library runs Terminal Server and Citrix MetaFrame to serve 50 Boundless TC200 ICA terminals. For its servers, the library uses a pair of dual-Pentium Digital 6200 systems with 768MB of RAM. Roger Kelley chose Opera!, Opera Software's Web browser, over Microsoft's and Netscape's because Opera Software's product is smaller, faster, and more customizable. Kelley found that the browser's 1MB footprint lets Terminal Server serve many more users than Internet Explorer (IE) or Netscape. In addition, Kelley customized the browser to prevent users from accessing anything beyond authorized Web sites. The library also supports centralized Zip and 3.5" drives for users who need access to digital data. Finally, the library supports centralized printing through a solution called UnipriNT for Universities by Pharos Systems. UnipriNT lets the library charge for printing on a per-use basis.
Results: "Surprise—it works," said Kelley. "I've got 50 terminals working, and I barely get one support call per day. I'm able to do application development instead of PC support."
Recommendation: According to Kelley, TCSC "will cost you less to operate. Your return on investment is much better. You don't need to upgrade everything; you can run with old PCs. You can run Macs on there. You get more connectivity. It takes bigger servers, but big deal. I've had no complaints on performance. To really convince yourself, take a 386 and run the DOS ICA client and watch it work."
Challenge: Provide a total banking services solution with centralized support for 800 community banks throughout the US with $250 million to $8 billion in total assets. Solution must not require onsite IS personnel.
Evaluation: EDS's Business Banking Division, a provider of professional banking services, tried putting an independent client/ server solution in each of the 800 banks it serves. This solution required a full-time support person at each site to support the servers, the network, and 100 to 150 users. EDS calculated that centralizing the application would drastically simplify infrastructure, eliminate onsite support personnel, and reduce the cost to bank customers. EDS's insurance division had already experienced success with Citrix WinFrame, which gave the company's banking division confidence in thin client/server technology.
Solution: To date, EDS has installed Citrix WinFrame 1.7 in its four training sites. This strategy has let EDS train its customers on the banking application and stress-test the system. EDS plans to have implemented Terminal Server in 300 of its 800 customer sites within the next 12 months. EDS uses multiple Sequent NTX 2000 4 * 200 servers with 2GB of RAM to serve its thin clients. The servers are clustered with the Citrix MetaFrame load-balancing option. To EDS, the MetaFrame shadowing feature is essential to training users at remote sites. "In the past, we needed to fly in our customers for training. Now we can distribute training to multiple locations," said Kathy Garnett, EDS Business Services Group executive.
EDS plans to test Sequent's 8-way servers to see whether Terminal Server will scale. So far, the company has found memory to be a more limiting factor than processing power.
Results: "By moving the application to thin client, we avoid sending EDS technicians out to customer sites. We are responsible for PC failures even though the problem has nothing to do with the EDS solution. We eliminate the downtime for end users, which could be as much as a day. Our insurance division has already experienced a 30 percent to 40 percent reduction in Help desk calls. We expect the same," Garnett said.
Recommendation: EDS recommends finding a partner with Citrix expertise. EDS finds invaluable Sequent's expertise in application profiling, WAN performance, and application load balancing. "Sequent provides a total solution. I didn't want to deal with pieces," Garnett explained.
Windows NT Magazine provides an interactive Web-based forum that lets you talk with other readers and industry professionals about TCSC. Just point your browser to http://www.winntmag.com/terminal.