Citrix recently announced the next version of its MetaFrame server-based computing software. I'll write an extensive review for an upcoming issue of Windows 2000 Magazine. For now, with the help of Citrix's Matt Dircks and Brian Mason and my consulting partner Steve Greenberg, I offer a brief look at the software.

The new version of MetaFrame (XP, for EXtended Platform) is a family of products. XPS is the base product; XPA is the load-balancing version; and XPE is the version with load balancing, Remote Management Services, Installation Management Services, and cooperation with network management tools such as Tivoli and Hewlett-Packard (HP) OpenView. Metaframe XP includes features from MetaFrame 1.8's Feature Release 1 (FR1)—such as panning and scaling applications, high-color support, and the updated SpeedScreen. However, in the new version, some aspects—such as server management and communication, licensing, printer driver management, and load balancing—have changed. As Greenberg puts it, "MetaFrame XP is the biggest leap forward in Citrix technology since the first release of Multi-User Windows. You can manage all MetaFrame XP servers from a single console, including farm creation and management, load balancing, application installation, and resource management. The software has new features such as centralized print driver management, Active Directory (AD) integration, intelligent license management, and the ability to break a farm down into zones. The Independent Management Architecture (IMA) protocol, which doesn't require UDP broadcasts, has replaced the ICA master browser. The mixed XP/MF 1.8 compatibility mode supports gradual migration."

The biggest news in MetaFrame XP is consolidated server management. You can manage everything—servers, users, and printers—from a single Java-based console that's a separate tool. You can install this tool on non-MetaFrame servers to manage servers from, say, a Win2K workstation—without using an ICA license. Servers are divided into farms and zones: farms are logical groups of servers that share information, and zones are physical groupings within a farm. Static farm-wide information (such as licensing and available applications) is stored in a data store that an Oracle, SQL Server, or Access database might back, and on which all farms draw. A data collector that works like a master browser on a per-zone basis maintains dynamic information (such as which applications are in use). You have to back up the data store, but data collectors are more expendable—if one server goes down, another takes over the job. Servers no longer communicate with UDP broadcasts but with the new IMA protocol that works over TCP ports.

MetaFrame XP's load balancing is more flexible. You can still use MetaFrame 1.8's load-balancing tools to route traffic based on current CPU and memory load. With XP, however, you can also route traffic based on client location and the type of applications users request. For example, because it takes less memory to run 20 sessions of Notepad than 20 sessions of PowerPoint, you can create a load-balancing profile that spreads out the PowerPoint sessions.

Citrix is still working on the printing problem, but the company has attacked the server printing issue with printer driver management tools. These tools automatically push a printer driver out to one, some, or all servers in a farm, then automatically install the printer on that server.

MetaFrame XP doesn't depend on Win2K; it also works with Terminal Server Edition. If you don't plan to migrate all your terminal servers to XP right away, the software also supports compatibility mode. You can toggle between compatibility mode and native mode on an XP terminal server by clicking a checkbox on the console—you don't have to reinstall the software or reboot the server to switch modes.

Citrix has greatly simplified MetaFrame's licensing structure by basing it on concurrent connections. Instead of paying $4995 for a 15-connection package and adding license fees as you add connections, you now install the software on as many servers as you want and pay only for concurrent connections. The retail cost per connection depends on the package you buy and whether you buy Subscription Advantage. XPS costs $250 per connection without Subscription Advantage and $300 with. XPA costs $300 without and $350 with, and XPE costs $350 without and $400 with. You must buy at least 20 connections; then you can buy more licenses in quantities of 5, 10, or 20. If you already use MetaFrame 1.8 and you bought Subscription Advantage, migration to the closest available package is free.

This review is short for space reasons and doesn't tell the whole story. But the initial outlook is good. Citrix seems to be serious about making terminal services easier to manage, and that's always good news for anyone who manages terminal servers.