Product: 2X ApplicationServer XG 10.5
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Although many companies have tried, the full promise of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) has, until recently, been very difficult to achieve. With early hopes for massively reduced costs and simplified desktop management, many CIOs took a look at early VDI offerings and quickly discovered that they were unaffordable and added major complexity to the IT infrastructure.
In a period of shrinking budgets and increasing expectations, early adopters of VDI discovered the hard way that virtualizing the desktop experience was a radically different challenge than server virtualization. Now, rather than behind-the-scenes workloads being moved to different machines, user-facing, latency-sensitive and performance-hungry desktop computers were being replaced with solutions that couldn’t live up to the hype.
Fortunately, as time has gone on, many companies have continued to push the VDI boundaries in an effort to reduce costs and simplify the deployment of what has proven to be a complex computing environment for many.
While many of the established hypervisor vendors have built VDI solutions based on their products, the fortunate reality is that CIOs have significant choice when it comes to the complete details of the deployment. This is even truer when the CIO considers a hypervisor agnostic VDI solution from 2X Software. Whereas some CIOs will simply stick with the big established players, I’ve discovered that 2X software has recently released 2X ApplicationServer XG 10.5, a software tool that combines the best of Windows Server Terminal Services with significantly extended functionality from 2X software, resulting in a virtual desktop environment that is both affordable and pretty easy to deploy.
In this review, I will deploy 2X ApplicationServer XG 10.5 and show you how you can quickly begin delivering virtual desktops to your users.
About 2X ApplicationServer XG 10.5
So, what exactly is 2X ApplicationServer XG? According to 2X’s Licensing Guide, XG “provides vendor-independent virtual desktops and applications to any platform, from any location.” For additional expansion and redundancy, XG can be coupled with the 2X LoadBalancer, which “offers resource-based load balancing with increased security and redundancy, ensuring optimal performance for your terminal server farm.” Some XG editions include LoadBalancer licenses.
The company used to sell two separate products—2X ApplicationServer and 2X VirtualDesktopServer. However, with the launch of the first version of “XG” the functionality of these two products was combined into a single product named 2X ApplicationServer XG. You will still find some references to the older product names in some places on the 2X web site, which can be a bit confusing if you’re not familiar with the current product offerings.
Version 10.5 includes a number of new features, including:
- RDP Drives: The 2X Windows Client has the option to select which drives a user can redirect
- Radius Support: Integration of Radius as a 2nd level authentication provider
- SSL Request: Ability to generate a SSL certificate request directly from the console
- URL Redirection Blacklist: Administrators can now configure URLs, which will not be redirected to the client but will stay on the server.
- Support for Hyper-V Cluster
- Raw Printing: With this feature, applications which send RAW data format directly to the printer will work when the printer is redirected.
- Single Sign On for Servers: Previously this was only available for workstations. This has now been introduced as an installation switch allowing SSO to work on server machines. This should only be used after validating the installation.
- RDP Connection in Linux and Java Clients: Both clients are updated to support straight RDP connectivity.
- Server to Client Commands: Starting applications on the client as instructed from the server session.
Why not just use Windows Server 2008 and above?
When you take a hard look at Windows Server 2008 and above, you will quickly discover that the operating system includes powerful workload abstraction features, including the venerable Terminal Services, now called Remote Desktop Services in newer versions of Windows Server, as well as Hyper-V, upon which an organization can deploy virtual desktops. In fact, newer versions of Windows Server support deployment scenarios of various Terminal Services components that enable both application level and desktop level virtualization.
However, whereas Microsoft provides good functionality in their base Windows Server product, 2X ApplicationServer XG 10.5 takes the solution to a whole new level by providing such features as:
- Virtual Desktop & Application Delivery. Enables the delivery of complete Windows desktops or virtualization applications to remote mobile and desktop devices.
- Connection Broker. Enables the delivery of virtual desktops hosted on a multitude of hypervisors, including Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix Xen, VMware vSphere and more. This is a powerful inclusion that adds significant choice to the desktop virtualization paradigm. Click here for a list of supported hypervisors.
- 2X Client for Mobiles, Tablets & PCs. A mobile client that enables connectivity to the solution from Windows, Linux, Mac, iOS and Android computers, smartphones and tablets.
- Microsoft RemoteFX support. If supported by the hardware, enables the virtual environment to deliver to a user a rich remote desktop and application experience that supports Microsoft’s high definition RemoteFX accelerated multimedia protocol.
- VDI Management for Major Hypervisors. Manage and administer core VDI capabilities such as templates, pooling and more.
- High Scalability & Redundancy. Enables administrators to easily scale and upgrade the virtual environment without different downtime.
- 2XOS – Thin Client Operating System. This is a Linux-based, zero-management thin client operating system that you can distribute to clients over the network. This thin 2XOS allows you to extend the life span of existing aging PCs by converting them to thin clients, providing considerable hardware savings over time.
While this is an impressive list, it still doesn’t perfectly outline the value-add that administrators might receive from deploying the 2X solution instead of relying solely on Terminal Services. 2X ApplicationServer XG adds major features that you can read about in the company’s 2X ApplicationServer XG vs. Windows 2008 Comparison guide. In short, 2X adds availability and security features as well as single-sign on and other enterprise grade features that can help organizations achieve higher levels of success with the VDI deployments.
Before I discuss documentation, I’d like to point out one item that I really loved, the port map, shown in miniature below.
Figure 1: Firewall diagram
So many companies forget that these little touches make the initial product deployment process significantly easier, especially for those attempting to familiarize themselves with the system.
However, as much as I liked the port map, and for as much time as 2X appears to have spent creating documentation, I would have like to seen some much more basic “primers” or “getting started guides” that more clearly explained exactly what each currently selling product was and provided a little more basic guidance. When I’m doing a review, I like to be as independent as possible and rarely do I contact the company with basic questions. I expect to be able to find easy answers on the web site. That said, after a few hours of quality time reviewing everything on the web site, I was able to find what I needed. All in all, this is only a minor annoyance and certainly does not significantly detract from the overall product.
From a pure pricing perspective, 2X Application Server XG clearly has value on its side. Whereas many VDI vendors attempt to charge significant dollars, 2X provides ApplicationServer XG at a reasonable cost, as long as you’re deploying a relatively significant number of endpoints. The chart below provides the 2012 pricing that was valid as of this writing. For the cost per connection, I did some simple math and assumed that the server would use the maximum connections at the list price. For the Enterprise package, I assumed that 240 connections would be in use. Of course, this number could vary significantly depending on the kind of workload in use in the environment. Bear in mind that these are list prices.
Inc load balancer
2X does have a number of add-ons and maintenance options available for their products. For a current price list and a complete look at the company’s pricing, visit their pricing page.
It’s important to note that you will also need to take into consideration any hypervisor costs that you may incur should you choose to use, for example, Xen or vSphere to host your 2X-based virtual desktop environment.
2X gets high marks in my book for their simple and value-driven approach to pricing their product.
A short demo
For this review, I plan to deploy a single farm with one terminal server for testing. I will then publish a desktop and connect to it from a separate machine. Note that I’m running everything on Windows Server 2012.
Before I get started, I need to install the Remote Desktop Services feature on my target Windows Server 2012 box. Use the Add Roles and Features Wizard to handle this task, as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Add Remote Desktop Services
In Figure 3, shown below, you can see exactly which components you need to install. Note that you just need the Session Host for now.
Figure 3: We’re using the Session Host for now
Next, execute the file named 2XAppServer.msi, which is downloaded from the 2X download area. As shown in Figure 4, you will be greeted with a welcome window, which you can safely skip.
Figure 4: The greeting window
The next two screen are the license agreement and default installation location (C:\Program Files (x86)\2X\ApplicationServer\), respectively. They are not shown here.
When you arrive at the Select Installation Type window, choose 2X ApplicationServer XG and click Next.
Figure 5: Choose your installation type
Next, open the console. You will see a screen like the one shown in Figure 6. This is where you’ll spend most of you time in XG. Click the Add button so we can add the local Terminal Server to XG.
Figure 6: Click the Add button to add a Terminal Server
Type in the full path of the Terminal Server and click Next (Figure 7). The wizard will return the details of the agent, which was installed along with the XG product (Figure 8)
Figure 7: Provide a new server address
Figure 8: Review the agent details
Now, let’s share a desktop. From the menu, tap the Desktop button. When prompted (Figure 9), indicate that you want to publish a desktop from Terminal Server.
Figure 9: Publish a Terminal Server desktop
Provide a name and description for the new desktop, as shown in Figure 10. Click Next to proceed.
Figure 10: Provide details for the new desktop
On the Filtering page, simply click the Finish button.
Figure 11: Click the Finish button
Now, on a separate machine, download and install the appropriate 2X client. Once the installation is complete, run the client. Upon first execution, you will be asked to configure the client to point to the server you just installed. Provide the appropriate details.
Figure 12: Configure the client details
Next, you will see a window like the one below. Here, you can see that I’ve published two applications and a desktop. To open the desktop, click on it.
Figure 13: There are three published items
In Figure 14, note that I am running on a machine named WS2012-2 and have opened a connection to WS2012-1 using the 2X client. In this example, I happen to have the 2X console opened and pointing to the Information area.
Figure 14: The client is working!
2X makes clients available for a wide variety of devices, including Windows, Linux, Mac, iOS and Android computers, smartphones and tablets.
I also did some testing of 2X’s real hypervisor-based VDI capabilities. As is the case with most VDI solutions, 2X supports both pooled and persistent guests, so administrators can easily create both temporary and permanent virtual machines, depending on the use case.
Bear in mind that a VDI-based desktop differs quite a bit from one delivered through Terminal Services. The TS-based desktop is still based on a shared underlying medium, whereas the VDI-based desktop runs on the hypervisor. In general, TS-based desktops will scale better, but VDI-based desktops provide more flexibility and a better overall use experience.
Getting the 2X system up and running was relatively straightforward and it provided the terminal services experience that I expected. The demo I provided in this article is intended to demonstrate this relative ease. An administrator can easily have a 2X-based system operational in an hour or two.
I particularly like XG’s flexibility with regard to the user experience. Those that need just applications can get the from terminal services while those that need a full desktop can get one from terminal services or from a hypervisor-based system that is installed on a separate server. Further, with the inclusion of LoadBalancer, 2X can scale to meet large needs.
As mentioned earlier, I’d like to see the documentation beefed up a little to more easily enable testing and see more scenario-based examples rather than just a walk through of the console.
I give the product VirtualizationAdmin.com Gold Award with rating of 4.5. This is based on the product’s price and the fact that it brings some simplicity to the virtual desktop paradigm while adding a number of features to Microsoft’s based tools.