Ray Richards is founder of Mindspan Consultants and a technology journalist hailing from Ottawa, Canada

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Network Resource Management: Winframe Enterprise

From theoretical to practical...

For the last two months, we have examined the realm of network resource management and have discussed the various concerns inherent in managing enterprise hardware and application deployment. This month we were to have examined three different products that address these concerns in disparate fashions; however, as new versions of two of the products are awaiting release, I thought I'd wait until that had occurred to do a thorough review. Instead, this month I'd like to review a product that also partially falls into this category, Winframe Enterprise by Citrix.

What is it?

Citrix's Winframe Enterprise is essentially an extension of the Windows NT Server network operating system which transforms it into a true multi-user environment similar to UNIX, in that many users may simultaneously execute the same or different applications residing on a single server. While this is nice, it doesn't explain the true benefit of the product: the ability to execute Windows applications over virtually any network (LANs, WANs, via async, ISDN, ATM, Frame Relay, etc.) on any machine (UNIX workstations, IBM compatibles, Macintosh, OS/2 systems, terminals and PDA's), using very low bandwidth.

What's so great about that?

Sounds a lot like JAVA, doesn't it? Well it is, and it isn't. Winframe is a cross-platform operating environment like JAVA which fulfills the requirement for heterogeneous enterprise IT interoperability. However, unlike JAVA, Win-frame does not require the creation of new applications, but leverages the market's current investment in the literally thousands of pre-existing Windows-based applications. Even better, it allows users with under-powered systems to run Windows apps which normally require significantly more resources than are available to them locally. For instance, a user possessing a 286 with 1 MB RAM and a 40 MB hard drive could run the Windows 95 version of Adobe Photoshop — even over the Internet!

Target clients

What kinds of organizations will be interested in implementing this software solution? While this depends on your IT objectives and current level of technology, I can safely state that nearly all ventures could profit from the deployment of this product.

I recently visited a small office environment (15 stations) which was experiencing many difficulties with its productivity due to the out-dated computer equipment and applications that it was employing. They had no network, save two systems connected by a serial link, no e-mail, and due to the fact that they had limited hardware capabilities, were locked into using DOS-based applications which had long since failed to meet their requirements. They could not electronically collaborate, nor facilitate workflow or even exchange files without time-consuming utilization of floppy diskettes. As their consultant, I was called upon to provide a proposal that would address their concerns and rectify their difficulties with a minimum price tag attached (they were a non-profit organization).

I could have suggested that they upgrade all of their systems and applications to be on par with the current standard, but this would have been costly indeed: approximately $85,000 (including servers). I therefore concluded that, considering the financial constraints imposed upon them, Citrix's Winframe would be an ideal solution. At a cost of under $30,000, (also including servers) this organization could utilize all the features and benefits that today's software offers. Another example of a successful Winframe deployment would be a large corporate environment desirous of greater control over its IT infrastructure, thereby increasing efficiency and reducing associated costs.

One of the best features of this product is it's ability to centralize computer resources; a key strategy in Network Resource Management involving the utilization of 'thin clients'. All applications reside on the server, reducing the need for LAN manager vigilance over the user community. Application upgrades are quickly accomplished by simply installing the new version over the old on the server — once. The cost savings of this procedure alone on a typical 1000-node LAN are staggering. Viral infections are also detected and eliminated at the server, reducing costly down-time to a minimum.

Other uses

The extremely low bandwidth Winframe requires to push applications over the Internet will enable companies to employ solutions to overcome business obstacles in several novel ways. For instance, software publishing companies now face the difficulty of getting demonstration copies into the hands of prospective clients. The current solution over the Internet requires long downloads (which many clients fail to perform due to time constraints, virus contamination fears, etc.), or costly distribution on CD-ROM for larger programs.

These disk-based demos are usually 'crippled' in some way, which renders the demonstration far less effective. Winframe will allow software vendors to permit prospective clients to preview full versions of their wares over the Internet with no time consuming downloads or costly media distribution. Telecommuting, a strategy being widely embraced by both government and corporate cultures, is effectively facilitated by employing Winframe. This product's integrated desktop allows the concurrent execution of programs locally and from remote; and permits drag and drop operations and the sharing of clipboard information between them.

Mobile sales forces may also utilize this technology to demonstrate product, access information residing on company servers such as brochures, pricing, technical resource availability, and process orders from remote.This remote connectivity raises the spectre of security breaches brought about by the supposed 'armies of hackers' haunting the Internet, looking for chinks in corporate IT armor. Security is handled by Windows NT's C2 level of security, which employs multi-level passwords and privileges, encrypted login and data as well as roving call-backs to ensure unauthorized access is prevented.

Summing up...

Citrix has a clear winner here. Corporate acceptance of Winframe has been overwhelming: Bell Mobility, Sears and Data General are just a few of the large organizations that have adopted this technology whole-heartedly. Citrix enjoyed a 207 per cent increase in revenue in 1996, over the previous fiscal year, and appears poised to shatter that record in '97. Check out http://www.citrix.com/ for a live demo and further information.

Originally published in Monitor magazine's lanStuff column, May, 1997, by technoloy columnist, Ray Richards.

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