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2X ApplicationServer XG version 11 (Review)

2013/12/02 Comments off

2X_ApplicationServerXG2X ApplicationServer XG version 11
2X Software
The 2X ApplicationServer is an application and desktop delivery system, similar to Citrix XenApp or Microsoft’s App-V and RemoteApp solutions.
Pricing: $75/concurrent user/1 year subscription; $93/concurrent user/2 year subscription; $109/concurrent user/3 year subscription. Licensing available in 15 user packs. Support at various levels available at additional cost.

If you’re thinking of using Citrix, or some other product, to deliver virtual desktops or applications to your users, you should hold off until you read this review of the 2X ApplicationServer XG (XG) version 11. XG is a complete Citrix alternative for desktop and application delivery.

It’s rare for me to give such high marks to any product that I review but I really like the 2X ApplicationServer. XG is easy to install, setup, and manage. It supports a wide range of clients and the price is attractive to small and medium-sized businesses. The price is a real treat for larger companies too.
I first looked at the 2X ApplicationServer in 2011 over at Linux Magazine (now defunct), where I showed readers how to connect Linux clients to its published applications via Linux clients.

For this review, I focus mostly on application publishing because to write extensively on every aspect of XG would require that you read 50 or more pages of material. For that level of detail, you can read the product manual. This review is an independent assessment of the product, its features, its pricing, its licensing, and my overall impressions.

I’ve recommended the 2X ApplicationServer product to clients, colleagues, and associates in the past, and I’ve never had anything but praise for the product–especially its extreme ease of use and speed of setup.

Download and Installation

The first thing you need to do is to download XG. You have to fill out the online form to receive your free license key for the product. The evaluation license provides you with the capability of testing 25 concurrent users for two terminal servers or virtual hosts. You can also manage ten devices with the 2X ClientManager application.

After the initial 30 day trial, the software scales back to three concurrent users and three devices for the ClientManager.

The XG download is approximately 95MB and is delivered in the form of a Windows MSI file. Once you download the 2X ApplicationServer XG installer file, double-click it to begin installation. Click through the install wizard, accept the license agreement, and allow the program to install to your system.

The only prerequisite for your XG host system is that it must be configured as a Terminal Server or that you have a Terminal Server available to configure for use with XG.

For my evaluation, I used a Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard Edition on a physical server system. You can install and configure XG on virtual machines. I used a regular server because I already had it setup for another project and it was handy for me. Otherwise, I would have used the virtual machine option.
My server hardware consists of a 2.0GHz dual-core AMD with 4GB RAM and standard SATA II HDD.

The download to completed installation was less than 10 minutes.

Resource Publishing

Publishing an application is quick too. I published Notepad, a classic test application, in less than five minutes. I installed the product and published my first application all without reading a single word of documentation. Try that with any competitive product. Now, for advanced configuration options such as printing, scanning, reporting, and Active Directory integration, I suggest that you read the manual.

But, like all things 2X creates, XG is simple to use, quick to setup, and painless to administer. And the application’s server footprint is extremely small and unobtrusive. The fact that you can run XG on virtual machines proves how lightweight it is.

I like that 2X has setup a menu of sorts for publishing resources. I say resources because you can publish more than just desktops and applications. You can publish applications, folders, desktops, predefined applications, and documents with a few simple clicks.

Predefined applications are applications that you can deploy by simply selecting them from an existing list. Included in the list are control panel applets, network configuration, Windows Explorer, or the Windows desktop as a folder.

Never before has centralized resource publishing been so easy to do.

How to Publish a Resource: Internet Explorer

From anywhere in the 2X Console application, click the Application icon located on the far left of the toolbar. See Figure 1.

Figure1

Figure 1: The 2X Console.

This launches the Publish New Application Wizard and the first screen you see is the Select Server Type screen where you pick the type of server from which you want to publish your application as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Select the source server type.

Figure 2: Select the source server type.

I chose Terminal Server because I want to publish Internet Explorer from the local system. Click Next to continue.

Figure 3 prompts you to select the application type to publish: single application, installed application, or predefined application.

Figure 3: Select the type of application to publish.

Figure 3: Select the type of application to publish.

I selected Single Application. Click Next to continue.

On this final screen, you’ll give your application a familiar name, select your application (browse to its executable), enter its description, and choose a server from which to run the application. Optionally, you may also select an icon and various application parameters. By default, if you browse to your executable, the optional parameters automatically fill in for you. See Figure 4.

Figure4

Figure 4: Supply the application details for publishing.

Click Finish to complete the wizard and publish your application. Your published application will appear in the Console window under Published Resources and is ready to be accessed from remote systems that have the 2X client software installed.

Client Access

Download and install the 2X client software appropriate for your device.

Setup the client software to connect to your 2X server by entering an alias (familiar name) for your connection, the server name or IP address of the 2X server, the connection port (default is 80), a username, a password, and the servers “mode.” The mode can be Gateway, Direct, Gateway SSL, or Direct SSL. If you don’t know, try Gateway first. If you aren’t the 2X system administrator, ask the administrator which type you use.

There might be other optional parameters that you can select and tweak but for testing, I suggest leaving everything default. When you’ve finished your client setup, test it by attempting a connection. You should automatically logon to the Windows system and see a list of published resources to which you have access.

Security

Everyone wants to know about security and 2X has it in spades, which means there are so many security options that you can really lock down access to your published resources. For example, in the 2X Console, in the Connection section, you can select domain authentication from the Authentication tab. You can specify the domain, all trusted domains, workgroups, and you can also require authentication before a user can see the list of published resources.

On the Second Level Authentication tab, you specify a provider (Deepnet, SafeNet, or RADIUS) and then you enter exclude list details by IP address, client, or MAC address. Additionally, you can select specific gateway servers to service clients using second level authentication.

If you have a bring your own device (BYOD) program in place but only want to allow certain types of devices to connect to published 2X resources, you can exclude users by the device or client type. For example, if you only want to allow Windows and iOS-based systems to connect, you can exclude all other clients.

There are other security options that you can configure but they require more advanced setup than what I have available to me in my limited lab but I want you to be aware of their existence. You configure groups, 2X client policies, and other options via the Client Manager section of the 2X Console.

Nikolaos Makris, 2X CEO, had this to say about ApplicationServer XG version 11:

“This is a significant release for 2X as it enables businesses of all sizes the ability to scale their virtualization infrastructure according to their organizational demands. We have achieved this through the development of a feature-rich, yet flexible virtual desktop and application delivery solution. Our focus was to provide companies with a cost-effective solution to easily implement and manage a Private Cloud infrastructure. Now that we have released, I’m excited to say that we have achieved our objectives.”

New Features

Sites Management: A farm can be divided into multiple sites with each site representing a single location infrastructure. All sites share the same settings and are isolated. Sites can forward users to other sites if an application or desktop is not available on the current site, if the user is already running sessions on a different site, or if a user is geographically closer to another site.

Role Based Administration: Multiple administrators can modify farm settings at the same time. Different administrators can also have different roles and levels of authority within the system. The settings are stored at the master site, then distributed and activated to the others when the settings are applied. Auditing of who made changes to the system, and when they did so, is also available. If two users try to edit the same object, the second user will find the object locked. If a user adds, edits or deletes an object, the change is shown immediately in the second console. When a user starts the console application they will need to enter their credentials.

Task Menu: The task menu behaves more efficiently when items are selected. On right click in the list control, a context menu can be used. This provides more space for information and makes it easier to add new actions.

Replicate Settings in All Sites: A standard button is used throughout the console so that the same set of settings can be replicated in all sites.

Notifications to Multiple Administrators: Since multiple administrators can be managing the system, it’s possible to send notifications to more than one user depending on the settings used. New types of notification have also been introduced.

Improvements

Start-up Speed of 2X Publishing Agent: When system settings are changed, it has no effect on the agents in use, as the publishing agent will not be restarted but rather it will refresh the actual setting which was effected.

Restructuring of the Console Page: With the addition of Role Based Administration, the console page was structured in a more logical manner, creating a new category for administrator roles.

iPad Client running Internet Explorer and displaying the options menu.

iPad Client running Internet Explorer and displaying the options menu.

Client Accessibility

You can connect from a wide range of clients to 2X resources. This list is current as of this writing:

  • 2X Windows client
  • 2X Cloud Portal
  • 2X Java client
  • 2X Android client
  • 2X iOS client
  • 2X Linux client
  • 2X Mac client
  • 2X HTML5 client
  • 2X Blackberry client
  • 2X Wyse client
  • 2XOS client

The range of available clients means that users will be able to connect to published resources regardless of which device they use. This is very good news for companies who participate in BYOD programs.

Why the 2X ApplicationServer XG product is frugal: XG is frugal because of its low barriers to implementation. The pricing is low. The installation and setup are very easy. The management is relatively simple. The security is comfortably high and easy to configure. And you can connect any currently available device to published resources. XG is a lot of bang for the buck and that’s the definition of frugal for me: value.

iPad Client running Internet Explorer and Notepad.

iPad Client running Internet Explorer and Notepad.

Pricing and Licensing

The 2X ApplicationServer XG is licensed to you as a subscription in one-year, two-year, or three-year increments and by number of concurrent users. The three-year subscription is the most cost effective option at $109 per concurrent user. You have to purchase license packs in increments of 15 users.

The 2X license model is a bit hard to follow. I find it somewhat confusing. The licensing document (link below) attempts to describe several scenarios to help with understanding but the examples aren’t very clear. I don’t understand the expiry terms, upgrade insurance, or the timing when purchasing new licensing.

In my opinion, the licensing could be made simpler. I also don’t really like having to purchase licenses in 15 user increments. But, the license pricing is so good for those 15 that it might matter less to you than purchasing a competitor’s product at a much higher cost. In other words, I can deal with some licensing idiosyncrasies if the numbers are right.

For full pricing and support options, see the 2X Licensing Guide in US Dollars.

Summary

The 2X ApplicationServer XG product can have you up and running published applications in minutes instead of hours or days. You need little to no training to install, setup, publish, and manage a 2X ApplicationServer system.
The price is low enough to where even the smallest companies with the tightest budgets can withstand its pricing model.

And for those really tight budgets, just about anyone with very little training can setup and manage the XG product. For those who don’t want a full-time IT person on staff, you could hire someone to take care of your needs remotely. Publishing an application is so quick an easy that your support costs should be minimal as well.

For my money, the 2X ApplicationServer XG product is the most cost-effective and simplest application and desktop delivery product on the market.

My assessment on a 10-point scale, with 1 being low and 10 being high:

Ease of installation: 10
Speed of installation: 10
Easy to publish resources: 10
Easy to access published resources from remote clients (Windows, Linux, Mac, tablets): 10
License Model: 7
Price/Licensing: 10
Support options: 10
Security options: 10
Client accessibility: 10

You can also check out my ZDNet version of this review.

The IBM PowerLinux 7R4 Interview with Chuck Bryan (Podcast)

2013/08/15 Comments off
The IBM PowerLinux 7R4 Server.

The IBM PowerLinux 7R4 Server.

Chuck Bryan, Team Leader for Linux on Power Systems, and I discuss Power 7 and Power 7+ Systems, the power behind the famous Watson computer, and the recent Linux on Power Systems announcement from IBM, the IBM PowerLinux 7R4 server.

PowerLinux systems run industry standard Red Hat Enterprise Linux or SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. You can also partition Power Systems using PowerVM virtualization tools to run Linux, AIX, or IBM i applications.

Length: 23:54 minutes. Format: MP3. Rating: G

The embedded player requires Adobe Flash. If you need a different delivery method, please notify me.

This interview focuses on IBM’s announcement about the new PowerLinux System (PowerLinux 7R4) for analytics and cloud computing. The PowerLinux 7R4 server is the same technology behind Watson. The purpose of the PowerLinux 7R4 is to provide businesses with a system that is an energy and cost-efficient computing platform to run your data-centric workloads for analytics, transaction processing, applications, and other compute-intense workloads.

The Power Systems line provides you with a secure, reliable computing and energy efficient virtualization platform.

An interesting addition to IBM’s announcement, that Chuck discusses during the podcast, is that IBM has partnered with EnterpriseDB, the company that develops and supports the open source database, PostgreSQL, to bring you a low-cost, Oracle-compatible solution. EnterpriseDB’s Postgres Plus Advanced Server allows you to seamlessly migrate off of Oracle and onto an equally capable database (RDBMS) for a fraction of Oracle’s cost.

In May 2013 IBM opened the world’s first IBM’s Power Systems Linux Center in Beijing, China and in June 2013 IBM announced its intention to open two more IBM Power Systems Linux Centers in New York and Austin, TX.

IBM for Midsize Business

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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Linux has a Place in the Enterprise

2012/02/16 1 comment

Linux in the Enterprise
From its meager beginnings as a hobby project to its extreme success among geeks, Linux has survived lawsuits, boycotts and onslaughts from every corner of the UNIX, Windows and Mac computing markets. Linux has, in spite of its critics, made its way into the world’s data centers. Linux enjoyed early success as a host platform for the Apache web server but now has blossomed into a formidable contender for rack space. For an operating system, Linux has the best mixture of vendor neutrality, open source code base, stability, reliability, scalability and affordability. It also provides the user or administrator the choice of graphical user interfaces or none at all.

Linux has one very significant advantage over all other operating systems: Hardware compatibility. It runs on a variety of hardware platforms from wristwatches to mainframes, although it’s most familiar playing field is on x86 metal.

Two decades of community development and support have brought Linux into the mainstream as an enterprise-level operating system that’s competitive on every level of computing. Linux hosts workloads of all sizes and types: Web services, databases, applications, network services, file services, virtualization and cloud computing.

With the notable exceptions of Microsoft’s Hyper-V and Solaris Zones, Linux-based virtualization solutions are the standard in contemporary data centers. And, the world’s largest cloud computing vendor, Amazon, uses Xen virtualization for its services. Though it’s rare outside of Internet Service Provider (ISP) realms, you can run “Zones” virtualization on Linux too. Zones, containers or jails are a popular method of securely compartmentalizing Linux applications from one another. ISPs use containers to separate users from one another on shared systems for shell access. It’s an effective and secure method of leveraging inexpensive hardware over dozens of users.

Though Linux has a dedicated following, corporate buy-in and support from the world’s largest hardware and software vendors, there are still those who aren’t convinced. As late as mid-2011, I found several articles and commentary challenging the viability of Linux as a data center operating system.

The problem with Linux adoption stems from a misunderstanding of the Linux support model. Linux, as a kernel, and generally as an operating system, is free. Free means its code is free to use, change and adapt to any purpose. Some refer to this freedom as open source. Open source does not necessarily mean free. Proprietary software can be open source but it isn’t free to change, rebrand, etc. Linux is free software and it’s also open source.

It also means that Linux is free of charge. Vendors charge for media, consulting, support and a host of associated services but they usually do not charge for the Linux software itself.

The very thing that makes Linux so desirable to geeks and those knowledgeable in the ways of free software is also the aspect that makes some company executives turn away from Linux as a data center operating system. Incorrectly, they assume that since something is free and doesn’t have strings attached that there must be something wrong with it.

Dispelling myths associated with Linux use requires a lot of energy and time. But, there is one sure test for Linux data center viability: IT Services Support.

Linux has support, financial and technical, from the biggest names in the IT industry. Each of these industry giants has its own Linux distribution preference but, whichever distribution you decide to use, you can purchase full support for it. You can purchase 24x7x365 support from a variety of sources, including directly from Linux distribution vendors.

Every major IT services company supports Linux, Windows and commercial UNIX flavors as part of its portfolio. Linux is a mainstream operating system that carries workloads for every sized company in the world. Linux is no longer cute or niche. If you use any online web hosting services, web-based CRM software, databases, virtualization or cloud services, chances are greater than 90% that you’re using Linux behind the scenes for those services.

Linux supports high availability, clustering, high-performance computing and a variety of hardware platforms. It also supports industry standard LDAP (Directory) services, large databases, journaling filesystems, SMP computing and major computer languages including an implementation of Microsoft’s .NET platform.

Linux has its place in your data center doing the enterprise-level heavy lifting at a lower cost than comparable proprietary systems. The days of the monolithic, single operating system data centers are long gone. Heterogeneous networks, including Linux, are today’s standard fare.


This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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Has the World outgrown Commercial UNIX?

2012/01/19 1 comment

When you read articles about cloud computing or Enterprise computing, you rarely see the term ‘UNIX’ anymore. You see plenty of rhetoric about Linux and Windows but UNIX seems to have left the building, for good. And, by ‘building,’ I mean data center. However, that’s not the case. UNIX is alive and well in the world’s Enterprise data centers. It just doesn’t grab headlines like it used to. Does the fact that UNIX isn’t a newsworthy buzz term mean that it’s on its last legs as an Enterprise operating system. Certainly not. Commercial UNIX might have lost its “coolness” but it hasn’t lost its place running your business-critical applications and services.

Enterprise-level UNIX systems still rule the data center for the big workloads, the big databases and Big Data.

When selecting an operating system for your critical business needs, what do you look for? Reliability, availability, stability, versatility, virtualization, scalability, affordability, sustainability, supportability and sheer ability are terms that come to mind on which to judge an operating system. Plus you need a company behind the operating system that employs experts who understand the critical nature of your business. That’s the lure of commercial UNIX. That’s the decision point for many businesses: Support.

It’s fun to think of living in a world where a company can throw caution to the wind and use free software. The reality is that for a company to remain operational it must do so sometimes at greater expense. It’s wise to be frugal but you also can’t afford to gamble with your business’s livelihood based on whim or attitude founded on an ideal. Free software has its place in the data center. But, are you willing to risk your company’s mission-critical business on it?

So far, businesses say, “No.”

Commercial UNIX still wins in every category listed above. Yes, even affordability. Companies that use Linux never do so without also paying for support and 24x7x365 is expensive, even for Linux. Windows does some things well. Linux does some things well. Commercial UNIX does some things well. There is no single right answer to every problem. That’s why you don’t have many companies of any size that have a single operating system or platform anymore.

Don’t misunderstand me, I love Linux and free software but you have to realize that, when it comes to risking millions or perhaps even billions of dollars on your computing infrastructure, you have to use a time-tested, battle-proven technology. That technology is commercial UNIX.

Allow me to quote some statistics gathered by Gabriel Consulting Group (GCG) last year (2011) on this topic that’s published in their whitepaper, “Is Commercial Unix Relevant in the Midmarket?” The 300+ survey respondents represent companies of all sizes, including 44 percent from companies with more than 10,000 employees. However, the data in the report reflects the responses from the focus group (Midmarket, 4,000 or fewer employees), which is 46 percent of the total number of those surveyed. GCG has also included some data from the large company segment for comparison.

  • >80% stated that UNIX usage is increasing.
  • 49% said that 75% or more critical applications run on UNIX
  • >75% report that >50% mission-critical applications run on UNIX
  • Larger organizations state that 75% of their critical applications run on UNIX
  • 90% said that UNIX is strategic to their business
  • 98% of large company respondents stated that UNIX is strategic

What are the most important factors to those who choose commercial UNIX for their mission-critical workloads?

  1. Availability and Stability
  2. Operating System Quality
  3. Predictable Performance
  4. Vendor Support
  5. Raw performance, Speed, Scalability

What are the less important factors for those who’ve selected commercial UNIX?

  1. Easy Administration and Management
  2. Acquisition Price
  3. System Familiarity
  4. Virtualization Capability and Tools

These two lists say a great deal about commercial UNIX buying habits. One glaring point is that price is of less consequence than reliability. The top three reasons given are the reasons why commercial UNIX has many more years of life left in it for the applications and systems that are business mission-critical.

One point that’s a bit unclear in the survey is that of scalability. Sure, Linux and Windows are both scalable but only on PC hardware. And, that includes virtualization. PC hardware can’t compare to the “big iron” on which commercial UNIX runs. Of course, Linux (zLinux) does run on mainframe computers (z/OS) and that’s pretty big iron but most companies under the 4,000 employee levels don’t own a mainframe.

Although survey respondents said that raw performance, virtualization and scalability were not high on their most important aspects list, they’re still important. So is support. The people who write the checks still like to rely on companies that back their products. Companies have more confidence in commercial UNIX than they do in Linux, even when supported by primary vendors such as Red Hat or Novell. Although the Debian distribution is free of charge, companies would rather engage and pay for a real company’s support behind the product.

To drive home the point, the survey revealed that 41 percent of respondents feel that commercial UNIX support is superior to that of Linux vendor support at 30 percent. And, 47 percent believe that UNIX is more available and more reliable than Linux.

Most small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), like most Enterprises, have a heterogeneous environment. They run their mission-critical applications and services on commercial UNIX and user-oriented services (File, Web, Intranet) on Windows and Linux. Almost three-quarters of those surveyed said they would use commercial UNIX well into the future. While commercial UNIX doesn’t have that “cool” factor that Linux does, commercial UNIX still owns the mission-critical market.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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