With so many third party options today, is Citrix really needed?
Citrix is the de-facto standard for Server Based Computing. But since Windows 2003 Terminal Services is greatly improved (read: Is terminal Server Enough? Article), their first question is if it is possible to deploy a Server Based Computing environment without Citrix and its huge price tag?
There are some misconceptions out there, when talking about Citrix and its magic. The top two in my mind are:
· ICA is way better than RDP. This was true in the past, when comparing ICA with RDP4. As of today, RDP5.2 offers pretty much all the features available on ICA at the protocol level. This includes support for local devices (drives, printers, serial devices) and virtual channels. Even in terms of bandwidth, RDP is better than ICA over low bandwidth links (28.8kbps for example). It is true that ICA is still better than RDP over high latency links (RDP performs well when latency is under 400ms, while ICA can go all the way up to 900-1000ms).
· Features A, B and C are available only with Citrix. Depending on which features you are looking for, many third party vendors will offer them for Terminal Services. Some examples are published applications, seamless windows, access gateways, web based portals, intelligent load balancing and so on. Once found exclusively on Citrix, all the features mentioned above can be easily added to Terminal Services by using third party add-ons. Some will offer all these, while others will take a modular approach where you add only what you will use and need. And yes, all of them are a lot cheaper than Citrix.
Based on my personal experience in the Server Based Computing market (I have planned/deployed environments ranging from 10 to 1,000 concurrent users), 80% of all Terminal Services deployments could be done without Citrix, for small, medium and large customers. The key is to understand the requirements and to have a clear picture of the problems you may face with Terminal Services. Once the requirements are defined and the customer clearly understands the issues that may arise by using such technologies, Terminal Services without Citrix may be a real possibility.
Although a plain terminal server farm will lack most of the important requirements on any SBC deployment (resource based load balancing is one simple example), by using extremely simple and affordable add-ons for Terminal Services/RDP, you can easily achieve the same you thought was only possible with Citrix.
My advice? Read. Learn. Do your research. You will be surprised how much you can do without Citrix.