MetaFrame XP an administrator's dream

Distributed systems and application integration, while hugely beneficial to any agency or department, also can cause nightmares for the systems administrators who have to support them.

While application servers generally provide much of the functionality required to operate a distributed system, software delivery and license management often are excluded. Moreover, not every vendor fully supports all the nuances of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 2000 and its Active Directory.

Thanks to the efforts of Citrix Systems Inc. and its MetaFrame family of solutions, help has arrived. Best likened to an application server on steroids, MetaFrame is the company's most powerful application serving and management platform to date. It enables customers to deploy Windows applications to virtually any device over any network connection — wired, Web and wireless — with ultimate flexibility.

The Citrix solution provides administrators with all the tools necessary for managing diverse computing environments ranging from departmental workgroups to large agencies. It comes with support for load management, resource management, installation management and network management.

Citrix offers the MetaFrame XP platform in multiple flavors — MetaFrame XPs, XPa and XPe — each with increasing levels of functionality and scalability. XPs, for example, is designed mainly for departmental workgroups and, as such, works best for Windows 2000 configurations of fewer than five servers hosting no more than 30 users on each. XPa is a step up, increasing support to 100 servers and adding load-management capabilities.

At the top of the stack is XPe, which is the product reviewed here. It provides an enterprise-level application server infrastructure for network-based Windows 2000 environments requiring extensive scalability, rapid application development and robust management.

Our first impressions of the product were favorable, as we found all administrative tasks centralized into a single graphical application interface called the Citrix Management Console. From here, we could easily control all of our other servers, applications and resources across our small server farm. We also found the solution was quite adept at enabling us to manage all of our user and product licenses from within the same interface.

With performance always an issue, we found the solution's ability to balance the application load among multiple machines a real boon. Requiring nothing more of us than selecting Load Evaluators from the console and answering a few questions, we were able to quickly create a couple of evaluators (rules), assign them to our servers and begin to enjoy the benefits of having our applications fed from the least-busy machine. Users should note, however, that MetaFrame is currently limited to allowing only a single evaluator per server.

Our look at the application packaging and delivery feature also proved fruitful, as we found the solution capable of centrally configuring and managing our software. Using the Packager component, we were able to build package files, which added registry keys, created shortcuts and copied the code at hand. We found ourselves replicating applications across our server farm with little effort.

The solution's system monitoring and analysis capabilities include real-time monitoring and alerting, application monitoring and usage, as well as user-configurable settings for metrics and thresholds.

Anyone who has ever worked a help desk or attempted to solve a remote user's problem knows how valuable and timesaving it can be to perform "shadowing" — logging on to the user's computer and observing all the actions during the help session. Thankfully, MetaFrame includes this ability. As a means to eliminate some of the "Big Brother" feelings of it, users being shadowed will notice an on-screen indicator that activities are being logged. This feature can be disabled, however.

Current users of other Citrix products, namely MetaFrame 1.8 and WinFrame 1.8, will be pleased to find interoperability among the applications, allowing for a flexible phased server upgrade.

In all, we give the solution a big thumbs up. MetaFrame XP's ability to centrally manage and monitor huge numbers of servers as well as clients, often spanning geographical boundaries, is sure to please even the most demanding administrator.

Fielden, a freelance writer, can be reached at tfielden@qwest.net.

REPORT CARD

MetaFrame XP

Score: B+

Citrix Systems Inc.
(800) 393-1888
www.citrix.com

Pricing and availability: Starter System $8,000 — includes unlimited servers and 20 connection licenses. Additional licenses available for $400 each.

Remarks: Citrix MetaFrame XP is an application server on steroids. In addition to smooth scalability, the product makes it a snap to deliver Windows applications to virtually any device and over any kind of network connection.


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