Tips for building remote business networks
Ramsac’s Robert May looks at the latest technologies catering for server-based small business networks.
Microsoft’s Windows Small Business Server (SBS) is the dominant system for networks serving between five and 75 users or machines (depending on your license terms). However, experience suggests it becomes cheaper to unbundle the SBS offering and buy separate software server components once you go beyond 25-30 users. There are two versions of SBS, Standard and Premium. Premium includes SQL Server which is now required for many practice management and CRM systems.
Virtualisation and Storage
In the past couple of years, the IT market has embraced virtualisation, and demand has filtered down into the small business market. As Simon Hurst explained in his 2007 introduction to the subject, virtualisation is like a Tupperware IT container that you can put in your server (think refrigerator) to hold different users’ data and applications separately.
The latest version of Microsoft Hyper-V, included with Release 2 of Windows Server 2008, introduced ‘live migration’, so you can move running virtual machines between servers without affecting users. The rival VMware system has included this facility for some time, but it’s been expensive. Now you can do it out of the Microsoft box.
Remote Access: Terminal Services v Citrix
Remote Desktop Services, formerly known as Terminal Services, is a component of Microsoft Windows (both server and client versions) that allows a user to access applications and data on a remote computer over a network, using the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). RDS or Terminal Services is based on the concept of a thin-client terminal, where the local PC just controls the Windows interface and keyboard commands, and the server handles the application, data processing and storage. With RDS, the entire desktop of the computer running terminal services can be made accessible to a remote client machine.
Previous versions of Terminal Services (2003 and before) were only able to deliver applications as part of a second desktop. That posed a challenges for end users, as they had to be aware that they were working on two separate desktops, one remote and one local.
But Windows Terminal Services 2008 has moved on significantly since Windows Server 2003 and addressed two areas where it lagged behind Citrix. With Terminal Services 2008 Microsoft introduced a Web based front-end, and “published applications” which had been two of the main reasons why customers preferred to pay the additional licensing costs of Citrix over and above Terminal Services.
However the main drawback with the Terminal Services 2008 web interface is that because it uses a Windows ActiveX control, it will not work with Apple Mac machines. Companies looking to introduce Terminal Services for remote working with staff who use Apple Macs at home will still need to go with Citrix, the only option. Therefore, for situations where there are any remote Apple Mac clients, Citrix is really the only option.
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