Citrix Access Essentials: Good for the SMB -- and the Microsoft Reseller

With version 2.0, Citrix makes its thin-client tool even more SMB-savvy, while opening up its reseller program to non-Citrix partners.

With Citrix Access Essentials (CAE) 2.0, the small and midsize business (SMB) version of Citrix Systems Inc.'s flagship Presentation Server remote-access solution, Citrix has launched a two-pronged attack that all but ensures that your SMB customers will sit up and take notice.

Not only does its 2.0 version shore up some serious deficiencies, especially for the small business market, but now Citrix has decided for the first time to make the product available for resale by non-Citrix partners. So now your SMB customers can get all the security, performance and ease of management Citrix is known for at a reasonable price point, and you don't need to shell out any extra money or time obtaining Citrix certification. It's a definite win for your customers-and you.

How It Works
CAE 2.0, like previous versions, provides mobile and remote users with virtualized access to business applications running on a central Windows server. Rather than rewriting applications to support browser access, or dealing with the management, maintenance and security problems inherent in distributing client software on remote and mobile computers, CAE keeps the application-both client and server software-running on a central Windows Server 2003.

Citrix Systems Inc.
Citrix Access Essentials 2.0
October 2007
$249 per client access license (CAL), which includes a Microsoft
Terminal Services CAL
Supports from 5 to 75 named users

To access the applications, remote users equipped with a browser simply go to a pre-defined corporate Web address and log on. The CAE software then brokers a session between the remote users and the server that makes the applications appear to be running locally, with the same look, feel and performance, even over slower network connections.

This is because only the end users' local keystrokes and mouse clicks-as well as the responding screen updates and audio outputs-are relayed over the network. CAE can also work with less-than-optimal remote devices, be they older PCs, laptops, mobile devices or even non-Windows devices, such as Macintosh or Linux PCs. As long as the remote computer is configured with a browser, the end user has full access to the application.

In addition to the network and device flexibility, CAE also offers SMBs strong security in that each keystroke, screen shot and mouse click is encrypted in transit, enabling many remote users to work securely even from Internet cafes. But the best part is the ease of administration. Because the server and client pieces of the application all reside on the central server, upgrades are far easier. Admins just upgrade the central applications. The next time remote users log on, they get the upgrades right away and all at once.

New in 2.0
Multi-Server Support

With version 2.0 of CAE, Citrix has offered some much-needed improvements-first and foremost, new multi-server support. In the past, CAE offered no way to ensure redundancy of the critical application access it provided. If the main CAE server went down, all of your users went down too, a situation that just wasn't tolerable for a large chunk of the SMB marketplace.

With the new multi-server support, CAE 2.0 now sports load balancing, automated failover and role-based server configurations. So in multi-server CAE environments, one server is designated as the master server, and it makes any load-balancing decisions and it runs user applications. The master communicates with any number of support servers, which just run applications and store files. As loads change and one server nears saturation, the master can ensure that no new sessions are started on the heavily utilized server, while establishing any new remote sessions on a less-utilized server in the group.

While load balancing tends to even out server loads and ensure optimum performance, the best part of the multi-server feature is automated failover. Should a master server fail for any reason, any support server can take over for it immediately, bringing a new level of fault tolerance to the CAE environment. Although end users will lose any session on the failed machine, once they restart, they can begin working again right away, because their session moves to another server in the group. And when the session moves to the new server, the end users' profiles and rights follow them as well, making the whole process fairly seamless.

Spotlight Highlights
Key Features
  • Robust, secure, easy-to-manage remote Windows server access for up to 75 end users
  • New multi-server support for automated fail-over, load balancing and easier maintenance
  • New DMZ deployment option for increased security
  • New e-mail alerts for systems administrators
  • Cheaper upgrades to full-blown Presentation Server via revamped licensing program
  • Microsoft Terminal Services
  • Sun Secure Global Desktop (formerly Tarantella Canaveral IQ)
  • Propalms TSE
  • New application virtualization firms such as Provision Networks, XDS Inc., Kidaro
  • Product is now open to non-Citrix partners
  • Eases overall management and security of remote access, simplifying deployments
  • Licensing, upgrade path ensure growth potential

DMZ Configuration
In version 2.0, Citrix now allows built-in modules for SSL encryption and external Web portal services to be configured on a separate server between network firewalls, in the so-called DMZ of the network. Whereas before, users were stuck running everything on a single server, perhaps posing a security risk, now they can configure a built-in buffer to ensure better protection from Internet-related threats.

On the flip side, Citrix has also taken into account the needs of even the smallest businesses, those with just one server serving the entire company. In those cases, the one server also serves as the organization's domain controller. While not the best practice security-wise, CAE 2.0 can now be deployed on a domain controller, a big savings for small users that may not want to purchase an additional server and Windows license just to run CAE. Still, Citrix discourages this type of deployment, because running anything on a domain controller, especially end-user applications, could leave it open to problems.

E-Mail Alerts
Another big change in CAE 2.0 is the ability to configure it to automatically send e-mail alerts to administrators to notify them of unexpected system or network problems. The alerts, which include the likely causes of the issue and possible resolutions, can be sent to anyone chosen by the business, a feature that's especially helpful to SMBs who may contract out for support. In many cases, offsite administrators can be informed of an approaching problem and fix it, before end users notice a service disruption. The new version also masks momentary network disruptions by allowing end users to keep their sessions alive and resume them when the network connection is re-established.

Attractive Licensing
Another good move Citrix made with 2.0 is changing its licensing policy. Use of CAE requires that organizations also have Windows Terminal Services. For most of your customers, purchasing the $249 CAE 2.0 client access license (CAL) will be sufficient, because it already includes a Windows Terminal Services CAL. But if your customers already have Windows Terminal Services in place, they can receive CAE 2.0 CALs at a discount that takes the Terminal Services CALs into account.

Similarly, many organizations may start out with CAE but eventually hit the 75-user limit and need to move to Citrix Presentation Server. Before, the move would have meant losing the investment in CAE and starting all over with Presentation Server. Now, these users can purchase Presentation Server at a steep discount. Users will still need to junk their CAE environment and deploy the new Presentation Server environment from scratch, but at least they can leverage some of their investment in CAE to make the move more palatable.

Sales and Marketing
Here's where Citrix and CAE shine. In October, Citrix announced that North American CAE resellers no longer need to join the Citrix partner program, nor do they need to undergo any special certifications. This means that youcan now leverage your Microsoft expertise to sell CAE into your SMB base-without the added expense of a new partner program or certifications.

Citrix says CAE's wizards and built-in automation make it simple and intuitive enough for any Windows-savvy reseller to roll out, although it advises resellers to take optional e-learning courses for hands-on familiarity and additional insights into the product's advanced capabilities.

The Bottom Line
The latest changes in CAE 2.0 make the product extremely attractive to your SMB customers and, now, to you. Citrix has worked to make CAE better for SMBs not only price-wise, but also feature-wise, especially in terms of redundancy, failover and load balancing. Plus, your customers can now take advantage of your expertise, both in Microsoft technologies and in their own specific environments, to ensure their rollout of CAE is as efficient, painless and successful as possible.