2X ApplicationServer XG
- Published: Tuesday, 28 January 2014
2X Software is one of players that has been on the virtualization market for a long time. In the time when the term virtualization was labeled as Server Based Computing, 2X already had a product available. Since then the product has been developed further to the current 2X ApplicationServer XG. It now offers, besides the SBC component, a VDI Solution, a RemotePC Solution, and a Thin Client Solution all in one product, and 2X Client for all platforms and much more.
While the question “Do we (still) need an add-on product on Microsoft’s RDS/VDI solution” is asked more than ever, it’s a good time to take a look at the latest release of 2X ApplicationServer XG and what is has to offer.
The installation of 2X ApplicationServer XG includes several components. 2X delivers all Windows back-end components in a single MSI installation file. The clients are available via separated downloads, a logical choice for different platforms. Also, for the VDI component, 2X has several VDI Agent Appliances available for the non-Windows hypervisors. First take a look at the installation of the back-end components, which are as mentioned combine in a single MSI file (which is smaller than 100MB). Although it’s a single MSI file, 2X managed to make an easy installation. The installation starts with the license agreement, followed by specify the destination location where the product should be installed. For a Proof of Concept, a smaller environment or a first set-up, the installation wizards offers the 2X ApplicationServer XG option, while for larger environments or experienced administrators, a custom option is offered. The difference is that, in custom installation, every component can be chosen, by installing the main components on one server (2X Publishing Agent, 2XSecureClientGateway and the 2X Terminal Server Agent).
After selecting the installation method, the product is ready to install the files on the server.
When required (which is the case in most scenario’s) to add one or more of the component on the additional server, you will choose the custom installation and choose which part you would like to install.
It is good to know which part needs to be installed for which functionality.
- 2X Publishing Agent:
Each site within the 2X ApplicationServer infrastructure requires a 2X Publishing Agent. The Publishing Agent is the main component within the infrastructure. This component communicates with all other components and stores the data into the database. As this Publishing Agent is important, a back-up Publishing Agent can be added per site. The 2X Publishing Agent role and functionality is a comparable with a Citrix XenApp Data Collector (for those who have worked with Citrix before).
- 2X SecureClient Gateway
The SecureClient Gateway provides a secure connection to the 2X ApplicationServer XG infrastructure. In other words, the client connects the 2X ApplicationServer infrastructure via this gateway as a Single Point of Contact (using a website). The SecureClientGateway can be used both either as an entrance point only (after the initial session set-up the client to communicate directly with the ApplicationServer) or to handle all traffic between the client and the ApplicationServer infrastructure.
- 2X Terminal Server Agent
This component should be installed on top of the Windows RDS feature, so a server can be used by more users for accessing a Desktop or Application. This was formerly known as Server Based Computing.
- 2X VDI Agent
The VDI Agent is required when a hypervisor infrastructure is in place to host Client Based Operating Systems (VDI). If the hypervisor is based on Microsoft Hyper-V, the VDI Agent can be used out of the MSI file. As this part is required on the hypervisor (host) for the other hypervisors, (like XenServer, vSphere, Virtual Iron and Parallels) there are VDI Agent appliances available for download from the 2X website.
- 2X Guest Agent
The 2X Guest Agent should be available on all Client Operating Systems, which will be used as the VDI infrastructure.
- 2X PC Agent
2X also offers the possibility to connect to a physical client system (not running on a hypervisor, same as the feature offered by Citrix called RemotePC). On that system, the PC Agent should be installed.
Now all components are installed, it’s time to start configuring the ApplicationServer components.
Configuration is done via 2X Application Server Console, which is available on the server where the Publishing Agent is installed. The first time you start the console, you can log-on with any account (AD or a local computer account). This account will be added as a 2X ApplicationServer Full Permission administrator (more about this topic later in this article about rights within the product). If you are using an AD user, you need to specify this with UPN name.
In the left pane of the console, the different configuration components can be found. I will talk you through all these components starting with the Farm. A Farm is the highest level within the ApplicationServer infrastructure. A farm exists of one or more sites. The name of the first server installed will be the default name for the farm and the first site (but those can be changed within the console). More sites can be created using the Farm component.
A site exists of at least one 2X Publishing Agent, a SecureClient gateway, and agents installed on a RDS Server, VDIs and/or PCs. You will create a site if you would like to have a kind of separated environment (for example, if you have multiple locations where the ApplicationServer infrastructure exists), but manage it out of one farm. It is possible to replicate (a set of) configuration settings from a site to another site. The first site will be responsible for the database, the other sites (with a synced local cache of the database) will also contain the license server. Logically, it is possible to change which sites is responsible for the database and the licenses.
Also, within the Farm component of the console, you add the machines that will host the user sessions.
You will select the type of server you would like to add, followed by providing the information of that server. When you add the server, the software will check if the corresponding software is already installed and if not you can push the installation of the agent out of the console. Remember that 2X relies on the RDS component of Windows for RDS server, so that should be installed as well. 2X reminds you if the role is not enabled, but will not push the installation of that component, which is really nice feature is the designer functionality. When you add a component within the site, this will automatically reflected in a graphical overview of the 2X ApplicationServer infrastructure.
Two components within the farm part needs some more attention. First is the back-up server, where you can add one or more servers that also have the 2X Publishing Agent installed. In case the primary Publishing Agent server fails, the server with the highest priority will take over the Publishing Agent functionality. Second is the VDI hosts component. As explained earlier, depending on the hypervisor used, you should use a VDI agent appliance. If the VDI host is added, the next step is to create one or more pools. A pool is a collection of VDI guest where an application or desktop can be assigned to. 2X can arrange the creation and deploying VDI guest when needed based on 2X Templates. A 2X Template is created out of an already installed VDI guest. This machine is used as the master device and by using sysprep, the machines based on the 2X Template is made unique within the infrastructure. The way 2X Templates works are comparable with templates used within the hypervisor like VMware vCenter or XenServer. A deployed machine created from a template works independently, and you can manage it like a normal virtual machine. 2X offers a smart way to edit the 2X Template, but because of above mentioned behavior, the changes are only reflected in the VDI guests that are created after the changes are made to the 2X template. The VDI guest can be automatically removed from the hypervisor if not used for the specified time frame. Dedicated VDI guest (so assigned to one person) are configured within the Persistent Guests tab.
The last noticeable options within the farm component is the possibility to specify a maintenance window for the RDS servers; during that timeframe, no new users are forwarded to the server. The other noticeable feature is the option to combine RDS servers into a group (this group can be used later to publish resources to all the server in the group).
The second option within the left pane is Load Balancing. Logically, Load Balancing is used for RDS server within the infrastructure. 2X Offers two load balancing options: Round Robin and Resource Based. As the name already implies, Round Robin redirects the session sequentially over the available RDS servers, whereas, with Resource Based Load Balancing, the session is divided based on three Resource Counters (User Sessions, Memory and CPU). You can choose which Resource Counters are taken into account, however, you cannot adjust how and when the counters are measured. It’s just on or off. Personally, I think it would be nice if this can be adjusted by the administrator like similar products are offering.
Within Publishing, the published resources are configured which can be accessed by the end user. 2X can publish the following resources: Application, Folder, Desktop and Document. While Application, Desktop and Document are pretty obvious, you could wonder what Publishing a folder does. Actually, the folder is to combine multiple application(s) and/or desktop(s) in a single view for the end-user. I like the way 2X generalized the publishing steps independent of which platform the Published Resource will be offered from.
When using an RDS Server (in 2X still called Terminal Server) for publishing an application, you can use two options that are grayed out at Virtual Guest and Remote PC: Installed Applications and Predefined Applications. With Installed Applications, you can select the applications out of the Start Menu generated selection pane, while Predefined Applications offers published application configurations already set-up by 2X. It’s not clear why these options are not available for the other types, because that’s working the same way. After you create groups at the Terminal Server Agent, you can easily publish the resources to the servers in that group.
After the initial wizard, you can adjust the settings of the published resource. Most used will be the advanced tab, where you can change the way the published resource is shown to the end-user (shortcuts), and for published application, you can also adjust the file type association (Extensions), restrictions on the application usage based on the product license (licensing), and the way the application is shown to the end user (display). Also, Filtering is configured in most situations. At the Filtering, tab you can specify in which situations the published resource should be available for the end user. You can filter the application access based on several types: user (both user as groups supported), client (partly name of the client), IP Address (either one IP or an IP range), MAC (did not see support for wildcards here) and/or Gateway. Those filters can be combined as well, so you can create a filter based on both user and client for example.
ApplicationServer support the usage of local connected printers and scanner to communicate with the desktop/application hosted on the 2X management RDS, VDI or Remote PC machines. Both are enabled by default and don’t require much configuration.
For the Universal Printing component, you can define how the printers are shown to the end user in their session. I like that you really define the name by yourselves. You can also enable the feature per server. Also available within the Universal Printing component is the possibility to auto install fonts on the machines, if those are not available. I’m not aware that another similar product offers this functionality.
For the Universal Scanning component, you can disable or enable the feature on a per server basis. Also, you need to specify the application executable which are allowed to use the Universal Scanning option.
Actually, this component was a separate product of 2X in the past formerly known as ThinClientServer. 2X decided to embed the functionality into the ApplicationServer XG product. However, it is separately licensed, so you need to purchase ApplicationServer and ClientManager Module. Because the combination is pretty unique, I am going to describe this component in this review, but not that detailed as the other parts. Client Manager is actually a full Thin Client Management solution based on the so called 2XOS. 2XOS is propriety Debian based operating system offered for free by 2X, which can be installed on machines in the stand alone mode. With Client Manager, you can manage the installation and configuration of the 2XOS machines centrally. This component requires that Thin Client support is enabled within the SecureClient Gateway. The next step is to add the 2XOS images which you would like to roll-out to your Thin Clients. 2X support several Thin Client manufacturers as normal PC’s. When you have added 2XOS Thin Client Operating systems on the 2XOS tab, it’s time to define groups. A group is based on a part of the MAC address. When a machine applies to this group and connect to the 2X SecureClient gateway, the configuration settings set on this group will be applied to the machine. Most important settings are on the hardware tab, because there you configure which version of the 2XOS should be used and the way the 2XOS is booted: Installed (Attended), Network Boot, Hard Disk Install (Unattended). Other settings include defining the user environment (think of Desktop, Screensaver, and auto login), input devices, local available software (browser, Skype, PDF Viewer), Remote Desktop possibilities (RDP, VNC, and VMware View), Shadowing and so on.
On the other tabs, you can configure the printers which are locally attached to the machines using the 2XOS. You can define the way the log on banner will look from an end-user perspective and the possibility to schedule operations on the Thin Client (like switch on, reboot or switch off a Thin Client group).
To see the status of the Client Manager module, the first tab Devices is available. In here, you will see all devices that have connected to the 2X ApplicationServer infrastructure, including the machines that do not run on the 2XOS, but use a regular 2X Client. These machines can (logically) not be managed out of this tab, but you can see the device information. For the 2XOS Thin Clients, you configure all the same settings which are configured on the group tab, but then specific for the selected Thin Client.
Delegation of Control
The Administrators can be defined through the Administration tool in the left pane. On the first tab, the ApplicationServer administrators can be defined including delegation of control. This is done per user base (so you cannot add a group). When you add an administrator, you need to specify his/her user account, e-mail, mobile number and how to retrieve the notifications (I will mention those in a bit in more detail).
Besides the just mentioned information, you can also specify the rights. When choosing Full Permissions, the person has full control over the ApplicationServer farm, the other option is to specify which specific rights the person has in one or more (or all) sites as shown in the above image.
Access to 2X ApplicationServer infrastructure
Now that 2X ApplicationServer is configured so the end-user can start using the published resources, it’s time to discuss how end-users are accessing the published resources.
By default, you need a 2X Client for connecting to the ApplicationServer infrastructure. The clients for all available platforms can be downloaded from the 2X Software. I tested the Windows client which is delivered as a single executable. Just clicking that executable installs the client, but there is no notification the installation is executed successfully, so you need to look to the shortcut icon. The client needs to be configured to connect the SecureClientGateway or the Publishing Agent servers. When the user credentials are known (single sign on or defined when starting the client), the assigned resources are shown within the client. Also, when defined, the shortcuts will appear in the start menu.
2X ApplicationServer XG can also be accessed through the Web Based solution offered by 2X. To accomplish that, it is required to install the 2X Cloud Portal (also named AccessPortal). The 2X Cloud Portal requires that IIS is already installed (including ASP.NET). The installation process is pretty straight forwarded, the only really important port is specifying the port number on which the Cloud Portal will listen to for requests. After the installation, you should at least configure the connection to the ApplicationServer farm. This is done via the administrator part of the CloudPortal website (a shortcut is created in the start menu or type http://<<SERVERNAME>>:<<PORTNUMBER>>/2XWebPortal/Admin.aspx). You need to log on with a user account that has administrative rights on the server.
On the Farm Settings tab, you define your SecureClient Gateway(s) to set-up a connection with the ApplicationServer infrastructure. On the second tab, General Settings, some interesting settings can be found. For example, you can enable/disable the detection and installation of the 2X Clients, the look and feel of the website can be customized, a replication partner can be configured (if you have more Cloud Portals, the setting arranges that changes to the configuration has to be executed only at one location) and system/logging settings.
If it’s not possible to install a client on the device, you can also connect via the HTML5 part of the SecureClient Gateway in combination with the CloudPortal. The SecureClient Gateway automatically recognizes the missing client and will use the HMTL5 option (when enabled). The HTML5 option it’s a requirement that the SecureClient Gateway is configured using SSL (based on certificates).
2X ApplicationServer XG from an end-user perspective
We have discussed the configuration of the ApplicationServer, the Cloud Portal, the 2XClient and the 2XOS Thin Clients including the methods end-users can connect to the ApplicationServer infrastructure. But how does this look and feel from an end-user perspective. Logically, this depends on how the users connects, using the 2X Client, via the CloudPortal website or using a 2XOS Thin Client.
After logging in on to the 2XOS Thin Client, the user can easily access all of their published applications and desktops through the start menu or have the resource automatically launch. User can also access the published resources though the 2X Client, HTML 5 Gateway or the CloudPortal as shown in the below displayed figure.
Independent of the connection method after choosing the Published Resources, a 2X window is shown displaying the progress of the session creation. As 2X is using the RDP protocol, the user experience is the same as using the Microsoft only solution. 2X also supports Microsoft latest enhancements made to the protocol known as RemoteFX.
Monitoring such infrastructures is also important. Within 2X Application Server XG, monitoring/reporting functionality can be found within the Administration, Information and Reporting components in the left pane of the console.
Administrators can be automatically informed when a defined threshold is reached for six events. The events are configured on the notification tab within the Administration component. You can enable or disable a notification and (when required) edit the threshold of the notification. Don’t forget that it’s required to configure the e-mail configuration on the Mailbox set-up tab, so the notification can be really sent to the (defined) administrators.
The Audit tab is available within the Administration component the settings. Within this tab, all administrator activities within the console are shown, so it is traceable which administrator made which change. Remember that this feature is disabled by default and audit logging should be enabled on Farm level first.
Other useful information can be found within the Information component. On the tab Site Information, a quick overview of the current usage of the farm can be generated (RemotePC and VDI’s are not mentioned). The overview starts with the servers within the farm showing their role, the status of the agent, the resource usage and the connected sessions (RDS servers only). Scrolling down more detailed information per servers is shown, followed by the applications currently running.
2X ApplicationServer also offers extendable reporting options via the Reporting component. However, to use this feature you need to have purchased another product eG Innovations. As this review is only about 2X ApplicationServer, I did not test this part as this is not part of the default product. However, when your organization requires additional reporting, contact 2X to discuss the possibilities of reporting in combination with the eG Innovation product.
Before we are summarizing the review I would like to mention two interesting options available within the product that I don’t see in every product. First, I would like to mention the Support option in the product. Within the Information component on the support tab, there is an option to directly send an E-mail to the support department.
Secondly, on the Administration component there is tab Back-up where with a few steps, the 2X ApplicationServer XG configuration can be exported and when it’s required imported again. I really like this easy approach to secure the configuration with a few easy steps.
The 2X ApplicationServer XG product is offering all the functionalities that are currently offered within this market space, all out of one product and management consoles, where it is definitely still adds value on the Microsoft RDS stack. The installation is easy and straight forwarded and also the configuration and administration component is not complicated. Only, the requirement of the Cloud Portal should be mentioned a bit more clearly in the documentation. Including a Thin Client solution within the product is as far as I know unique and obvious a good add-on (although you need to pay for it separately). Personally, I think 2X fills the gap between the products for small businesses and large enterprises.
- 2X ApplicationServer offers lots of value for the money, definitely still adding added value on the Microsoft RDS stack.
- Many hypervisors are supported by the product for the VDI component.
- Integrated Thin Client solution available in the product (but has some additional costs).
- Competitors offer more advanced template features/options than the 2X Template for the VDI component.
- Load Balancing is not offering much more additional functionality as the current Microsoft implementation does.
- Connecting to the 2X Application Server infrastructure should be mentioned more clear in the documentation including feedback when installing the client manually.
About the Author
Wilco van Bragt is an independent consultant and author based in the Netherlands. He is the owner of the Server Based Computing and Virtualization website called VanBragt.Net Virtualization, where he is publishing several articles related to Terminal Services and Virtualization topics and product reviews. Besides Wilco van Bragt presents on several independent conferences and also writes articles for several other websites. Wilco van Bragt is self employed (VanBragt.Net Consultancy) providing consultancy services in the Netherlands and Belgium. Wilco van Bragt is a MVP on Terminal Server, a RES Valuable Professional and a Citrix Technology Professional.