Case Study: Windows NT Terminal Server

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Case Study: Windows NT Terminal Server

Texaco is a global enterprise with employees located all over the world. Some of these locations present considerable communications challenges

Meeting the challenges

Until recently, platform workers relied either on microwave transmissions or a dial-up system. Both offered limited bandwidth, but the microwave bandwidth could be even further degraded by severe weather. This degraded connection restricted remote users' access to client/server applications because it couldn't always support the amount of data that would have to be transmitted. And when the connections broke down, all the work done since last saving the file was lost and would have to be recreated. Updating or adding new applications over this limited bandwidth was very difficult, if not impossible.

Also, because Texaco workers were stationed at remote locations all over the world, storing sensitive files and data on remote computers presented a risk. This information could be lost or security compromised if these computers were lost, stolen, confiscated or destroyed.

Approximately 500 Texaco geoscientists on the mainland had a different set of challenges. Many of the applications that support the oil and gas industry are UNIX-based. However, these scientists also needed access to the latest 32-bit Windows-based applications for routine office productivity tasks, including sending and receiving email.

"We wanted to be able to deliver applications in a consistent manner to the people who need them in a way that is most efficient for the users and those who support them," explains Ed McDonald, Texaco chief architect.

After exploring various partial solutions, Texaco decided Microsoft Windows NT, Terminal Server Edition provided the capabilities to address virtually all those challenges. To prove the point, Texaco set up a beta test of the product with a group of 20 offshore platform PC users and 20 UNIX users.

The initial results showed that Terminal Server enables remote users to reliably access Windows-based applications and data over a marginal connection. And because users can access all applications ( both Windows and character-based through one desktop device ( less training is required. Plus, it keeps all sensitive data on the server while allowing users to create and save data on their local computers.

Terminal Server also enables administrators to easily redeploy new and updated applications allowing users get familiar with them before the applications are installed on their desktop machines.

Reliable easy access for users all over the world

With Terminal Server, offshore workers can network their PCs with the mainland server using a 56K modem to dial a separate Windows NT server-based computer running Remote Access Services (RAS). Once online, the platform engineers can easily log on to Windows-based proprietary production applications from any computer. Seamless integration makes the transition from desktop PCs to the mainland server transparent to users. They simply click the application icon without needing to know where the application resides.

By allowing users to run these production applications and keep all data on the server, Terminal Server conserves communications bandwidth that would otherwise be required to download files. Users simply click the icon to bring up the application and all the work is done on the server. If a weather problem degrades the communications link, they can still read email and enter data. If the connection is broken, they can reconnect and start where they left off. The product works like a Windows desktop emulator. All desktop applications are loaded onto a server machine running the Terminal Server Edition of Windows NT Server 4.0. Each client machine has a single, small application loaded (or embedded) which enables the emulation of each user's Windows-based desktop and applications which are actually running 100 per cent on the server.

What makes the Terminal Server so bandwidth efficient is that the only information that is being transmitted between the client and the server consists of mouse clicks and keystrokes on each desktop device and the drawing orders from the server back to the client device telling the client what to display. "With Windows NT Terminal Server, all we need to be able to do is capture the keystrokes and present the screen image at the desktop," notes McDonald.

To users, this is completely seamless; it looks and feels like everything is taking place on the local client device. Providing users in difficult geographic areas with reliable access to required information has produced obvious advantages. "The driver for us is to make people more efficient," McDonald observes.

Strong interoperability eliminates "desktop real estate" challenges

For Texaco scientists on the mainland who work on UNIX-based workstations, Terminal Server saves time and space. Terminal Server, combined in this case with the Citrix MetaFrame add-on, enables these workstation users to run the latest 32-bit Windows-based software, such as Microsoft Office 97 and Microsoft Project, from within the Windows NT Workstation 4.0 user interface without having to add an additional desktop device. This is enabled via a MetaFrame add-on to the server and a UNIX-based MetaFrame client emulation application loaded on each workstation. "What we're delivering is the Windows NT Workstation interface across the enterprise," observes Jeff Penton, Texaco advanced systems integration analyst. "It doesn't matter whether you're a remote user or a UNIX user, you get your desktop delivered to you."

In addition to providing several benefits for users, Terminal Server reduces the load on developers. Texaco's Information Systems (IS) staff can create standard Windows-based user interfaces for proprietary applications and write new proprietary production applications with the Microsoft Visual Basic programming system, providing users on all systems with a graphical environment.

Quick rollout of new and upgraded applications

Because Terminal Server applications need to be installed on only the server, new applications and upgrades can be made instantly available to Terminal Server users, whatever their desktop operating system. Texaco's beta test of Terminal Server has proven so successful that the company plans to pre-roll out other applications when Terminal Server is fully implemented.

The ability to roll out applications instantly on Terminal Server for remote and UNIX users helps ensure that all users have access to the same versions of the same Windows-based applications at the same time, regardless of what desktop operating system or type of network they work on. "Microsoft Terminal Server allows us to deliver applications to our widely diversified field force, no matter where they are, more effectively and with greater reliability," McDonald says.

A shift in perspective

In the first months of testing Terminal Server, Texaco has found that its flexibility and interoperability offer invaluable benefits. It connects more users, and in a more meaningful way, despite communications and operating system challenges. "What Terminal Server does is add an additional tool to our architectural environment that lets us provide the right information, to the right people, at the right time, at the right cost, on a global basis," McDonald observes.

Compiled by Mike Burkitt

( 1998 Microsoft Corporation


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This was first published in September 1999

 

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