Recently, in a response to an article written by Brian Madden, Massimo Re Ferre’ made a very observant statement:
I hear lots of discussions as if TS/Citrix SBC has already taken over the world and everybody is using it by means of Thin Clients. In my opinion this has not happened and while SBC is a great idea we need to acknowledge that it has taken a “ridiculous” amount of market-share compared to its potential and to the current desktop deployments.
I totally agree with this statement. I believe that all those involved with SBC share an opinion that many organizations that should and can use SBC aren’t using it. The reason Massimo gave, that the application stack used by most organizations is not 100% compatible with Terminal Services, is certainly valid, but I don’t think it is the main reason. If it were then existing technologies such as application publishing, which enables using a mix of local and remote applications, as well as application virtualization, which makes is possible to run many more applications on Terminal Servers, should have caused SBC usage to surge. But while SBC usage is growing, it is not surging.
So what is preventing SBC from fulfilling its potential as the preferred method for managed application access? To my mind the main reasons are:
Fortunately, recent developments that I am seeing indicate that these hindrances are finally being addressed.
Despite the growing use of SBC, a vast portion of the IT industry is still largely unfamiliar with this technology and its benefits. For this to change, Microsoft itself needs to actively promote Terminal Services as a recommended platform for deploying applications. The problem is that this necessitates a reversal of Microsoft’s long standing PC-centric approach to computing. However it seems that Microsoft is finally realizing that without SBC customers will be pushing harder on ISVs to migrate their applications from Windows to the Web. Obviously, this is a trend that Microsoft will do anything to prevent. And so it appears that with Windows Longhorn Terminal Services Microsoft is finally beginning to seriously promote SBC. If this indeed happens, expect TSCAL sales rise significantly.
Perceived High Cost of Implementation
One of the primary motivators for organizations to implement SBC is to reduce the TCO of their IT infrastructure. As a result, if organizations perceive that a significant cost will be associated with implementing SBC they will be reluctant to make the transition. Until recently Citrix has held a virtual monopoly on SBC, to an extent not seen in almost any other major field in the IT industry. This has translated directly to high license and maintenance costs and a slowing pace of progress in product capabilities. With companies like Ericom Software now providing real alternatives to Citrix, this monopoly is finally ending. This change will drive down the implementation cost and hopefully encourage more organization to switch to SBC.
Lack of Technological Accessibility
Why is it that the recent advances in virtualization have made a much more significant impact on IT than SBC? One important reason, I believe, is that virtualization is much more accessible to IT professionals. You can download most any virtualization solution, install it and grasp its benefits quickly and without requiring expert assistance. You can then go and demonstrate these benefits to your boss and get the appropriate budget approved.
Contrast this with SBC: until recently only two real SBC solutions existed. On the low-end the basic Microsoft Terminal Server is readily accessible. It is, in fact, part of Windows Server. However, its capabilities are so limited that demonstrating value, especially to a non-techie boss, is virtually impossible. On the high end the Citrix solution can certainly demonstrate value. If you can get it and get it to work that is. Until very recently you could not even download the Citrix solution – you would have had to contact a Citrix reseller in order to receive it. And if you did manage to obtain it you would have found out that it is very difficult to implement if you were not already a Citrix expert. The bottom line is that you would have had to approve a budget, in money or resources, for Citrix just in order to prove that it actually has value for your organization – classic “chicken and the egg”.
Fortunately the situation on both ends of the spectrum is improving. Windows Longhorn Terminal Services will significantly raise the bar on the low-end. Indeed for most basic installations, those involving only a few servers and applications, it will be totally sufficient. On the high-end Ericom PowerTerm WebConnect is specifically designed to enable rapid deployment. In a recent webinar I demonstrated how you can install PowerTerm WebConnect, publish multiple applications and access them through a Web Interface in under 10 minutes. Yes, less than 10 minutes from nothing to a fully functioning SBC solution. I’ll be doing this demo again at the upcoming BriForum – hope to see you there!