Multiuser Complements and Competition

Although Microsoft and Citrix would have many believe that multiuser-for-Windows NT technologies begin and end with each of their respective offerings, the market for multiuser Windows NT software products is actually a thriving and highly competitive one.

In June 1998, Microsoft Corp. finally delivered Windows Terminal Server, a software product that enables distributed thin client computing on the Windows NT platform. At the same time, Citrix Systems Inc. debuted its much-anticipated suite of Windows Terminal Server add-on software, MetaFrame. Although Microsoft and Citrix would have many believe that multiuser-for-Windows NT technologies begin and end with each of their respective offerings, the market for multiuser Windows NT software products is actually a thriving and highly competitive one. Solutions abound from a number of vendors who seek either to complement or to compete against product offerings from both Microsoft and Citrix.

"Windows Terminal Server provides a real opportunity for a company like ours, because Microsoft has been making some friendly noise about integrating with and living in peaceful coexistence with Unix, and I think that that’s what we need is to complement Microsoft," says Robin Ford, vice president of marketing with GraphOn Corp. (San Jose, Calif., www.graphon.com).

GraphOn produces a number of thin client solutions for the Unix market and has also produced a software product, GoBetween, that allows thin client users of the Microsoft Windows Terminal Server to transparently access and use applications residing on Unix hosts.

GraphOn’s Ford says that rather than stifling competition in the multiuser for Windows NT world, Microsoft's Windows Terminal Server has effectively set the stage for the emergence of a lucrative add-on software market in which vendors can deliver solutions that complement Microsoft’s Windows Terminal Server.

GraphOn’s GoBetween, for example, leverages a very small -- less than 300-KB -- client that sits on a Windows Terminal Server between a Unix host and the actual client machines on a network. GraphOn’s Ford says that the GoBetween client removes the need for a Windows Terminal Server to execute an instance of an X server for each client machine that wishes to access Unix applications.

Because Microsoft’s multiuser for Windows NT solution places such a processing burden on the server, other vendors have developed complementary solutions to help more adequately spread the processing load across Windows Terminal Servers in a clustered configuration.

Load-balancing software is one of the most highly touted value-adds of Citrix’s MetaFrame software, but Cubix Corp. (Carson City, Nevada, www.cubix.com) -- manufacturer of a number of compact server products traditionally designed for environments that require scads of processing power in a small footprint enclosure -- is fielding a load-balancing offering of its own, Cubix Balanced Cluster Service (BCS), that it feels will complement Windows Terminal Server just as well. "Implementing BCS for clustering and load balancing can have a dramatic savings on cost per seat for [Windows Terminal Server] projects," maintains Jim Zakzeski, vice president of marketing and sales with Cubix.

Cubix will deploy BCS on its RemoteServ series of compact servers running Windows NT 4.0 and Windows Terminal Server.

While many vendors have sought to position their offerings as complementary to the products of either Microsoft or Citrix, at least two companies have chosen to compete head-on against the two behemoths.

The vestigial remnant of a once-vibrant multiuser-for-Windows NT computing scene that at one time included competitors such as Groupe de Prologue (Les Ulis, France) and Exodus Technologies Inc. (Bellevue, Wash.), New Moon Software (Santa Clara, Calif., www.newmoon.com) has produced a multiuser-for-Windows NT product that aims to go both Microsoft and Citrix one better.

New Moon Liftoff takes a different approach to delivering on the promise of multiuser Windows NT. Rather than processing all multiuser sessions on a central, beefy Windows NT Server, as do Microsoft and Citrix, New Moon Liftoff uses a technology called cooperative processing that intercepts server-side Microsoft API calls and redirects the display and user interaction portions of an application to networked clients for execution.

The result, says Frank Mara, vice president of marketing with New Moon, is that New Moon Liftoff places far less of a burden on the server than do either Microsoft’s Windows Terminal Server or Citrix’s Metaframe add on, both of which leverage a processing model in which all multiuser client sessions execute on the server.

New Moon is not alone in taking on the Microsoft and Citrix juggernauts head-on, however. And while New Moon Liftoff can provide multiuser connectivity for only Windows 95 and Windows NT clients, TekCentric Enterprise from TekCentric Corp. (Sunnyvale, Calif., www.tekcentric.com), another Silicon Valley start-up, provides multiuser connectivity to any client on any platform capable of supporting an Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator Web browser.

"Conceptually, we do the same thing that Citrix does," explains Val Cureton, director of marketing communications with TekCentric. In the TekCentric Enterprise model, application execution takes place on a central server, with necessary user interface operations and data such as printer I/O, and keyboard and mouse clicks transferred from client-to-server by means of TekCentric’s Remote Presentation Protocol.

A multiuser software solution for Windows NT is also available from Epicon Inc. (Waltham, Mass., www.epicon.com), publisher of Altis. Like TekCentric Enterprise, Epicon's Altis provides application delivery over the Internet and leverages Windows NT Server as an application server. In the Altis distributed computing model, application execution takes place remotely on individual client machines. Applications are thus downloaded from a Web site and execute remotely on a client rather than execute server-side, as in the case of Windows Terminal Server, MetaFrame and TekCentric Enterprise.