NCD Expands Terminal Server Capabilities

NCD unveiled software modules -- for Microsoft-only, thin-client shops -- that bring load balancing and peripheral support to PCs running Windows 95/98/NT.

Microsoft Corp.’s Terminal Server environment got some breadth this month from Network Computing Devices Inc. (NCD, www.ncd.com).

NCD unveiled software modules -- for Microsoft-only, thin-client shops -- that bring load balancing and peripheral support to PCs running Windows 95/98/NT. NCD began shipping ThinPath Plus, which includes support for local printers, bar-code scanners and other peripherals, and ThinPath Load Balancing in mid-March.

There are two main protocols for connecting desktops to Windows NT 4.0 Terminal Server Edition: Microsoft’s Remote Display Protocol (RDP) and Citrix Systems Inc.’s Independent Computing Architecture (ICA) protocol. The NCD offerings provide RDP with some of the more robust capabilities Citrix includes in its ICA protocol.

The peripheral and load-balancing support have been available from NCD for its Windows-based Terminals (WBTs) for about four months, says Jim Fulton, vice president of product management at NCD. "What makes the Plus and Load Balancing really most important is the PC support," Fulton says. "This allows a much larger base of customers to be able to use these capabilities."

Additional ThinPath software planned for the spring will bring remote desktop management enhancements, including screen mirroring, centralized configuration and Web-based administration tools.

NCD is aiming at Terminal Server customers looking for more functionality than RDP currently offers for Windows-based PCs, but who find Citrix’s solutions too expensive. Citrix’s current licensing model doesn’t allow customers to buy load balancing separately from peripheral support or other options.

Microsoft is enthusiastic about NCD’s technology. "This is positive for both our customers [RDP and ICA] because it gives them choices. It shows commitment by other companies to the Terminal Server platform and extending the Terminal Server platform," says Solveig Whittle, lead product manager for Terminal Server at Microsoft.

Analyst Eileen O’Brien, director of thin client programs at International Data Corp. (IDC, www.idc.com), positions NCD’s product as a stopgap. "They’re capitalizing on some holes in both Citrix’s and Microsoft’s product lines," O’Brien says. "They’ve added to and strengthened RDP. On the Citrix side, they’ve moduled, and it may be more cost-effective."

O’Brien says NCD’s strategy of differentiating itself from the dozen-and-a-half WBT vendors by pushing into software is a good one. But it is also important that NCD keep strong relationships with both Microsoft and Citrix as those companies will close the gaps NCD is filling.

Citrix, which adds the capability of turning non-Windows desktops into thin clients of Microsoft servers, is not sitting still. In late February the company announced several enhancements to its product line, making ICA more robust than before.

Citrix released MetaFrame 1.8, which works with Terminal Server. This version includes enhancements for application publishing, application deployment, management and configuration. New to the version are video capability and ICA clients for Linux and SCO Unix desktop users.

Citrix announced an upgraded version, 1.8, of its WinFrame product that runs on Windows NT Server 3.51. The upgrade brings feature parity with MetaFrame 1.8 and should ship by the end of this month. The company also announced two systems management products, Citrix Resource Management Services and Citrix Installation Management Services.

All of Microsoft’s plans to plug the holes NCD is filling come in the Windows 2000 timeframe. The beta 3 version of Windows 2000 is expected to debut several Terminal Server functions, including application installation and remote administration. Windows 2000 is also expected to deliver load balancing through the expansion of Windows Load Balancing Service, a recently released product that doesn’t currently work with Terminal Server, Whittle says.

Whittle won’t disclose the exact size of the market NCD can go after. Asked how many seats Microsoft had sold for Terminal Server Edition, she said: "We believe it’s still early to say what the potential is for this product in the market." Terminal Server came out in June after a delay, and Microsoft recently changed its licensing model amid criticisms it was inconsistent.

Whittle, however, did offer a hint that the size of the market for NCD’s software product could be large. A study Microsoft did on the Citrix client base before Microsoft entered the market showed about 10 percent of the client base consisted of WBTs and 70 percent to 75 percent were on PCs, Whittle says.