Terminal Server Market Gets Muddy

The future of the terminal server market for Windows is open for debate, especially with the impending release of Windows 2000, but most analysts agree the present one is owned by Citrix Systems Inc. And that fact will be hard to change.

But a new player has emerged, and it's not bashful about challenging anybody's customer base. Santa Cruz Operation Inc. (SCO, www.sco.com) is the challenger, marching on from the Unix side of the battlefield with Tarantella Enterprise II.

Tarantella's weapon of choice to combat Citrix MetaFrame is its price differential, marking 35 percent off the Citrix license fee. The latest version of Tarantella includes access to Windows NT/2000 Server, and changes the traditional terminal services from a two-tiered architecture to a three-tiered one. Instead of residing on the application server such as MetaFrame or Windows NT/2000 Terminal Server Edition (TSE), Tarantella resides on a separate Web server, using Microsoft's Remote Display Protocol (RDP) to access and display Windows applications to clients running a Web browser.

SCO says its approach is more appropriate as an enterprise-level solution than Citrix’s MetaFrame. "The way we go about it is ideologically different," says Peter Bondar, vice president of Tarantella marketing at SCO. "We have software between the client and server that interprets the screen painting, repackages it, and sends it out. Because we do this, there's no invasive technology."

Bondar says MetaFrame's loading of software onto the application server adds additional stress to the machine, making it more likely to fail in enterprise-level environments. "As a departmental-type user, a lot of those issues aren't major issues, but for an enterprise-class deployment, we found there's a high degree of dissatisfaction with managing the Citrix environment," Bondar says.

Peter Lowber, research director at GartnerGroup (www.gartner.com), disagrees. "I don't buy that argument. Even if you use Tarantella, you still have to have Terminal Server Edition running," Lowber says.

Tarantella has an uphill battle to gain a substantial installed base. According to Lowber's research, about 10 percent of businesses that use terminal services on Windows NT, do so without the help of Citrix software.

Citrix, it seems, is making a counter offensive. Last month, the company announced a version of MetaFrame for Solaris that is expected to be available in the second quarter. Versions of MetaFrame for other flavors of Unix will follow later in the year. So as SCO marches into Citrix's closely guarded Windows market, Citrix is planning its own campaign into SCO’s Unix installed base.

Tarantella will be biting into MetaFrame's installed base on the high end, but the increasing functionality to Terminal Server in Windows 2000 makes it more attractive to run on its own at the low end. Therefore, Tarantella's breach into this market may be limited.

The technology that makes terminal services available is now incorporated in the main Windows 2000 kernel, so Service Packs released for Windows 2000 will apply to Terminal Server as well. With Windows NT, Service Packs for TSE lagged five to six months behind those released for NT because of the additional engineering.

Gartner's Lowber says terminal services in Windows 2000 pales in comparison Citrix MetaFrame in the areas of load balancing, management, and session shadowing. Session shadowing allows administrators to remotely administer another session. TSE allows one-to-one shadowing while MetaFrame allows one-to-many, enabling a lot of users to view the same session, a function that is useful in computer-based training. MetaFrame also offers the Program Neighborhood interface, which lets administrators push access to or updated applications directly to the user.

One problem for Citrix, however, is its entire business runs at the will of Microsoft. Redmond could cut off access to Citrix and its proprietary Independent Computing Architecture (ICA) protocol at the drop of a hat if the software giant saw fit to do so. This result seems unlikely. A large percentage of Windows NT TSE customers use MetaFrame, and they probably wouldn't stand for such an action from Microsoft.

Lowber says reports of tension between MetaFrame and Terminal Server camps are overblown. "Citrix has helped Microsoft in terms of server-based computing and making Windows NT a legitimate business platform," he explains. "It's been a rough partnership at times, but the hardships seem to have been overcome and the two seem to be working fairly well together now."