Ericom has has won the race to deliver the first new product release of the “Year of Desktop Virtualization” with the launch of Ericom PowerTerm WebConnect 5.7.

WebConnect (sorry Ericom, but “PowerTerm WebConnect 5.7″ takes too much space on the page to type out every time) is Ericom’s answer to Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop, plus or minus a few bells and whistles. On the plus side WebConnect includes mainframe and midrange terminal emulation software to provide access to legacy systems, as well as offering support for mixed environments consisting of servers running Windows Server 2003, 2008, 2008 R2 grouped together in a single farm, and manages to do all this with a single product where Citrix still requires two. On the minus side, WebConnect lacks the more advanced the features that Citrix has integrated into XenApp and XenDesktop, as well as the strength in depth that Citrix can bring to the market especially when it comes to supporting the requirements of the largest of enterprise customers. Having said that, while Ericom markets itself as “the Alternative to Citrix” Ericom’s primary competition is more likely to be Quest with vWorkspace or newcomers such as Kaviza and Pano Logic, than it is Citrix and VMware. Certainly it is in the SMB space that Ericom has the most to gain. Having said that, WebConnect 5.7 has some significant new features that will go a long way towards closing the gap between it and its bigger competitors.

The three biggest changes that are most likely to improve the lot of WebConnect users are the introduction of what Ericom is calling the “Unified Desktop”, the “Application Center” and support for reverse seamless windows. Unified Desktop is an new feature that takes it’s lead from what was first introduced by Citrix as the Program Neighborhood Agent (now called the Citrix Receiver), but extends it to merge local and remote desktops into a single, seamless entity. Users can access both local and remote applications and documents from a unified Start menu and Taskbar, even when multiple remote desktops are being accessed. The Application Center complements the Unified desktop by enabling access to published desktops, applications and documents from any Windows Explorer window. It allows published application folders to be navigated using the Explorer folder tree and allows users to view multiple folders at the same time in separate Windows Explorer windows. Together these features provide a new way to access published desktops, applications and documents that is much closer to the conventional process of accessing network resources than any competing solution. Reverse Seamless Windows is something that should already be familiar to RES Software customers as Virtual Desktop Extender and Citrix customers as Project Alice. Seeing Ericom offer this feature comes as somewhat of a surprise given that RES Software announced ownership of a patent on Reverse Seamless Windows in 2010. Setting aside the (remote) possibility of potential wrangling over patent issues these three features should significantly simplify life for the user who no longer has to deal with the mental baggage of remembering if an application is local or remote before accessing it.

Ericom’s “Application Zone” (client) has seen several small usability improvements including a progress indicator in the system tray that provides visual feedback when launching sessions, the ability to prevent users from accidentally launching multiple instances of an application or desktop and auto-reconnect on Windows logon. Full integration of Ericom’s Blaze RDP compression and acceleration technology is offered on all clients.  Ericom claim that Blaze can compress native RDP by up to 98% and to transmit data up to 25 times faster than RDP; while these figures clearly represent best case scenarios when compared with the now obsolete RDP 5.0 and 6.0, Blaze can still offer significant performance advantages over RDP 7.0 as used by Windows 7 and Windows server 2008 R2. Blaze is available both as part of WebConnect and as a stand-alone product that can be used to improve the performance of VMware’s View in low bandwidth and high latency environments. Also of benefit to WebConnect users is full support for Microsoft RDP 7 and 7.1, and looking into the future, WebConnect also provides support for Microsoft’s yet to be released RemoteFX.

IT needs have not been forgotten either, WebConnect 5.7  works with Windows 7 SP1 and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 and will be fully supported when both platforms are released. WebConnect 5.7 brings significant improvements for managing server hosted virtual desktop infrastructure and Remote Desktop Services (Terminal Services) environments including:

  • Support for multiple datastores
  • Load balancing sessions when using VMware vCenter or Microsoft SCVMM with shared datastores
  • Display hosts in tree based on hierarchy in VMware vCenter or Microsoft SCVMM
  • Create and manage library of machine configurations
  • Apply configurations to selected machines or to pool templates
  • Auto-sizing pools that automatically grow and shrink based on number of machines in use
  • Specify number of virtual machines to pre-create in order provide them immediately, on-demand
  • Automatically revert virtual machines to clean state after use
  • Specify machine states on logoff / disconnect / idle time
  • Availability Restriction Control limits access to machines to pre-determined days and hours
  • Full cloning (copy cloning) and linked clones (diff disks for Microsoft platforms)
  • Specify user privileges on machines, e.g. Administrator or Power User
  • Extended LDAP support with support for untrusted domains as well as one-way trust and child domains
  • Support for RADIUS and RSA SecurID for two-factor authentication
  • Pass-through authentication for 64-bit (x64) Windows
  • Automatically push out agents and agent updates to controlled machines
  • Built-in FTP server for automatic software distribution to controlled machines
  • Remote support now works for restricted users and when UAC is enabled
  • Improved logging for troubleshooting purposes
  • Terminal Server session draining to allow servers to be take offline without impacting users

Generally speaking Ericom PowerTerm WebConnect 5.7 appears to be a solid release offering significant improvements for both IT administrator and end-users. The subtle usability improvements that it offers coupled with the performance  benefits of Blaze may well be enough to win over potential users, while the improvements offered for managing a server hosted virtual desktop environment could well prove enough to enable WebConnect customers to make the transition to a desktop virtualization environment. WebConnect’s only real shortfall at present is its lack of any client-side desktop virtualization capability, maybe Ericom should consider following in Quest’s footsteps and look to establishing a cooperative relationship with the vendor of a client hypervisor solution.

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Simon Bramfitt (128 Posts)

Simon is an independent industry analyst covering enterprise desktop, mobile and application virtualization, delivery and management technologies.

He is an experienced solutions architect with unmatched insight into the challenges of designing large (200,000 seat plus) high availability presentation and desktop virtualization systems.

Simon was invited to join the Citrix Technology Professionals (CTP) group in May 2010 and joined the Virtualization Practice in September 2010

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