Ulteo Open Virtual desktop is an Open Source alternative to Presentation Virtualization solutions such as Citrix XenApp, or Ericom PowerConnect or Quest vWorkspace. We looked at Ulteo back in 2009 and that post has consistently featured amongst various top 10 lists of posts on the site. So we know you are interested but there were limitations in the Version 2 of Ulteo that made it suitable for a only a small number of use-cases. Ulteo have taken our views into account and responded to customer feedback and Ulteo OVD 3 can now provide a viable alternative in the general marketplace – not just for those enteprises who actively adopt Open Source.
Since our review in 2009 the market positioning of Ulteo and its OVD product has become much more aligned with mainstream Presentation Virtualization from Citrix and competitiors such as Ericom PowerConnect or Quest vWorkspace. It is a way of turning a Terminal Server farm into something that securely delivers aplications in a managed way to multiple client device types, and like many of these solutions it uses Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) to do so. In addition, we are seeing continued adoption of Linux in the marketplace, and Ulteo uniquely allows Linux to be integrated into a Windows Presentation Virtualization solution.
Ulteo OVD is fully Open Source and follows a GPL2 licencing model analogous to a Linux distribution such as Red Hat (i.e. it is not dual-licenced like MySQL or Eucalyptus). There is a free-to-download supported solution with all components in a single install and you buy support for this product and for Premium modules. Ulteo provides access to the source code for those who feel they have the skill to recompile and repackage themselves. But in production most customers take the Ulteo certified OVD version, along with support. In larger installations the Premium modules will almost-certainly be required.
If you are looking at XenApp or similar, there are a number of features of Ulteo that could put it on the shortlist
- For small installations you only need to concern yourself about licences for Windows servers, and support for the open source components of the system.
- For most installations you will need the additional cost of support for the Premium modules, but the overall cost is still relatively low.
- A good range of client-side delivery options
- Client devices via installed executables, apps, browser (java with HTML5 coming soon).
- A seamless mode like Citrix Receiver which in combination with server-side Linux support can allow you to deliver Linux applications into Windows desktops without the user even noticing.
- Linux Server Support
- OVD can integrate Linux as a Presentation Virtualization server. A surprising number of your desktop applications (Acrobat, various browsers, but also business apps such as Lotus Notes and SAP) will run on Linux. You then need to buy fewer Windows Server licences and (potentially) fewer Windows RDS CALs, which again can reduce costs.
- Linux and Windows applications exist (as far as makes sense) within the same user profile. I.e. they see the same filesystem, so you can fire up an MS Word on Windows, print a document to PDF and then open it up inside an Acrobat running in Linux, both seamlessly running in the same desktop.
- Extreme flexibility
- Clients: You can mix and match Linux and Windows tablets, iphones, android etc. (although tablets and phones are paid-for modules)
- The desktop broker can be integrated into your own portal or into sharepoint.
- Numerous authentication and User Profile management options via Windows and Active Directory or Linux/Samba/OpenLDAP
- You can even use Ulteo to publish Linux Apps into other PV solutions like XenApp (or Ericom PowerConnect or Quest vWorkspace) or Desktop Virtualization solutions XenDesktop (or VMware View) or publish Windows apps into Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization for Desktops.
- The whole thing is open source (including the enterprise modules) – you may not want to edit the source code, but the openness makes it easier to understand how to configure and glue it into your environment
- Relative simplicity
- The out-of-the-box installation is simple.
- It may take a little while to download but it would probably take you an afternoon to get multiple servers (Linux, Windows etc) connected through a desktop broker with some applications published and users authenticated through an existing Active Directory.
Improvements over previous versions
It is worth reading the previous article on Ulteo V2 because many things haven’t changed. It still has a Session Manager and Application Managers, and Published Desktops and Published Applications, and the management interface looks very similar. However the key criticisms in that review have been addressed
The main difference between OVD 2 and OVD 3 is the use of RDP to deliver the application. In OVD 2 the application was delivered via VNC from a Linux session. For Windows applications this “application” was actually an Linux RDP client running a session onto a Windows Server. In other words the Windows application was being rendered twice, once via RDP and then via VNC. The result was a little slow. OVD 3 uses an RDP session directly onto both Windows and Linux Servers, using a modified version of NX Server on Linux to provide RDP. OVD 3 Performance has thus improved markedly for Windows applications. Indeed since the Windows RDP server-side is more optimised than the Linux side, Windows performance is now better than Linux performance.
In published desktop mode, the change also allows OVD3 to present the user with a Windows desktop with their applications embedded in it, rather than a Linux desktop as in OVD2. This makes the whole experience more familar to end-users. The product also now offers seamless application publication, again significantly increasing user acceptability.
The RDP change has also made a huge difference to the ability to deliver all the other things that the application session needs – printing, audio etc. are all much better supported than they were via VNC and more devices are supported via open source RDP clients.
There has been another architectural change with the way that client sessions communicate through the desktop broker. Previously the client used to open a VNC port onto a specific Linux server and there was no proxy. You had to have an externally-visible IP address for every Application Server and if there was a firewall between the client and the server you needed to open a VNC port range through to each Application Server. This might work on a small LAN, but in most environments not. Version 3 has fixed this and everything can proxied via HTTP/S and redirected as appropriate. This is a Premium feature and a reason why any significant Ulteo installation will require a Premium subscription.
The limitations on the use of OpenLDAP and Active Directory and Linux and Windows together for profile management and authentication have largely gone away.
The limitations on application deployment patterns (silos, dedicated serves etc.) have also gone away.
Consider Ulteo for new Presentation Virtualization deployments, particularly if you have an Open Source policy (as some governments do), or you are very cost-sensitive, or if you have a simple environment and are just looking for a simple solution. Download it onto your favourite IAAS cloud and have a go. It is also possible to mix and match OVD into existing Presentation Virtualization or Virtual Desktop solutions to reduce overall cost. For example OVD is a very specific solution for putting Linux desktop applications into, for example, a Citrix XenApp environment. Citrix does not (and likely never will) support this directly.
There are a few outstanding areas which you should consider.
There is one single point of failure in the architecture, the Session Manager. Once the application is running it isn’t in the loop, but it is required to authenticate new sessions. High availability is scheduled to become part of the Premium subscription fairly soon.
Streaming video is slow. Open Source RDP Clients and Linux RDP Server technologies haven’t benefitted from the recent enhancements in streaming media to proprietary remote desktop clients. Ulteo are working on this – if you need youTube.
Generally-speaking the things that have traditionally been problematic in Presentation Virtualization could still cause you problems in Ulteo OVD. These include profiles, printer support, scanners, audio etc. Most of it is supported, it may not be as well supported as by Citrix, and 3rd-party vendor tooling may or may not be applicable to Ulteo OVD. Otherwise you are reliant on the open source community and/or Ulteo, or on coding the support yourself.
More generally, there are always going to be cultural problems in introducing a Linux solution into a Windows environment. Make sure the Windows and the Linux support teams are on speaking terms before you broach the idea.
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