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.

Comparative Features

If you are looking at XenApp or similar, there are a number of features of Ulteo that could put it on the shortlist

  • Price
    • 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.

Conclusions

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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Mike Norman (104 Posts)

From 2009 to 2014 Dr Mike Norman was the Analyst at The Virtualization Practice for Open Source Cloud Computing. He covered PaaS, IaaS and associated services such as Database as a Service from an open source development and DevOps perspective. He has hands-on experience in many open source cloud technologies, and an extensive background in application lifecycle tooling; automated testing - functional, non-functional and security; digital business and DevOps. in 2014 he moved on to become Cloud Services Architect at JP Morgan Chase.

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9 comments for “Ulteo OVD 3 – Open Source Remote Desktop

  1. Mitch Mitchell
    June 25, 2012 at 9:28 AM

    Hello, I think that there is a mistake in your article: NX is not part of the Ulteo OVD as far as I know. Everything in Open Virtual Desktop is based on RDP (and no more VNC): they have their own RDP server on Linux, and are using the standard Windows RDP server. More exactly, they are using the core aspects of RDP, since they seem to add progressively new features to the protocol to address specific issues.

    Regarding your conclusion that there “there are always going to be cultural problems in introducing a Linux solution into a Windows environment.”, it really made me smile since so many, many, Linux kernels have penetrated the traditionally Windows-centric corporate environments since the 90s. From Red Hat to VMWare ESX, from big DBs to web servers, from file servers to Android tablets and smartphones. More seriously, I think that the “Linux aspects” of OVD are, in fact, well hidden and are only visible on the OVD’s broker administration side.

    Anyway, thanks for your article about Ulteo and the OVD, which is a very impressive (and sole) Open Source alternative to Citrix and similar solutions, and deserves much more light in the virtualization market! Plus they have a really nice and smart crew.

    We had a good success with OVD in a “pure Windows project”, because it’s adding simplicity and flexibiliry to Windows/RDS server projects.

  2. Mike
    June 25, 2012 at 9:52 AM

    I think their RDP server codebase may have forked from the NX server, but I can’t be sure about that. I hope the guys at Ulteo will read this post and correct one of us ;-)

    I spent a lot of time playing with the V2 product and slightly less time playing with this one, enough to know ths one is a lot better !

    Also regarding your point on cultural issues. I think you are right you can run this as a layer around a pure Windows environment without really seeing a lot of Linux. I think the issues may arise when you start getting Samba and OpenLDAP in the mix to handle profiles and domain authentication, and share home directories between Linux and Windows, which you can also do – Ulteo is a very flexible product. This is never easy, but that isn’t really anything to do with Ulteo it’s to do with getting the old-style Windows Domain implementation on Samba to do what you want.

  3. manish
    June 25, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    vMware should be VMware :-)

  4. June 25, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    Thanks Manish, it is fixed!

  5. Andrew Wood
    June 26, 2012 at 6:32 AM

    The main challenge that Ulteo has isn’t “price vs XenApp”. This is really a Citrix problem – in terms of “price for xenapp vs ‘the competition'”. Out-of-the-box Microsoft RDS is now arguably easy enough to configure and manage for small projects without XenApp. And if you did want to streamline management – Ericom & Quest offer solutions at very low cost in comparison.

    The benefit of OVD is that it can integrate Linux as a Presentation Virtualization server. It is also true that a surprising number of desktop applications (Acrobat, various browsers, but also business apps such as Lotus Notes and SAP) will run on Linux.

    However – many will not. The judgement call in savings only come about when you can dedicate servers to only publishing Linux based applications: if you want to integrate with a Windows environment you’re going to have to put your hand in your pocket for an RDS CAL anyways, and then what has a duplicated infrastructure saved in comparison maintaining two different OS instances and the effort required for application integration?

    You could argue “what would be the point of delivering a browser via terminal service/presentation virtualisation” – isn’t a browser “thin” anyways? That would be a good argument, but there are instances where managing the browser & add-on environment allows a better degree of application control. But you need to get your reasoning right.

    Good to see that Ulteo are still working hard, nice to see the RDP component integrated and obviously – and as such it is now better able to provide a transition platform for those organisations moving from Windows Apps to a linux based environment.

  6. Mike
    June 26, 2012 at 10:35 AM

    Hi Andrew

    I did say “potentially” fewer CALs, by which I meant that savings on CALs are unlikely in many scenarios. But I take your point about not comparing with Citrix on price. Quest and Ericom are already at a lower price point.

    I’ve worked on quite a few systems that deliver browsers to desktops via PV, including a massive telecommunications project in the UK. Security and browser incompatibility are the usual reasons, and you may also want to factor in BYOD, but you are right, you are going to have to do the maths on the pricing and on the additional cost of managing a Linux infrastructure if you go that route.

  7. June 26, 2012 at 5:51 PM

    Thank you for the review and the comments. We always value your opinion and we did incorporate all your suggested improvements list of the OVD v2 review into the our OVD v3.

    One key point of improvement was indeed the protocole on the linux side. And we decided to really develop a full linux RDP server, there is no NX in there, Mitch is right. We got many confirmation that people are looking for “standards” and an unified end user experience on both the Windows side and the Linux side. The Ulteo RDP stamp can provide this. And we keep building and improving on this core RDP foundation.

    We see many diverse organizations, medium, large, private and public organizations, telco, MSP, ISVs that all have good reasons to try first and ultimately to adopt Ulteo OVD. Sometimes Ulteo OVD is seen as a complement to Windows TS and RDS (Ulteo provides admin tools, universal access with web client and multiple plateform clients, openess towards linux type apps and soon more).
    More and more customers see Ulteo OVD as a complement to Citrix, for new end users projects where Citrix is too sophisticated or sometimes to replace older Citrix versions.

    Citrix is obvioulsy considered as the leading market solution and is here to stay and grow for the most sophistacted users and projects. Windows RDS as the main building block for windows app, but you need more and more Microsoft at all ends to benefit from all the performance.
    On the other hand, Ulteo is commoditizing this space and the offering from companies like Ericom and Quest. You will get about the same in open source, with commercial professional support and a growing support of this eco system…

    So our users adopt Ulteo OVD indeed for cost reason, sometimes they do for architecture openess, for flexibility/customization reasons too and we get vey often great feedback for the installation and usage simplicity of Ulteo OVD for standard average users.
    We also hear a lot the willingness to reduce dependance to other closed solutions because there is no or not enough space to build a more neutral and open layer on their main centralized architecture. All this is really the sweet spot for Ulteo and our great market opportunity to grow along the market leaders.

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