SmartAdvice: A Checklist To Consider When Deciding On Remote-Access Applications - InformationWeek

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SmartAdvice: A Checklist To Consider When Deciding On Remote-Access Applications

In addition to Citrix and Microsoft, there's a range of applications by price and service level, The Advisory Council says. Also, ask questions to get an idea of RFID's return for your company.

Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a weekly column by The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory service firm. The feature answers two questions of core interest to you, ranging from career advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to [email protected]

Question A: What solutions, in addition to Citrix, should we consider for remote access to server-based applications?

Our advice: As the popularity of server-based computing (blades, on-demand, hosted applications, etc.) grows, so does demand for access to servers. Many IT organizations are faced with updating or newly implementing a remote-access or thin-client solution.

There are two categories of remote-access products: thin-client terminals, and software products that run on existing desktop hardware. Despite lots of buzz in the mid-1990s about thin-client terminals, they never did quite catch on. The 400-pound gorilla of software-based remote access is Citrix Systems. While Citrix Access Suite is the most feature-rich in the remote-access product line, it's also the most costly. Several alternatives are available, with varying degrees of capabilities and corresponding pricing.

Options To Consider
When evaluating remote-access options, look at these requirements and existing situations:

  • Business applications currently in use and forthcoming
  • Number of users of each application
  • Geographic location of the users
  • How the applications will be used: time, frequency, etc.
  • Type of user interface of those applications: Windows, Web, Java, etc.
  • The organization's current and future IT architectures
  • Existing and target physical infrastructure of servers and desktops
  • Network availability, bandwidth, and reliability
  • Security infrastructure
  • Technical support for the user base: help desk, etc.

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Here are some things to consider for each solution option:

  • Cost: per user, server, geographic location, etc.
  • Server requirements to implement the infrastructure for your scale of users
  • Support for appropriate user interface types: Web, Java, Windows, character-oriented, X Window, etc.
  • Capability to integrate with help desk support
  • External resource capability (local and remote): printers, disks, scanners, audio, clipboard, etc.
  • Availability scheduling
  • Load balancing
  • Display capabilities: true color (24-bit) and resolution
  • Management features: server administration, redundancy, LDAP & Active Directory integration, usage and issue reporting, monitoring
  • Automated client configuration and update
  • Security capability and adherence: SSL, TLS, pass-through authentication, gateway support, etc.
  • Scalability: server requirements per client, limits
  • Fit with IT architecture standards, current and future
  • Vendor stability: financial, focus, vision, support, and product execution (speed of response and updates)
  • Integration with existing IT infrastructure

The dominance of software solutions persists in large part due to Microsoft Windows including remote-terminal software on the client versions of Windows, and Terminal Server on server versions of Windows, providing a low-cost software solution for desktops using Windows. There are several "competitors" to Microsoft's bundled functionality, but all popular offerings are built upon and complement Microsoft's Terminal Server.

Typically, competitive offerings add features such as more intelligent load balancing, better reporting or monitoring, additional platform support, more options and flexibility with remote user interfaces, and additional security features and options. Alternatives to the market-leading Citrix Access Suite include Jetro CockpIT , Tarantella Secure Global Desktop , HOBLink JWT , and Ericom PowerTerm .

Microsoft Terminal Server should be considered as a standalone implementation. As the number of remote users exceeds a few hundred, a third-party product such as Citrix can help maintain quality of service and keep costs in line.

--Peter Sorrentino

Walter DulaneyQuestion B: What do we need to do to adopt RFID effectively, and to position the company strategically to get positive financial returns from our RFID investments?

Our advice: The short answer is that RFID is an emerging disruptive technology so there are parallels between its path to widespread adoption and the route followed by other technologies that we've come to regard as business mainstays.

RFID's adoption path is similar to that of mini-computers in the late 1970s, PCs in the early 1980s, Unix and client-server computing in the late 1980s, and enterprise-resource-planning and Internet applications in the late 1990s. The mistake that many IT professionals make is to think that the key to adopting a new disruptive technology is to discover best practices, and then follow them diligently. That's the wrong approach.

The key to getting a positive return on investments in emerging and potentially disruptive technologies is asking the right questions about the technology and the impact of its adoption on your company's marketplace, business strategies, and operating model.

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The Innovator's Dilemma, Clayton Christensen

Adaptive RFID

The long answer to how to adopt RFID effectively and position your company strategically to get positive financial returns from the investment is to determine if adoption can shift the competitive landscape in your industry over the long run. If it can, then your company should pilot-test the new technology early to acquire critical knowledge, and develop a strategy to scale when necessary. Be warned: The long run overtakes the unprepared very quickly.

Here are some questions to ask that can help assess the competitive outlook:

  • Does this technology shorten the cycle time to learn whether your company is winning or losing business in the marketplace?
  • Does adopting it change operating costs on the margin, so "price" becomes a more effective competitive weapon?
  • Does it have the potential to change how products are sourced, delivered, or sold in your industry?
  • Will the speed of technology adoption or a decision to defer adoption have an impact on customer retention or new customer acquisition?
  • Does your company need to rethink governance? For example, will operating decisions be made by different people, in different locations, because this technology is being implemented in the industry?
  • Does this technology fit within the company's existing competitive strategies, or does it require major operational changes to be employed effectively?
  • Will this technology be easier for your company to deploy broadly, or will it be easier and less expensive for your competitors to deploy?
  • Does adopting it have the potential to reduce the normal-to-average cost of doing business in your industry?
  • Does adopting it "stress" your company's technology infrastructure, and do you need to consider re-designing the infrastructure to be successful?
  • Does your company have adequate skills to roll out emerging technologies nationally and globally? To do this, your company may need to decide whether to acquire skills internally.

--Walt DuLaney

Peter Sorrentino, TAC Thought Leader, has more than 20 years experience in consulting and software development, with extensive experience in the high-technology and financial industries in trading, cash management, and risk management. His specialties include development of business-differentiating software systems and providing consulting to IT organizations with an emphasis on applications. Consulting expertise includes joint business and IT evaluation of software offerings, business-service platforms, application architecture, and development of best practices in support of real-time business opportunities.

Walt DuLaney, TAC Thought Leader, is an authority on the planning, design, and management of strategic business and technology initiatives. He consults extensively on strategy-alignment, project-management, and performance-measurement methods to assure that strategic initiatives are delivered successfully and operating results are verifiably improved. He has extensive experience applying these techniques to enterprise systems, supply chain, and large-scale technology projects, and also has integrated these techniques into enterprise-governance and performance-measurement models. He frequently facilitates executive management decision-making and alignment sessions.

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