Are Remote Desktop Services (RDS) enough for a business, or should they be augmented with additional virtualization server software such as Parallels Remote Application Server (Parallels RAS) or Citrix Remote Desktop? This question has been debated for a long time. RDS is an important component of Windows Server 2012 R2. It allows organizations to publish desktops and applications remotely for better management of business procedures. However, another layer of software on top of RDS becomes essential in a multi-platform environment.
RDS by itself supports a client for Windows, requiring additional products to deliver applications and desktops to different operating systems; this limitation has become more pronounced with the massive diffusion of mobile devices. On the other hand, Parallels RAS and Citrix Remote Desktop have very broad client support across platforms: clients are available for Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, HTML5 and Chrome OS.
There are some differences between the Citrix and Parallels products. For example, as mentioned by Greg Shields on redmondmag.com, Citrix customers have to purchase NetScaler Gateway to guarantee secure access, while Parallels RAS offers the same level of security in the standard license.
Installation and Configuration
While having several useful features, RDS lacks centralized management of the infrastructure, and automation in providing services, power and capacity management, health monitoring and load testing. Parallels RAS makes RDS easy to install and manage. It offers a centralized management system with which you can effectively monitor and manage the entire network from a single dashboard.
Installation of Server 2012 RDS is not easy, with long procedures to follow for various components. The IT administrators involved must have sound knowledge of virtualization concepts. There is no single, centralized database: each server has to be configured separately. Though Windows Group Policy Management can be used, its configuration is complex.
RDS has a certain level of configuration customization for user interaction with applications and desktops; however, the granularity of those options can be insufficient for complex use cases. Parallels RAS and Citrix Remote Desktop add the necessary configuration control and flexibility.
Unlike most servers in the datacenter, RDS gives regular users direct access. For this reason, RDS requires extra administrative attention if it is to successfully deliver desktops and applications. Such attention warrants automation, particularly as size and complexity increase. Parallels RAS and Citrix Remote Desktop add an extra layer to Windows server: enhancing, automating and increasing the security and availability of the entire infrastructure. However, while Parallels RAS is very intuitive and has several wizards to facilitate the task, Citrix is known to be a complex product: it adds granularity to Windows Server but at a very high cost.
Licensing – Citrix Remote Desktop vs. Parallels RAS
The complex licensing system of Citrix enables customers to enjoy the full benefits of the Citrix solution only when using the most expensive package. Greg Shields has reported that customers reach a satisfactory level of control and automation with Citrix XenApp Platinum edition, but unfortunately this license costs about 50% more than the entry level Citrix XenApp Advanced edition. Citrix XenApp also does not provide VDI support; users are directed to the XenDesktop Enterprise and Platinum editions.
Parallels offers Parallels RAS with all-in-one licensing. Any customer can use the full power of the Parallels solution from the outset, without any changes required to the license package. Even in the upcoming Parallels RAS version 14, the powerful reporting engine as well as gateway load balancing will be ready to use without extra cost. Read more.
The increased use of smartphones has introduced a versatile range of devices into the market. Today, most enterprises implement BYOD networks, in which different smartphone models are connected in the network. RDS is mainly focused on Windows clients and Mac is also supported. When remote users access corporate resources with iOS or Android devices, functionality is limited. Although the whole desktop can be published, features like RemoteFX and Gateway Access are not available.
Parallels RAS and Citrix Remote Desktop support a wide range of devices such as Android, iOS, Linux, Java, ChromeOS and HTML5. Additionally, during 2014 Parallels has advanced the integration of mobile devices by allowing users to print directly from their mobile devices and even from an HTML5 browser. In this manner, a tablet or smartphone becomes a fully operational workstation allowing users to access their corporate applications and print as though sitting in the office. Parallels RAS is the first connection broker that supports printing redirection from a cell phone. Read more.
Printing and Scanning
On RDS, printing redirection is quite complex to configure, and scanning redirection requires third party software. Parallels RAS allows you to print and scan using a local printer or scanner without installing drivers on the server: a useful feature called Printer/Scanning Redirection makes this quick and easy to implement. Citrix Remote Desktop allows printing by remote users only if the printer driver is installed on the server, and does not have any solution to the scanning problem; therefore, Citrix’s remote users cannot use a scanner with their remote desktops or applications.
In the upcoming Parallels RAS version 14, the potential of the scanning redirection has been extended to work with the latest Windows image acquisition protocol WIA.
Secure Access via SSL
While RDS and Parallels RAS offer secure access via SSL with multiple authentication mechanisms, the Parallels product has additional security features: users have to go through two levels of authentication. The first level is the native authentication where LDAP/Active Directory authentication is used. The second level involves higher security mechanisms such as DualShield Authentication Platform, Safenet Server or Radius Server. This second level authentication is more secure as users are required to log in with a static username and a one-time password that is dynamically generated.
Citrix XenApp provides similar features, but installation is not easy and requires certification. It takes hours to install XenApp, while Parallels RAS only requires 5-10 minutes to be up and running.
Parallels RAS supports both self-signed certificates and certification authorities, whereas the Citrix product only supports certification authorities to get an SSL certificate. The cost of one certificate from an authority is between USD 200 and 500 annually. With Parallels RAS, organizations have the flexibility to use a certificate only where they think one is necessary, avoiding unnecessary expenses.
Even though Microsoft RDS has reached a very good level of service, by itself it is not enough to enable companies to exploit the full potential of desktop and application virtualization. An extra interface such as Parallels RAS or Citrix Remote Desktop is needed. However, Parallels RAS offers the same functionality and often exceeds the features of the Citrix product while being cost-effective.
With a low-cost subscription model, Parallels RAS provides greater control over remote networks. Parallels Remote Application Server is not only the best connection broker available on the market but also the easiest and most intuitive to use, allowing any IT manager to have a virtual environment up and running in less than five minutes.
Citrix Remote Desktop: How to install and deploy simple & secure remote desktop access | citrix.com
Citrix Remote Desktop: searchvirtualdesktop.techtarget.com
Citrix Remote Desktop: RDS or Citrix: Which Do You Need? | redmondmag.com http://redmondmag.com/articles/2013/09/01/rds-or-citrix.aspx
Citrix Remote Desktop: Remote desktop software | wikipedia.org
Citrix Remote Desktop: Install and Deploy Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows Server 2012 | technet.microsoft.com
Citrix Remote Desktop: 10 excellent new features in Windows Server 2012 R2 | infoworld.com
Citrix Remote Desktop: Why Should You Prefer 2X RAS Over Citrix XenApp? | 2x.com