In this article, I review the 2X Remote Application Server (2X RAS) Version 14. This software provides an application delivery and virtual desktop solution for Microsoft Terminal Services and Windows Remote Desktop Services. 2X RAS supports all major hypervisors for virtual desktop publishing, and allows connections through a browser or Chromebook, as well as from a variety of client systems that includes Windows, Linux, Mac, Android, Chrome, and IOS using the free 2X RDP client. In Version 14, 2X Remote Application Server includes enhanced reporting, printer redirection, and high-availability load balancing features.
2X Remote Application Server Version 14 Review Virtualizationadmin Highlights
If you are new to 2X, this software company specializes in solutions for the virtual application and mobile device management space. The two main products in its portfolio are 2X Remote Application Server (2X RAS) and 2X Mobile Device Management (2X MDM), the latter of which was recently reviewed by Brien Posey for VirtualizationAdmin.com. With the 2X RAS software, it is clear that 2X is on a mission to unlock the full potential of the underlying Microsoft RDS technology by simplifying the sometimes daunting configuration tasks that are required to deploy virtual desktops and applications. What is exciting about this product is that it accomplishes its objectives while providing a centralized management dashboard with easy to use monitoring and reporting features, and with extensive client platform support right down to mobile phone devices. There are several areas of enhanced support in 2X RAS Version 14 with updates to high availability load balancing (HALB), printer redirection services, reporting, as well as IPV6 support.
Overall, I found the 2X RAS application extremely easy to install, navigate, and configure. The user interface is clean, consistent, and simple to use. From installation to deployment to using the 2X RDP client, each step is smooth, making the testing of this software an experience by which I’ll measure others in the future. Even installing and configuring advanced features like load balancing, printer redirection, and reporting was easy. I literally had these features up and running within minutes. Even though I was provided with a direct hook-up to the 2X EMEA support manager to resolve any issues I might come across, I was able to resolve the few items that I did stumble across using the documentation provided with the software.
That isn’t to say that there is no room for improvement, as clearly there always is. In my opinion, there are a few areas that I think 2X needs to address to round out this offering. From consulting experience, areas where architects and administrators struggle are security and firewall integration, and application and service scaling. While limited deployments may not necessitate much analysis and planning in these two areas, they are of critical importance for larger, multi-site deployments. I found this information to be too high level in my review of the 2X RAS documentation. In addition, while the 2X RAS Reporting is easy to install and configure, the included reports provide basic information that may not be sufficient for some deployment scenarios.
Now that you have my overall impressions of the 2X RAS software, let’s take a look at actual 2X RAS software installation and configuration. There are so many features in 2X RAS server that this review is not comprehensive, but it should provide you with enough information on the major new features to give you a good handle on the capabilities of the product.
2X RAS Installation and Configuration
The 2X Remote Application Server consists of multiple services that are deployed based on the desired functionality of the system. Table 1 shows the 2X RAS services and the servers on which they get deployed.
2X Service Name
2X Publishing Agent
Responsible for load balancing and publishing of applications and desktops
2X RAS Server
2X Redundancy Service
Responsible for redundancy for 2X RAS server and load balancer
2X RAS Server
2X Secure Client Gateway
Responsible for tunneling of all traffic needed by 2X applications on a single port, provides secure connections, and user connection point to 2X RAS Server
2X RAS Server
2X Terminal Server Agent
Responsible for connection from a TS or RD session server to a 2X RAS server
TS or RD Session Host
2X VDI Agent
Responsible for connection from a virtualization host server to a 2X RAS server
Hyper-V, VMware, Citrix XenServer
2X RAS Reporting Engine
Responsible for processing and storing 2X RAS information for reporting
virtualizationadmin Table 1. 2X RAS and Reporting Components
2X RAS supports installation on either physical or virtual machines with the following minimum characteristics:
- Physical Machines – Dual core processor and 4 GB of physical memory
- Virtual Machines – Dual virtual processors and 4 GB of virtual memory
The 2X RAS Publishing Agent, Secure Client Gateway, and Redundancy Service support operating systems that include Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2012, and Windows Server 2012 R2. 2X recommends not to install 2X RAS on a virtual or physical system that supports the Active Directory or DHCP roles.
The 2X Terminal Server Agent supports operating systems that include Windows Server 2003 SP1, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2012, and Windows Server 2012 R2 with either Terminal Services or Remote Desktop Services roles.
Test Lab Configuration
In order to install and evaluate 2X RAS, I deployed it in the test lab environment described in Figure 1.
virtualizationadmin Figure 1. 2X RAS Deployment in Test Lab
This test bed allowed me to review many features including 2X RAS integration and management of RD Session hosts and VDI hosts, while publishing applications and desktops in multiple sites. I was able to deploy HALB and 2X RAS reporting, and initiate user connections from virtual and physical devices including a Windows Phone.
One of the features that makes the 2X Remote Application Server so interesting is that it supports a wide range of client operating systems. In particular, the 2X RDP Client software supports the following platforms:
- Windows XP SP3
- Windows Vista
- Windows 2003 SP1
- Windows 7
- Windows 8. 8.1
- Windows CE
- Windows Embedded
- Mac 10.5.x and above
- iOS (iPhone and iPad)
- Android 1.5 and above
- Ubuntu 8.04, 8.10, 9.04, 9.10
- OpenSuse 11.1
- Fedora Core 9, 11
- CentOs 5.2
- VectorLinux 6.0
- Chrome OS
This provides device coverage that greatly surpasses the native RDS client support and reduces dependence and maintenance of client software from multiple vendor sources.
Installing 2X RAS
2X makes it very simple for you to get access to their software for evaluation. All that you need to do is navigate to the 2X website and fill out a form that collects your name, company name, telephone, and email information. Once you click the submit button, you are forwarded to a page from which you can download a 30-day full feature trial version of 2X RAS that supports 50 concurrent users. From this location, you can also download the 2X RAS Portal, 2X RAS Reporting Service, and 2X HALB Appliance packages. There is also a link to the page from which you can download one or all of the 2X RDP Client packages. After the initial 30 day trial, 2X allows you to continue using 2X RAS for three concurrent users with a free license key that is provided to you after registration.
In order to install 2X RAS, I downloaded the 2xAppServer.msi package to my target server, and double-clicked it to kick off the setup. The 2X RAS Setup Wizard provides a guide through the short installation process:
- Click Next in the Welcome screen as shown in Figure 2.
virtualizationadmin Figure 2. 2X RAS Setup Wizard Screen
- On the next screen, review the end-user license, and click Next if you agree to the license terms, as shown in Figure 3.
virtualizationadmin Figure 3. 2X RAS End-User License Agreement Screen
- On the next screen, use the default destination folder or click Browse to select a different destination folder. When done, click Next as shown in Figure 4.
virtualizationadmin Figure 4. 2X RAS Destination Folder Selection Screen
- On the next screen, select the 2X Remote Application Server option to install the complete 2X RAS package. You can select Custom to choose specific components to install. Once you select an option and components, click Next as shown in Figure 5.
virtualizationadmin Figure 5. 2X RAS Installation Selection Type Screen
- On the next screen, click Next to start the installation, as shown in Figure 6. The setup process copies all required application files, and installs and start the 2X application services.
virtualizationadmin Figure 6. 2X RAS Installation Start Screen
- On the next screen, click Finish, as shown in Figure 7.
virtualizationadmin Figure 7. 2X RAS Application Completion Screen
By default, the 2X Publishing Agent, the 2X Redundancy Service, and the 2X SecureClient Gateway are installed on the 2X RAS server. Depending on the size of your deployment, you can add additional gateways to support more users, properly load balance connections, and eliminate single points of failure.
After the 2X RAS installation completed, I found four new icons in my Apps list including 2X LogView, 2X Monitor, 2X Remote Application Server Console, and 2X Remote Application Server Manual. The 2X RAS Server Console application provides the ability to configure and manage all of the 2X features. When I launched the console application for the first time, I was prompted for an account with administrative rights, as shown in Figure 8. The user account was automatically configured as the 2X RAS administrator.
virtualizationadmin Figure 8. 2X RAS Console Login Screen
As you can see in Figure 9, the 2X RAS Console is neatly and clearly designed while packing a lot of information in its space. In the default view, you see the management categories (Farm, Load Balancing, and so on) in the left-hand pane, a navigation tree (Farm, Designer, Terminal Servers, and so on) in the center pane, and object properties in the right-hand pane.
virtualizationadmin Figure 9. 2X RAS Console Default View
Above these three panes is an information bar that displays the site logged into on the left, and the user that is logged in on the right. Above the information bar, there is a toolbar that provides one way to launch wizards that assist you to create new published applications, folders, desktops, and documents.
2X Farm and Sites
A 2X RAS farm can contain one or more sites that can be managed by administrators. A site contains a publishing agent, one or more gateways, and one or more terminal servers, virtualization (VDI) hosts, and computers. At least one server must be dedicated to a site for the installation of the 2X publishing agent and gateway. The first site in the farm contains the 2X RAS Licensing Server and configuration database. As you deploy additional sites, synched copies of the configuration database are added. You can switch the site focus in the 2X RAS console, but can only view and manage one site at a time.
Adding a Terminal Server to a Site
Before adding a Terminal Server or RD Session Host to a 2X RAS site, you have to install the Remote Desktop Services (RDS) role on the server. Once that is complete, you can use the following procedure:
- In the 2X RAS Console, from the default view, select Terminal Servers in the center pane navigation tree, as shown in Figure 10.
virtualizationadmin Figure 10. 2X RAS Console Terminal Server Selection
- In the right-hand pane, click on the green Plus button to launch the setup wizard, enter the target server (TERMSVR02), and click Next as shown in Figure 11.
virtualizationadmin Figure 11. Adding a Terminal Server in 2X RAS Site
- 2X RAS verifies if the 2X Terminal Server Agent is installed on the server. If not, it installs the agent. Click OK once the Agent status displays verified, as shown in Figure 12.
virtualizationadmin Figure 12. Terminal Server Agent Verification and Installation
- In the 2X RAS Console, you can verify that the new Terminal Server was added to the site, as shown in Figure 13.
virtualizationadmin Figure 13. 2X RAS Console after Adding a Terminal Server
There are many configuration options to optimize the deployment of terminal servers, and I invite you to review them in the 2X RAS documentation. However, after the simple task of adding the server, you are ready to start the configuration of published applications and desktops.
In addition to terminal servers, you can also deploy and manage a virtual desktop infrastructure using 2X RAS. These servers are added in the VDI Hosts category that you can see in Figure 13.
A VDI host is a physical system hosting a supported hypervisor (Hyper-V, VMware ESX, or Citrix XenServer) that is used to run one or more virtual machines. Each virtual machine is configured with a guest operating system, and users can connect to virtual machines that execute on the VDI host. With this feature, 2X RAS allows you to consolidate the publication and management of applications and desktops from Terminal Server or RD Session Hosts with virtual desktops and applications running in virtual machines.
Similar to the configuration of a Terminal Server, 2X RAS deploys a VDI agent on each VDI Host.
High Availability Load Balancing
With 2X RAS Version 14, you get a High Availability Load Balancing (HALB) software solution that provides the ability to load balance user connections between 2X RAS gateways. The 2X HALB software solution is implemented through the deployment of HALB appliances that you can download from the 2X website. When multiple HALB appliances are deployed, one holds a master role and all other HALB appliances are slaves. As with other solutions of this type, all HALB appliances share a common virtual IP address (VIP). If a Master HALB fails, a slave is promoted to take its place and become the new master without user connections being affected.
In order to deploy the 2X RAS HALB solution, you simply download the appliance from the 2X website in the appropriate format (VHD, OVA and VMDK are available), import it to a supported virtualization host (Hyper-V, VMware ESX, or Citrix XenServer), boot the appliance, and modify the network settings. The HALB appliance is then ready to add to your 2X RAS farm. When you add the first HALB to the farm, you specify a Virtual IP that clients use for connections. There are a few additional configuration steps if you enable SSL user connections, but literally, I was able to get this solution up and running in less than 20 minutes including download time (the HALB VHD is about 1 GB in size) over my high-speed connection.
Another area of enhancement in 2X RAS is Universal Printing. This feature provides users connected to published desktops and applications with the ability to print to local printers without the server requiring printer drivers for the variety of deployed printers. Universal Printing is installed by default when the Terminal Server Agent is deployed to a new server.
In addition to allowing configuration of printer names for each deployed server, 2X RAS provides fonts management to ensure that fonts are available when documents are spooled to the client for printing.
One the cool features that I found in 2X RAS was the Invitation Emails feature that gives you a really simple way to send out 2X RDP Client installation instructions and automated configuration to users across a wide variety of devices. Using the 2X RAS console, you simply select your recipients (from AD or manual input), the target device platform, the gateway IP address that the users will connect to, and the gateway connection mode that the 2X RDP Client will use, and you just click to send the invitation. Your users will get an email that looks like the one in Figure 14.
virtualizationadmin Figure 14. 2X RAS User Email Invitation
The user has the choice to download and install the appropriate 2X RDP Client and automatically configure the client settings. Alternatively, they can use the defined settings to manually configure the 2X connection.
2X RAS Reporting
The final feature that I want to highlight is the 2X RAS Reporting. Before you can use 2X RAS Reporting, you must install the 2X Reporting Service on a server that is running Microsoft SQL Server 2008 SP1, Microsoft SQL 2008 R2 SP1, or Microsoft SQL Server 2012 with the Reporting Services installed. I used Microsoft SQL Server 2012 and had to follow these few configuration steps:
- Create a SQL named instance RASREPORTING with Instance ID RASREPORTING
- Create an AD user named RASREPORTINGVIEW used to connect and view reports
- Configure SQL administrators to include with SA, AD administrator, and System User
- Reconfigure the SQL Reporting Services port to 8085
I downloaded the 2X RAS Reporting installation package from the 2X website to the SQL Server, and it installed the 2X RAS Reporting Engine Service in a few minutes. I then launched the 2X RAS Console to configure the reporting server settings to point to the SQL Server using the RASREPORTINGVIEW user account for access to the reporting information. I tested the connection to the SQL database by clicking the Test Connection button before committing the changes. Figure 15 shows the 2X RAS Console default reporting view after successful configuration and activation of 2X RAS Reporting.
virtualizationadmin Figure 15. 2X RAS Reporting Default View
2X RAS Reporting offers 14 standard reports grouped into five categories:
- User Reports – Provides information related to users interaction with 2X RAS
(User activity, User session activity, Devices used by user, Client Operating system used by user)
- Group Reports – Provides information related to group interaction with 2X RAS
(Groups activity, Group sessions activity, Devices used by group, Client operating system used by the group)
- Devices Reports – Provides information related to devices that are connected to 2X RAS
(Devices used, Client operating system used, 2X RDP version used)
- Servers Reports – Provides information about 2X RAS server component activity
(Sessions activity on server, Server health by server)
- Application Reports – Provides information about applications used with 2X RAS
As for all the tasks performed during my review, the 2X RAS Console layout for reporting was easy to use, allowing me to open multiple reports in the interface and easily switch between reports. Figures 16 and 17 show the 2X RAS Console with both the Applications Usage report and Client Operating System Used report opened, respectively.
virtualizationadmin Figure 16. 2X RAS Applications Usage Report
virtualizationadmin Figure 17. 2X RAS Client Operating System Used Report
Although the reports are fairly basic, they provide some useful information into the activity of 2X RAS farms and sites.
Above all, I was very impressed with the rich feature set provided in the 2X RAS software. I was also very pleased with how easy the software is to install and configure. And I very much liked the layout of the 2X RAS Console, the simplicity of navigating through it, and the consistent experience is offered while managing the 2X Farm that I created in my test lab. There are a few areas for improvement to address around the documentation of security and firewall integration, application and 2X RAS services scaling, and 2X RAS reporting, but overall this product delivers on the value that it advertises.