Terminal Server Pros and Cons

Thursday Jan 11th 2001 by ServerWatch Staff
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If you are looking at implementing Microsoft's Terminal Services under Windows 2000 there are a few things you need to look at before you go ahead.

If you are looking at implementing Microsoft's Terminal Services under Windows 2000 there are a few things you need to look at before you go ahead.  I am going to explain the Pros and Cons as I see them for implementing Terminal Services.  I have been running Thin Clients off our server for about 6 months and I had to go through all this information in order to get management to buy into our server so all this is based on personal experience.

Terminal Service has two different modes of operation, first is Remote Administration which allows 2 concurrent connections to your server for Administrators to do their work like adding users.  The other mode in Application Server which is what I am looking at here.

Below is a section breakdown of all the pros and cons of running Terminal Services in Application Server mode.  Please note that these points do not take into count the added advantage of Citrix Metaframe for Windows 2000.  Since I have no experience with Citrix I can't add those points.

 

Here is a breakdown of the main pros of Microsoft Terminal Services for Windows 2000. 

Simplified Management

Terminal Services includes a remote control ability that allows you to take over one terminal session from another session.  This allows you to connect to the server from your own workstation and access another users desktop to help fix any problems he has or to show him how to do things.

Since all the users are logged onto a single machine software installation and upgrades are only needed at one place.  This will greatly reduce the amount of time you need to keep all your main programs up to date for all your users, and free you up to do other maintenance and upgrades that are needed.  

 

Reuse low end hardware

The client requirements for Terminal Services are either a hardware based Thin Client usually running Windows CE or a PC running Windows 3.11 or higher.  These requirements allows you to reuse your aging 386's, 486's and lower end pentium's as simple thin clients running either Windows 3.11 or Windows 95 until they are no longer operational.  You also need very little hard drive space.  I am using our old 200MB drives with plenty of free space.  

If you have any of this older hardware Terminal Services is a great way to get the maximum value for it possible.

 

Minimal effort on Client Installs

PC 

Installing the Terminal Services Client is a very simple procedure.  First you install your base operating system (Windows 3.11 or 95) and set it up to be able to connect to your server, and then you install the client software.  The configuration involves selecting the name of the server and the screen resolution to use.  After that you are ready to use the client.  I usually put a shortcut into the startup folder for the session I want the user to be using.

Hardware Based Terminal

These units are even easier to set up than the PC based solution.  All you need to do is tell it what the address of the server it needs to connect to is and whether to autostart the session.

 

Quick Replacement of Clients

Since terminal clients are so easy to set up and all the data is stored on the server, replacement units only take a matter of minutes to setup and put in place.  I even keep a spare thin client on hand in case any of our Full PC's break down I can put a thin client in place while doing repairs or upgrades.

 

Overall Network Load will be less

The only traffic traveling to and from the terminal server is the GUI display and the keystrokes.  This greatly reduces the demands on the network over having the full data from Word or Excel Documents.  I have been using a thin client to connect to our network from my house over our VPN connection without any problems with bandwidth.  I am also in the process of setting up one site with 5 thin clients running over a 56K line to the Terminal Server and all our preliminary tests show that there will be an improvement of performance getting files from the head office and from the Email server in Head Office

 

Here is a breakdown of the main cons of Microsoft Terminal Services for Windows 2000.

Server Requirements

Because everything runs off of the Terminal Server there is more requirements for hardware.  In my experience the average user (Outlook Email, IBM Client Access Express, and the occasional Internet Explorer session or Word) requires between 10 and 20 MB of Ram.  Also Windows 2000 with Terminal Services running takes between 120 - 200MB just to run.  My server has ~780MB of Ram and is currently servicing 15 Clients with more being added everyday.  I expect to encounter memory problems when we have about 50 Clients accessing the server regularly and then I'll just add some more memory.

The other major requirement is processor power.  My server is running Dual Pentium II-400 and with our current load we are sitting around 15% utilization consistently.  This value was created by Performance monitor logging over a 24hr period.

If you keep a regular check on the Performance Monitor logs you can be prepared for the increased load that Terminal Server will cause.

 

Some Programs don't work properly 

What I find to be the biggest pain of running Terminal Server is that some programs don't work properly and some don't work at all.  The main one I've encountered is Microsoft Photo Editor that comes with Office 2000 doesn't run under terminal server.

Even when programs do run there may be compatibility scripts that must be used when installing to make sure that they do in fact perform properly.

The biggest thing I can say about this is test and make sure your important software either works under terminal server or can be replaced with a program that works under terminal server.

 

Server Security needs to be strong

This one is fairly self explanatory.  Because your users are logging onto your server directly you need to either trust them explicitly not to go playing around or you need to lock down the important areas to prevent them from playing around.  Since I don't really trust my users (been called out to many times to fix PC's because they do play around) I implemented policies to prevent them from accessing the boot partition, control panel and everything else they didn't need to access.  I also redirected their start menu, desktop and my documents to their personal directories.

 

Server Setup 

The main thing to say here is test your installation on a spare box before implementation and backup the server first just in case something goes wrong.  Once you have installed the service on your server install the programs needed and test your setup on yourself before setting up the final users.  

You are going to need to set up your default profile to only display the programs the users need and get rid of everything else.  It also helps to log on as some of the users to make sure the profile changes work.  I also implemented a common start menu that everyone uses and that is only stored in one location so changes are only made to one place.

Microsoft Licensing Model

This has to be the worst part of the whole setup.  You have to buy licenses for terminal services, then register them online with Microsoft, and finally they are per machine licenses that will go with the machine should it fail or be rebuilt.  The only way to recover these licenses involves contacting Microsoft and getting your license reset which, I've heard, is not that easy to do.  

The other licensing option is to get a Microsoft Enterprise License Agreement and then you can run as many Terminal Services as you want.  It also gives you license to a bunch of other Microsoft Desktop Software, but you agree to pay a set amount of money per desktop for a 3 year period.

Here is the list of all those pros and cons

Pros

Cons

   

Simplified Management

Server Requirements

Reuse low end hardware 

Some Programs dont work properly 

Minimal effort on Client Installs

Server Security needs to be strong

Quick Replacement of Clients

Server Setup 

Overall Network Load will be less

Microsoft Licensing Model

In my opinion Terminal Server is a good option to install on your Windows 2000 Server.  If you don't plan on allowing your users to access it in order to run programs it can also be used in Remote Administration mode to do all you server maintenance.  If you set up the Advanced Web Client from Microsoft with your IIS Server then you can access your server from any Internet Explorer 4 or Higher browser.

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