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Ericom Connect brings a modern backend to VDI

Ericom Connect is built on a grid architecture that makes it a good alternative to virtual desktop products from Citrix and VMware, or a good replacement for VDI-in-a-Box.

Last month Ericom released a new product -- Ericom Connect -- that is probably best described as "modern" desktop virtualization architecture. It's notable for both the features it includes and the ones it leaves out.

Depending on how long you've been paying attention to desktop virtualization, you might know the Ericom product as PowerTerm WebConnect or AccessNow, neither of which was all that well-known except as an alternative to Citrix and VMware. It was built around a similar architecture as its better-known brethren, with a centralized SQL server, image management capabilities for different hypervisors, a connection broker, Web interface and various clients.

Ericom's new method is built on a grid architecture that allows more scalability, reliability and flexibility than ever before. In fact, it's very similar to the approach that many people hoped Citrix would take after it acquired Kaviza's VDI-in-a-Box (which is being discontinued).

This new grid-based architecture means that all configurations, logs and monitoring information are stored in a distributed manner across as many Ericom Connect servers as you want or need. The grid is designed for scalability, tested to millions of transactions and relieves the need to have clusters or backup SQL servers. It also gets rid of the single point of failure that can come with having only one SQL server with all your configuration information.

How Connect works

Each remote session host runs an agent that talks to a Connect Server, and that Connect Server spreads the information all around the grid so that failed Connect Servers don't bring anything down. These agents run on Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH) servers, VDI desktops or even physical desktops, and they report session counts, stats and health information to the grid.

There is still a broker that connects the clients to their sessions. This broker can sit behind a secure gateway or a Web interface, and it communicates with the grid to establish a connection. The session itself is connected directly from the endpoint to the remote desktop (not through any specific Connect Server). Ericom also has support for just about any OS you can think of, including Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, Chromebook and HTML5. There's even support for BlackBerry if you're into that sort of thing.

Ericom has put a lot of effort into the management console. It plugs into Active Directory, and it lets you create groups of users, apps, servers and desktop that you can manage as a whole. You can also script your own automated process if you want.

There's a simulator that lets you see what an end user would see based on the configurations you've made. It shows all the applications, what servers they'd connect to and what logic was used to determine that user's configuration, sort of like the Group Policy Object Modeler in Windows Server.

All this sounds refreshingly new, but one thing that's not in Ericom Connect is virtual machine management. When redesigning the product, Ericom decided there were too many image management tools and plugins available; writing another one was redundant and added to the complexity of desktop virtualization.

To add a machine to Ericom Connect, you simply install the agent on it. How that machine came into existence and how the agent is installed are up to you, but you very likely already have a way to create or clone virtual machines, as well as a way to deploy software to them. This approach is very flexible because it allows you to use anything as a session or desktop host, including physical machines, RDSH, hyper-converged hardware and even virtual machines from desktop as a service (DaaS) providers.

You can see this is a pretty big departure from the approach that other desktop virtualization platforms take. I love the approach, and I see it not only as a viable option for customers who bought VDI-in-a-Box for its ease of use, but for many companies undertaking a new desktop virtualization project (or a significant migration). The ability to easily roll to the cloud while keeping the same management in place is also interesting because it means you can easily take DaaS for a test drive while still handling all the management.

It's not going to supplant Citrix or VMware, but Ericom Connect and the modern approach it brings are a breath of fresh air in an area of IT where the platforms have seen very little in the way of fundamental changes over the years.

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