What is a Terminal Server and Why do Businesses Need it?

A terminal server is a computer that provides users with access to applications, data, and other resources stored on a server over a network. Instead of running applications and storing data locally, users connect to a terminal server using Remote Desktop and perform tasks on the server.

The terminal server runs on the server and provides remote access to the application's graphical interface and operating system. With Terminal Server, users can access applications and data on the server as if they were on a local computer. At the same time, all data and applications are stored on the server, which makes working with them more efficient and secure.

Technically, a terminal server runs on a Windows Server operating system and uses the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) or Independent Computing Architecture (ICA) protocols to provide remote access to users. It can also use various authentication and authorization mechanisms to provide secure access to data and applications.

A terminal server can be configured for a variety of purposes, such as remote application access, document collaboration, workstation virtualization, and more. It can also be integrated with other management and security systems such as Active Directory to provide centralized management of users and access to resources.

Benefits of Terminal Servers

1. Quick access

This is especially useful for organizations that operate branches or sites across the country. Everyone needs to share information within the company. Terminal servers are used for remote access to workstations and applications, allowing users to work on their computers but access programs and files on remote servers. This can be valuable for companies that want to give employees access to centralized information and applications without requiring them to be in the office.

2. Centralized management

The big plus is that the software only needs to be installed once, just like any patches or updates. You do not have to install it on each computer, so it saves a lot of time and ensures that all your users are using the same version. It is also much easier to organize user observation. If users are suspected of violating the rules or their sessions show unusual activity, it is easy to look in and check what's going on.

3. High performance

Another advantage of the terminal server is that it allows a large number of users to manage remotely it at the same time, connecting using the RDP client built into the Windows operating system. You can simultaneously connect 30-40 users running "heavy" applications on a terminal server, all in their bubbles (user sessions), and they are all managed by a session Manager service. These applications reside on a terminal server next to a file server, so performance is very high and the people running them remotely can be anywhere.

4. Saving resources and space

The user's local computer does not need to do much, so it can have lower specs and a much longer lifespan. It only runs a sort of Remote Desktop Protocol RDP client. Since remote desktop clients are also available for operating systems other than Microsoft Windows, a user can use a Mac, iPad, Android tablet, Chromebook, Kindle Fire, etc. to connect to a terminal server. Worktables are inexpensive and easy to replace. All that is needed is a thin client (an input and display device; a compact and silent computer without a hard drive whose main operating system is loaded on the server) or a system capable of running the Terminal Services client. This is doubtful to require 1 GB of RAM and a 100 GB hard drive. When the thin client is no longer needed, it is easy to replace, without special software or special configuration.

Some cons

Resource capturing. You need to learn how to manage resource quotas. Otherwise, it could happen that a user logs in, downloads something "heavy", and leaves without logging out. In this case, there is nothing left but to end the session.

Some programs "don't like" Terminal Services. For example, Office. Previously, you had to install it in a special "terminal services mode", otherwise the installation would behave awkward or work incorrectly.

There is a necessity for reliable network infrastructure for working. Users need a good path from the desktop to the server. If a client machine, switch, cable, or server "dies" their computer platform too.

Printer drivers behave weirdly sometimes. Interaction between programs increases the failure probability. Especially with terminal servers, which always seemed to be more sensitive to this. Remember, one server affects all. Therefore, one failed software installation can give everyone a headache.

"VDI provides per-user virtual desktops based on the hypervisor."

Desktop virtualization technologies

VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) and RDS (Remote Desktop Services) are two different desktop virtualization technologies used to provide remote access to workstations and applications.

VDI provides per-user virtual desktops based on the hypervisor. Each user gets a virtual computer, with all the necessary operating systems and applications. Thus, the user gets full control over his workspace, and all the changes are saving only on the virtual machine. This allows users to work with high performance and security but requires many resources to manage and maintain virtual machines.

RDS uses a centralized approach to desktop virtualization. It allows multiple users to use a shared server to access the same desktop. Each user only gets access to their session on the server, which may contain their settings and applications. This saves resources and simplifies management, but it can downgrade performance if many users use the same server.

In addition, VDI typically requires more hardware and higher maintenance costs than RDS. However, VDI provides the higher level of security and better individual performance, while RDS is better suited for larger organizations with limited resources.

Setting up a remote machine

Setting up a remote machine in the cloud may differ depending on the chosen cloud service provider and the tools used.

Using the SIM-Networks cloud as an example, starting and configuring consists of several steps:

Terminal Server Licensing

Terminal Server (Remote Desktop) Licensing depends on the software used and the terminal server manufacturer. Typically, remote desktops use licensed software such as Windows Server Remote Desktop Services, Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops, or VMware Horizon.

Windows Server Remote Desktop Services, for example, provides two licensing options: device licensing and user licensing. There are options to buy licenses individually or as a corporate package.

Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops also provide several licensing options, including subscription and recurring payment models. In addition, Citrix offers the option to choose the licensing type that best suits your organization.

VMware Horizon has several licensing options, including per-user and per-device licensing. VMware also provides usage-based licenses, which can be useful for businesses with a changing workforce.

The SIM-Networks Knowledge Base has detailed technical information about licensing:

  1. Install the Remote Desktop Licensing Role Service.
  2. Activate the Remote Desktop Licensing Server.
  3. Activate the Remote Desktop Licensing Server.
  4. Configure licensing settings on the RD Session Host Server.

It is important to note that the rules and requirements for Terminal Server licensing may change over time and depending on the software vendor. Before buying and using a terminal server, make sure that you carefully read the licensing rules to avoid copyright infringement and fines.

In real business

Let's look at a few practical tasks for which a business can use a terminal server using the experience of SIM-Networks customers as an example.

Providing remote access to desktops and applications. This allows employees to work from any place in the world with Internet access, which increases work flexibility and productivity. Therefore, using the example of a web studio, a universal case is described when terminal access to a corporate environment is vital if your business is geographically distributed across different regions or continents.

Simplify the scaling process. For example, you can add new users or applications as needed without purchasing and installing new computers or servers. In this case, you will learn how SIM-Networks specialists solved the problem of hosting the entire IT infrastructure of a trading company. The peculiarity of this project is that the client's resources are constantly experiencing dynamic loads.

Centralized application and data management. For example, applications can be installed and updated on the server and users can access them remotely.

Ensuring security when working with confidential data. Users can only access applications and data through the server, which reduces the chance of unauthorized access and data leakage.

Reducing equipment costs. The terminal server reduces hardware costs because most of the computing power can be provided remotely. It also reduces the cost of maintenance and equipment upgrades. Here is a specific example of solving such a problem - SIM-Networks experts can deploy a virtual office in the cloud for a company with 40 employees and reduce the cost of jobs using Raspberry Pi single-board computers.

These are just some of the tasks for which a business can use a terminal server. Actual tasks and use cases may vary depending on business needs and industry.

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A terminal server is a valuable business tool that allows organizations to reduce computer maintenance costs and increase employee productivity. The main advantages of using terminal servers for business:

  • Centralized management of applications, data, and settings to reduce the time, cost of maintaining computers, and improve data security.
  • Remote Access: the ability for employees to work remotely from anywhere with Internet access, increasing work flexibility and productivity.
  • Reduce costs: for updating, installing software, since all updates, and installations are made on a centralized server.
  • Save Space: reduce hardware costs and save space in offices because data and applications are stored on the server instead of on each computer.
  • Convenience of administration: easier to manage the network and set up user rights and access.

Thus, the use of a terminal server can improve the efficiency of employees, reduce costs and simplify the management of IT infrastructure in a business.

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