An Interview with Pro Staff

Kevin Woodward, Pro Staff's network systems engineer/administrator, and Kevin Smith, the company's IS director, both played key roles in the WinFrame and Winterm project. Here's what they had to say.

Q: What did you like about the project's implementation?

KS: The concept of basing an entire enterprise system on WinFrame's application server, using terminals instead of traditional desktop computers as workstations was unusualĀ­no one had implemented this approach on such a large scale. Seeing the successful implementation was exciting. We achieved the many advantages we hoped for: ease of management, simplicity, scaleability, and cost savings.

Q: What didn't you like about the project's implementation?

KW: Some of the same things that made this an exciting project also made it challenging. Because most of this technology is so new, nobody is an expert on its implementation, especially with additional components: You're pretty much on your own. Applications reacted in unexpected ways when we installed them in WinFrame's multiuser environment and handled the cluster failovers differently. Most of the really vexing problems involved fooling applications into believing they were serving one user instead of 40 potential users on each WinFrame box.

Q: What would you have done differently on the project?

KW: The gotchas were related to Microsoft's workstation-centric approach to personal computing. In WinFrame's multiuser environment, to make Word and Excel refer to a new user's home directory, an administrator must log in as that user and set the default file locations in each application. This procedure adds an entry to the Registry that points the document path to the correct location. Like Office, Microsoft Exchange doesn't use the login to validate a user, but instead uses a Registry entry created during client installation. To log in to Exchange as a different user, you have to delete the displayed username, enter the new username, click Check Names, click OK, and enter the application. If you don't follow these steps, you lock up the application. Our solution was to install Exchange so that the username reads, "Enter your name here." This way, users can simply type in their name and log in. Another solution is to install the client for each user, creating a unique Registry entry on the server and letting users see their name in the Exchange login dialog. Unfortunately, the client requires about 8MB of disk. We're working with our VAR, Citrix, and Microsoft to find a better solution.

Q: What advice can you give your peers?

KS: The cost savings from using Winterm terminals instead of PCs, centralized software distribution and management, and the scaleability of the platform will more than offset the initial configuration obstacles. As software developers focus more attention on the WinFrame platform, they will tailor more applications to work seamlessly with Citrix's ICA protocol. In fact, I understand Microsoft will begin to include ICA with future versions of Win95, Internet Explorer 3.0, and NT.

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