By Francis Chu  |  Posted 2005-03-14 Print this article Print

Windows shops looking for a centralized, flexible and easy-to-deploy desktop management solution should consider Ardence Inc.s Ardence Desktop Edition 3.1 (formerly known as Ardence BXP).

Ardence software products use software streaming techniques, a unique approach to desktop system management. Ardence Desktop Edition 3.1 lets IT managers create a more robust desktop environment than they can with traditional software imaging or thin-client solutions.

eWEEK Labs believes Ardence will be a good choice for managing client access for shops that require more flexibility and tighter control in client systems such as call centers, retail, education or financial companies.

Ardence Desktop Edition 3.1 became available last month and is priced at $250 per client. There is no additional cost for setting up multiple servers. Ardence Desktop competes with desktop provisioning tools such as Microsoft Corp.s SMS (Systems Management Server) 2003 and Altiris Inc.s Client Management Suite. Ardence also competes with server-based thin-client applications such as Windows Terminal Services and Citrix Systems Inc.s MetaFrame.

The Ardence software streams content to client desktops on demand from a central I/O server. The operating system and applications are still being run on the desktop, but the system can be diskless because disk operations are redirected to the images stored on the I/O server. This approach differs markedly from that of imaging tools, which copy the entire operating system to client PCs, and from that of thin-client computing systems, which provide PC access to applications running on a server.

The software-streaming capabilities allow IT managers to more securely control client systems because changes in local data are not saved to the server image and thus dont affect the system.

Ardence Desktop Edition 3.1 can also save administration costs by providing faster, more flexible system deployment. Client PCs can be up and running right after they have been configured for network boot. And because system changes are transparent to the user, IT managers can also reduce desk-side support and hardware maintenance costs.

The Ardence I/O server stores client images on virtual disks, which can be shared by multiple clients. These disks are about the same size as the operating system partition on the client. However, to image data, the virtual disk driver must be installed on the clients. IT staff will have to consider server-side storage capacity to accommodate multiple virtual disks, especially in heterogeneous environments.

By accessing the virtual disks on the Ardence server, PC clients can run diskless, using only the local processor and memory for running applications. In tests, after we configured an Ardence server with the main server image to be used by all clients, we removed the local hard drive from our client PCs, and the system ran without any problems.

Because of Ardence Desktop Edition 3.1s dependence on the network fabric for client communications, IT managers must plan to run the architecture on a fairly robust network with properly configured switches.

Ardence provides a shared- image mode so that a common image can be multicast to many client PCs with similar hardware. For example, we could create a single Windows XP Professional virtual disk image on our I/O server and have many client PCs use that image—provided that all the PCs had the same motherboard, chip set, network card and video card. Switches and routers must support multicasting to use the shared-image mode.

The PXE (preboot execution environment) standard and DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) are required for client communications and access. IT managers can use existing DHCP servers or run DHCP on the Ardence server. IT managers will have to install or enable PXE networking on every client PC.

The client PCs use PXE to obtain an IP address from the Ardence server, which uses TFTP (Trivial File Transfer Protocol) to deliver a bootstrap to the client. The bootstrap is a small program loaded by the BIOS during startup that allows the client PC to log on to and communicate with the Ardence server. The bootstrap emulates a hard drive by directing disk read/write chores to the network I/O service rather than the local hard drive.

To prevent latency issues, we recommend outfitting the Ardence server with Gigabit Ethernet, and client systems at a minimum should have 100M-bps Ethernet.

IT managers might need to provide network storage for the clients in larger environments. Users can access applications from the Ardence server but can save their work on a network share or use removable storage devices such as USB keys or a floppy drive.

We used the Ardence Administrator interface to create a virtual disk that contained the operating system and different applications. The process is straightforward using the configuration wizards.

However, IT managers should carefully plan which components will be installed during the initial setup. Multiple virtual disks can also be created and customized with separate applications, which will be useful for companies that have different systems for separate corporate groups.

We created several virtual disks with different combinations of operating systems and applications in our environment. In this scenario, we could change applications and clients operating systems on the fly by connecting clients to the corresponding virtual disk. Ardence Desktop Edition can stream to Windows 2000 Professional and XP clients. The I/O server can be installed on systems running Windows 2000 Professional, Windows 2000 Server, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

Technical Analyst Francis Chu can be reached at francis_chu@ziffdavis.com.

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