FRAME, a quick look at a Cloud-born application delivery platform
Application delivery over the years has changed dramatically. We moved from local execution to a central one and from that central one to a Cloud-based one. The last step however going from central to Cloud is still something we struggle with. For more than a decade we’ve been told that within the next five years most applications will be Cloud based. We’ve been hearing that since the end of the nineties and still we battle those legacy Windows applications. All known vendors, Like Citrix, VMware and Microsoft offer a Cloud solution to provision applications. None of them really has a cloud-born solution they are on-premises solution ported to the Cloud.
Application delivery and the issues
Citrix and VMware have rock solid designs for on-premises solution. Application delivery is something they know very well but their solution is not designed to be a cloud solution. Cloud solutions are based on a different premise, cloud should bring us a chargeable solution, a flexible solution that scales up and down depending on your needs. on-premises solution can scale up when you invest in hardware but scaling down is kinda hard with the hardware in your data center.
With application delivery we see that offering applications is similar difficult, on-premises hosting every application asked for might mean a large investment and TCO can go off-track fast. The cloud as promised to us should solve this, a more flexible way of delivering, pay by the minute, scalable without upfront investments that haunt us for years. Citrix and VMware offer a lot of cloud services but not one that will publish applications charged by the minute. Last VMworld VMware announced a partnership with FRAME to offer customers a solution for this gap. So I got a FRAME account and this blog will show you what FRAME is.
For those unfamiliar with FRAME let’s explain a little bit about how they run and what they do. First they don’t have their own cloud, they make use of Microsoft Azure or AWS from Amazon with Google support coming soon. The application you require are installed in virtual machines running with the providers named earlier. Virtual machines only run when you want them to run, saving costs. Licenses for Windows and RDS are included in the price and depending on your need you can go pretty wild. There is, by default, no data at rest. Of course anything is possible but the intention is to have a short lived machine used only to used to access applications. Next you need to know is that they have there own protocol, a HTML5 protocol that does not need any client and works with any modern browser.
So when you browse to FRA.ME and opt for the login you are prompted for a login. After you are authenticated you enter launchpad, the sandbox is the first thing you see.
The launchpad is where you see see which applications are available for you, if you are an administrator you see both the sandbox and the production pad. The sandbox is your work area where you prepare your application to provision them for your users. As you see in the picture above you see there is a menu called “Applications” and one called “Files”. Applications is about the sandbox and production and as an end user you would see production. Files is about connecting to 3rd party file sharing solutions.
Why is this important? Remember that discussion about your users working remotely perhaps even with their own device. What users need is a location to store files as applications without data is unthinkable. When you use Office 365 as your Workspace you can use a limited number of applications, Microsoft Office 365 is only useful for a specific user group. By adding Frame to this you can enable access to different applications. These application can connect to a file sharing system which you can configure under “Files”. A long explanation for something simple.
As you see there are three offering right now, from DropBox to Google Drive and Box. Once you are connected these drives will be visible within your application as a network drive with a drive letter. So to work with application you can save personal files directly to a file sharing system like Google drive. I connected my Google drive and from the file explorer it is mapped like this.
Once you start an application you will see the status of the file sharing solution in a systray. Your Workspace gets a taskbar and if you look in the right corner (where with Windows you find the Systray) there is status screen for FRAME. One of the things you will see there is the file sharing options, all the offerings are shown there and the one that is active is highlighted.
If you look at the screen of the systray you see that the Google Drive icon is highlighted and the DropBox one is not. Another cool thing they offer is that they show connection statistics in their screen, so when you want to know what is happening during the session or do some troubleshooting you click there. A second screen opens up and show the current status. It will change while you work so the numbers are always changing. stats you see are bandwidth usage and frames per second, both very important in graphic environments.
On the left side of the screen there is also a systray of some sort. Next to the startmenu (will show that a later on) is a little systray showing some statistics like latency and time it took to reach the server environment.
Back to the launchpad, did a little detour to show you the file sharing. The launchpad is not where you configure all the application settings or provision new applications. To do that you need to open the dashboard. From a drop down menu you can reach several option, the dashboard is one of them.
Here, again we see the applications provisioned already. This means that they are installed in the virtual machine and available to be started by users. As you can see there are options like Settings and analytics on the left side of the dashboard. Without doing a long tour of FRAME let me highlight some of them.
One of the things to notice is that you could switch the machines you are using, I’m using a 6 core 56GB machine for my test right now (will do some graphics tests later on to be published in a different blog). An interesting part of the dashboard is the session settings. Some default settings like enabling storage providers or clipboard are possible there. These are important settings if you configure a workspace for your users.
If you’d scroll down you see the virtual machine that you use to provision the application from. To install any application you need to start the virtual machine first. Here you also see the storage provider again which you can mount. Here you would use them to pick up file to install applications. Also here you see again the ability to change a system.
Powering on a virtual machine in production or for installing applications will see a different behavior by different providers. If you start the virtual machine on an Azure environment it tends to start a lot slower than when it is done on AWS. The reason behind this is simple, Azure uses spinning disks for the operating system and a SSD for data disks, AWS in contrast uses a SSD for it’s operating system so that is starting faster. With AWS you can also pick a spinning disk but who would? Once the machines are started both environments would preform the same, it’s just the boot phase.
So what more is there to show in this quick deep dive on FRAME?
FRAME when you start any application offers a Start Menu that allows you to start other applications as well. Next to starting applications you will, as mentioned before, see statistics but there is more. You can open settings of your session or share you session with someone else. This might be useful when you work together in a team and you want someone else to look with you at e.g. a drawing.
Copy/Paste – Upload
The last thing I wanted to show is the ability to upload file and the ability to copy/paste between your local environment and the FRAME environment. The interfaces used are like you would expect from a cloud offering, easy to use.
A quick look at FRAME and I hope it gave a bit more insight in the possibilities. There is more to talk about like the ability to use your own single sign on solution to log on to application. The ability to use a point to point vpn to your internal network to retrieve licenses running there for instance. But also the ability to install a utility server to run a license server in your FRAME environment. There is a lot to talk about but my goal for this blog was a quick view of the console. I learned about future developments from my talk with them and it sounds very promising.
Soon I will write a blog showing details about performance of the sessions with different devices, it takes a bit of work to set that up but I think next week that will be finished.