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TS Web Access simplifies application process in Windows Server 2008

Terminal Services Web Access in Windows Server 2008 is little more than a Web page, but at the same time it's so much more.

If you've ever created your own Web pages using previous operating system versions and hand-coded RDP files, you're familiar with the administrative headaches that managing and maintaining these static pages can create. TS Web Access improves much of this experience – both for Windows administrators and users – by adding a level of dynamics not capable with static pages.

Here's how the process works: First, create a TS RemoteApp associated with the preferred application -- or even a full desktop for old-school admins. When creating that RemoteApp, select the checkbox to make this RemoteApp available through TS Web Access. Boom, you're done.

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 Well, almost. There's a little more to the whole process. But once the TS Web Access Web site is set up and operational, the process of adding and removing applications from the site is really as easy as clicking a checkbox.

Setting up the TS Web Access Web site involves a couple of extra steps. To set them, in Server Manager add the TS Web Access role service to the Terminal Server role on your server. If not already installed, this will require the installation of the Web Server (IIS) role as well. Once you do that, add the computer account for this computer to the TS Web Access Computers Global Group in the domain. This step may require a reboot of the TS Web Access computer to pick up the computer account's access token.

Once complete, the process to add new RemoteApps is easy. After you add them in your preferred RemoteApps, your users will need to navigate to http://{servername}/ts to access the Web site. They'll automatically authenticate to the Web site based on their Active Directory credentials and they will be presented with the RemoteApps that they have access to. No access, no RemoteApp.

One of the four possible ways of deploying applications to users is through a TS Web Access server. Although installing applications to users' desktops through MSIs and file extension associations is most friendly to users, it adds a layer of complexity for Windows administrators. Imagine the situation where you want to remove or upgrade an application later. In that situation, your users will receive an error message when they click the link in their Start Menu.

Think now about deploying applications through TS Web Access. Adding a new application is as simple as checking the Show in TS Web Access checkbox in the RemoteApps' properties. The real power in this feature is when you need to remove that access later, you can. Let's say you want to upgrade SalesApp v1.0 to SalesApp v1.5. Doing this with Web Access is as simple as removing it from the Web page and adding the new application. With the other mechanisms, the process involves a complicated MSI reinstall.

Even better is the feature's ability to "roll" applications across multiple servers. If \\ServerA is having a problem on a particular day and you want to perform work on it, you can simply create another server or add the application to \\ServerB, then give it the same RemoteApp name and add it to the TS Web Access interface. Users will never know that you've changed servers. Using TS Web Access is like adding a layer of abstraction to your applications.

Taking this capability one step further is the integration of TS Web Access with Terminal Services Gateway. By placing a TS Gateway server in front of your TS Web Access and terminal servers, you immediately get transport-level SSL security for all of your Terminal Server traffic. This makes it safer to deploy Terminal Server-hosted applications across the Internet. TS Gateway is available as a native part of Terminal Services in Windows Server 2008.

You can see the power in moving applications away from the desktop and toward Terminal Services. Previously, this was more difficult as the number of applications increased because of the problems associated with deploying full desktops. But by giving users the ability to access their applications through a comfortable Web interface, they will still be able to do their work – while making your life easier.

Greg Shields, MCSE: Shields is an independent author and consultant based in Denver with many years of IT architecture and enterprise administration experience. He is an IT trainer and speaker on such IT topics as Microsoft administration, systems management and monitoring, and virtualization. His recent book Windows Server 2008: What's New/What's Changed is available at www.sapienpress.com.

This was first published in February 2008

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