Accessing your IBM Notes suite from anywhere with RemoteApp

Accessing your IBM Notes suite from anywhere with RemoteApp

So you want to have your IBM Notes client, Designer, and Administrator available to you. But you use a Mac, or Linux desktop, perhaps an exceptionally old copy of Windows and cannot use the newest versions reliably. What are your options?

For the Mac users out there, you could install a hypervisor and then run Windows and the IBM Notes suite underneath. Linux desktop could do similar, or perhaps a WINE based bottle and hope for the best. Old Windows users are effectively stuck at just upgrading – so long as your hardware supports this. There is an alternative. It is completely possible to stream the IBM Notes suite to your platform of choice and have it act exactly as if it were running on the latest version of Windows. RemoteApp allows for you to not only stream the Notes client, but also Designer and Administrator.

No longer do you have to locally manage a hypervisor on your local machine and have it consume your machine’s resources just to run Administrator or Designer. No longer do you have to concern yourself with the fairly complex procedure of configuring everything to run these Windows-only applications.

The big deal here isn’t just that you can continue to run whatever platform you feel most comfortable with, but also that it allows for you to take the environment anywhere. If you are someone who runs multiple computers, say, a desktop at work, a desktop at home, and a laptop in between, all three can utilize the same RemoteApp environment and load up precisely whatever you were working on between these and more systems. It means a freedom of choice and reliance that your important documents, content, and code are going to persist in a server somewhere and not your local fallible machine.

Perhaps you are a significant minority, but we can fairly easily assume that your desktop is not air conditioned 24/7 with redundant power, network, and disk. A server, on the other hand, certainly can be.

With Windows 2012 R2 it is fairly easy to get a barebones configuration of Remote Desktop Services (RDS) up and running. In fact, it is a special selection available in Server Manager separate from the usual addition of roles and features. A fairly intuitive wizard guides you through the basics. However, for a reliable, enterprise-grade solution you will have to go much further beyond the basics to ensure that your RDS system is where it needs to be. It takes significant hardware and planning to craft a highly available solution for you and your users.

fallbackLike the example schematic to the left, a properly designed environment takes several Virtual Machines (VMs) to fully realize RDS potential.

Generally, you will want to separate out the roles of the RDS environment into four segments: Gateway, Broker, Session Host, and File Server. Typically, the Broker or the Gateway is set as the Web Server and is publicly accessible through that route (I, personally, use the Gateway to minimize the public attack surface of the environment). The Gateway relies upon port 3389 to allow secure interaction between the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) connection of the Broker and the end user. Additionally, for highly available scenarios, the Broker server requires MS SQL to do its job.

But how does this apply to Notes? RDS uses whatever applications you publish that are available on the Session Hosts of your RDS farm. This includes the IBM Notes Suite. The secret for IBM Notes to be installed in this situation is that you have to use the below string from the path you have the installer extracted to:

setup.exe /s /v”SETMULTIUSER=1 MULTIUSERBASEDIR=!USERPROFILE! MULTIUSERCOMMONDIR=\”C:\\Program Files (x86)\\IBM\\Notes\” CITRIX=1″

This instructs the IBM Notes installer to utilize Multi-User installs (SETMULTIUSER=1 and CITRIX=1) based on a common Notes data directory template (MULTIUSERCOMMONDIR=\”C:\\Program Files (x86)\\IBM\\Notes\”). Additionally, MULTIUSERBASEDIR=!USERPROFILE! will install the user’s personal Notes data directory to their user profile path (typically C:\Users\<SAMAccountName>). Especially meaningful when you also configure the RDS system to use the newer feature User Profile Disk. This is a VHDX virtual disk stored on your file servers that attach themselves to the user’s profile path in order to unify the profile against several potential Session Hosts that the user may log into. It is the evolution of folder redirection and roaming profiles from the days of old.

Once IBM Notes (and Designer and Administrator) is installed on the Session Host(s), you can publish the application against an App Collection to make it available to your RDS users. We have found great success in the entire IBM Notes suite with this method and there are few issues to be found. The biggest concern is for Mac desktops that have an inherent issue with UI layers streamed to it via RDP. This translates to odd behavior with windows popping up behind applications and occasionally being completely inaccessible until you restart the RDP client (I’m looking at you, Notes Password Prompt). It also renders the stand-alone Sametime client virtually useless, as the client chat window relies heavily upon layering to work. Windows desktops need not worry here, the issue seems specific to our Mac friends.

So long as you are using a highly available environment, consisting of clustered Broker, Gateway, and Session Host servers, utilizing User Profile Disks, and having a resilient file server environment, you can be sure that your IBM Notes suite will always be there when you need it. The cost savings of this kind of environment become apparent when you no longer have to concern yourself with an individual configuration of Notes on everyone’s desktop and using your Help Desk to field isolated, disparate issues that come up when running Notes locally.

There is also a nice safety in having every individual’s Notes data directory stored on multiple file servers (and hopefully utilizing a backup solution) compared to a single hard drive somewhere on a laptop that was accidentally left in the back seat of a taxi somewhere in Guadalupe, Costa Rica.

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