RemoteApp: Synergetic access from Home

Finding a decent solution for remote access to Synergetic has always been a problem. The Synergetic loader starts the application from a shared network drive, which is fine when Staff are at School but when they’re offsite, it’s tedious loading Synergetic with a 1Mb upload on the School’s internet link.

RemoteApp was a new feature with Server 2008 and has been refined further with 2008 R2 and Windows 7 with the RemoteApp and Desktop Connections. RemoteApp works similarly to the traditional Windows Terminal Server login used with previous versions of Windows Server, but with more functionality. When you configure a program for RemoteApp, the end user gets the same icon on their desktop or start menu that they would if the application was installed locally. The icon is a shortcut for remote desktop(RDP) that loads a full terminal services login, but hides the session and only shows the application, which is running in the TS session. The user’s printers and mapped drives etc can all be used in the RemoteApp, same as an RP session, but is set per program.

Accessing Synergetic via RemoteApp offsite is as seamless as connecting when at School and doesn’t require a VPN connection. Setting up RemoteApp with signed certificates and opening ports on the firewall is the way to go. Users still have to pass AD authentication, and depending on your Synergetic setup, another username and password to login to Synergetic.


Video -  loading Synergetic with RemoteApp

After a brief trial of Synergetic with RemoteApp it looks like we’ll be purchasing the necessary RDS User CAL’s (Check here for changes to TS licensing) and using RemoteApp for Staff access to Synergetic from home and getting them to use this setup for their Academic Report writing and avoid the confusion between Synergetic Network/Stand-Alone and importing/exporting reports.

To setup the trial of Server 2008 R2 and RemoteApp, follow something like the TS RemoteApp Step-by-Step Guide which is pretty straight forward. If you have Windows 7 clients, make sure you check out RemoteApp and Desktop Connections where you can set the Win7 machines to check a URL for a list of available RemoteApps and it will update regularly and automatically put shortcuts on the start menu for users

After you’ve configured the TS services, install Synergetic on the TS box and add it as RemoteApp through the Wizard


If your a large Synergetic customer, you probably have multiple databases for different users and need to specify different configuration files with command line arguments.


Here’s our test RemoteApps for Synergetic


Pushing the links for RemoteApps out as *.MSI or RDP files via a script or download makes things nice and easy too

I hadn’t paid much attention to RemoteApp and Microsoft’s VDI offerings, which seems like a mistake on my behalf. With the price of EDU licensing for MS Apps, this is a nice and tidy solution to a problem we’ve had since purchasing Synergetic 10-12 years ago. It might be a good solution for getting applications onto our Student Netbooks too… will see how we go

Netbook 2010 SOE

We’ve confirmed our SOE for the Student Netbooks for the 2010 pilot program. Nathan Hargreaves confirmed the final list yesterday. The image will be based on Windows 7 Professional with Office 2007 with:

Acrobat Reader 9
ClickView Player
Flash Player 10
Google Earth
Interactive Atlas CD 1.4
Internet Explorer 8
Java Runtime Environment 6
Maths Dimensions 9
Office Live Addin
Photoshop Elements 8
Premiere 8
Shockwave Player
VLC Player 1.0.3
Windows Media Player

We’ve decided that the netbooks will added to our domain, which will let the Students use their AD username and password and will provide seamless authentication for web mail, internet access and home drives on he network. We’ll also be able to use EAP-TLS with machine certificates for authentication on the new N wireless network, and we can use Group Policies to set mapped drives, installed network printers and control power settings.

It’s much more work on our behalf to have these machines on the domain and a lot more testing to make sure that the Students get the user experience that they need on the netbooks but still have the same policies, settings and restrictions on our desktop machines. The Students will all be administrators on their netbooks and will be able to install applications and change settings as they like. Finding the balance between letting the Students have the control that they need to feel ownership over the device and controlling GPO settings to ensure a seamless experience on campus will be the trick with having a successful SOE.

Too Cool for School


Recently our Headmaster announced that the School was going to trial a 1:1 netbook program with out Year 9 Students. Currently our Students use desktops in Computer Labs and some class sets of notebooks with the same SOE that’s installed on our desktops. The move to netbooks will create new challenges for our Staff, especially with some of the requirements, most notably that Students will need to have administrator access to their netbooks.

The device that we’ve selected for the trial is the HP Mini 5101 which has the same spec’s as the other netbooks, except we’ve optioned these with the HD screen(1366×768) and a 6 cell battery. The SOE that we’re building for the trial includes Windows 7 Professional, Office 2007, Visio, Adobe Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements. The SOE is pretty simple and the Students can add any other apps that they need when they’re handed over. The only problem with the software has been the Adobe licensing, which has been summed up by Rob Flavell on Learn | You | Good to perfection.

Since we’ve only ever had a notebook program for Academic Staff, we’ve been talking to colleagues at School’s with successful Student notebook programs to help work out a successful plan for Grammar. We want to the Students to feel ownership over the device which will help motivate them to look after their machines and reduce damage and support requests. However, we want the machines to be on the network, on the domain, and be able to push settings and updates out to the Student’s netbooks and ensure they have the correct printers installed, drive mappings and other group policy settings.

During the year we spoke to a School that has a notebook program for their Students(year 7-12) and their IT Staff have 3500 re-image jobs per year. This worked out to be 2 or 3 reimages for each machine in the School which is probably a full time job for someone! We’ve kept this in the forefront of our minds when planning the SOE for the netbooks even though we’re only deploying 150 machines for the pilot, we have to assume that the pilot will be a success and that before long we’ll have 600-700 netbooks to manage.

We’re dealing with the possible flood of reimaging requests with a two pronged attack. The SOE will have two partitions, one for the OS and one for Student data, and we’re working on an imaging method that the Students can run themselves. The dual partitions are setup with the Windows 7 users folder moved to the second partition and creating a junction/symbolic link to the new location, nice explanation from Scott Hanselman here. This setup allows us to reimage the partition with the OS and programs, and leave the data intact. Once we’re confident with the reimaging we won’t need to worry about backing up the Student’s data before reimaging their machine. The Student self imaging will work, at the moment, using a separate imaging VLAN and getting the Students to boot their machine from the network card and loading a custom Altiris WinPE boot image. We looked at options for imaging the netbooks from a hidden partition or via a USB HDD, but we need the imaging job to be initiated by Altiris so the computer will get the right name and settings etc during the sysprep process.

So that’s just the start, we’ve placed the order for the netbooks with HP and should have delivery before Christmas, and will need to have them finished and ready for the Students at the end of January. As we find problems or something interesting the image, netbook or how we’re supporting them, I’ll post here.

Project 2009 Rollout

Follow Nathan as he blogs our 2009 Desktop rollout here. Track our progress as we unpack, assemble and configure 187 new Rollout2009HP 7800 Ultra Slim Desktops and install around the School. To help us, we have a team of Students working with our IT Staff to take the 28 pallets of gear that arrived on two trucks on Monday, and over the next week or so, and unpack the boxes, assemble the HP machines on their desktop stands, and position around the School.

A major part of our new rollout process is using Altiris to image our machines. Previously we’ve used Ghost for all our imaging but have been disappointed with post-sysprep functionality. Altiris, which has recently been acquired by Symantec, provides all the functionality that Ghost *should* have. As we become more familiar with Altiris and the different add-ons that we purchased, like SVS, I’ll post interesting snippets and How-To’s on things we’ve discovered.

So far the only issues we’ve had with the imaging process has been re-imaging older systems around the School. We have two labs of IBM clones with MSI motherboards that have been troublesome. We’ve had issues getting them to network boot, PXE, and also a strange issue with multicasting one of the labs. Altiris’ multicast works by selecting a master machine for the imaging session, and copying the image from the Altiris server to the master machine. Then from the Master the image is sent, multicast, to the the other machines in the session. The issue we had was that after session got to around 10% the Slave machines would freeze, however the Master machine kept on Imaging. The error message on the Altiris console seemed unrelated to the actual problem, something to do with a problem with the subst command!? As always, Rian solved the problem and improvised, adapted and overcome. He set the machines to start imaging 5 minutes apart, effectively running a unicast to each machine in the lab, and after an hour or 3 the lab was successfully imaged.

Will update as we go