Parallels Remote Application Server: hypervisor-agnostic application virtualization

Secure remote access can be complicated to configure properly. Vendor-specific technologies on the market often help accomplish this and often result in vendor lock-in. In this review of Parallels Remote Application Server (RAS), we will look at a solution that is hypervisor agnostic, easy to configure, and works with on-premises and cloud environments.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic at the time of this writing, most organizations are using remote work options for employee access to corporate resources. Many different remote solutions on the market from various vendors provide the ability to access technology resources remotely.

However, many of the different remote solutions available are vendor specific and designed to work with specific hypervisors or remote technologies. A robust solution for accessing your remote environment with support for multiple technologies is Parallels RAS. In this review, we will look at what features the solution has and how it can simplify remote access and empower end users.

What is Parallels RAS? ^

To begin with, let's get an overview of Parallels RAS as well as the features contained in the latest release, 17.1. Parallels RAS is an end-to-end remote access solution that provides the delivery mechanism for your end users to access resources across multiple technologies and from any device, including desktops, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), and applications.

These capabilities also span across on-premises, hybrid cloud, and public cloud environments, including Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. One benefit Parallels RAS touts is a superior mobile user experience on both iOS and Android devices. It delivers native Windows applications in such a way that they "feel" like native apps.

Parallels RAS focuses on simplicity and the ease of deploying their solution. Every part of the RAS product provides wizard-driven interfaces and simple point-and-click actions to perform otherwise complex functions from a single console.

Another RAS highlight is the in-the-box load-balancer solution. With most other remote access or VDI solutions, you have to use a third-party load balancer to stand in front of the key components to load-balance the multiple servers required for high availability (HA).

With Parallels RAS, you can deploy an easy-to-configure High Availability Load Balancer (HALB) that takes this often-complex requirement out of the equation from a configuration perspective. However, if you have your own load balancer or third-party solution you want to use for this purpose, Parallels RAS also works equally well with those.

Parallels RAS offers several key advantages, including:

  • The ability to run Windows applications on virtually any mobile device
  • An easy and intuitive management interface that allows wizard-driven configuration and PowerShell automation
  • In-the-box load balancing via the HALB, in-built resource-based server load balancing and support of round-robin
  • Hypervisor-agnostic virtualization that works with Hyper-V, VMware ESXi, Citrix Hypervisor, Scale Computing HC3 and Nutanix Acropolis
  • Easy a pay-as-you-go, per-user licensing
  • A full, native client for Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chrome OS
  • A HTML5 web interface that provides clientless access

To sum up the advantages of the solution, Parallels RAS simplifies the delivery mechanism for your end users to work remotely and helps standardize the UI for all types of end user devices.

New features in 17.1 ^

Parallels RAS 17.1 contains useful new features that can especially benefit service providers, MSPs, and others with multitenant environments.

New features include:

  • Multitenant architecture allows organizations to monitor and manage multiple farms from a single management console. The new multitenant capabilities of Parallels RAS include a new Tenant Broker role. This role shares Parallels Secure Client Gateways and front-end HALBs, and at the same time, it keeps tenants' environments isolated from each other.
  • SAML SSO authentication offers single sign-on (SSO) capabilities for users from different organizations.
  • VDI and RDSH on Azure: With RAS 17.1, you can provision VDI and remote desktop session host (RDSH) workloads directly on Azure.
  • AWS Elastic Load Balancing: You can use Parallels RAS with AWS Elastic Load Balancing in front to distribute incoming connections.
  • User experience (UX) enhancements support Apple iPad multitasking and drag-and-drop features.
  • Management improvements provide better SSL certificate management and real-time reporting with Microsoft SQL 2017/2019 support.
  • Web automation via the REST API

Parallels RAS installation requirements and architecture ^

Briefly, let's talk about the installation requirements and architecture of the Parallels RAS solution. The solution has several key components. You can run these on a converged server that holds all the Parallels RAS roles for dev/test/proof-of-concept environments or split them out on different servers running in production environments. This lets you easily scale the solution and segment out network traffic for external access. The Parallels RAS solution consists of the following components:

  • The Secure Client Gateway sits on the perimeter and provides secure access to the Parallels RAS publishing agents inside the LAN.
  • The RD Session Host agent, which can be installed on any Windows Server 2008 onwards, to enable resource sharing.
  • The Publishing Agent is the core installation of the Parallels RAS solution. It is like a controller/broker that establishes communication to the various internal resources presented to the end users.
  • The Web Administration Service installed on the publishing agent is part of the RAS solution.
  • The HALB is a native load balancer found in Parallels RAS if needed. As mentioned, customers can use existing load balancers with the Parallels solution.
  • Guest agents facilitate connectivity and interaction between Parallels RAS and RDSH/VDI. Other agents include session host agents, VDI agents, and PC agents.

The minimum requirements to run Parallels RAS include the following:

  • Physical machines: a dual-core processor with a minimum of 4 GB of physical memory
  • Virtual machines (VMs): two virtual processors with a minimum of 4 GB of virtual hardware memory

Parallels RAS 17.1 supports the following operating systems:

  • Windows Server 2008
  • Windows Server 2008 R2
  • Windows Server 2012
  • Windows Server 2012 R2
  • Windows Server 2016 (both Server Core and Desktop Experience installations)
  • Windows Server 2019 (both Server Core and Desktop Experience installations)

Installing Parallels RAS and configuring a published application ^

I found the installation and configuration of the Parallels RAS solution to be very straightforward. Minus the time it took to clone a VM to host Parallels RAS, it took only a few minutes to download and install the solution, and I was ready to start configuring my first published application.

While I am not showing the screen-by-screen installation process, it is a very familiar "next, next, finish" type of install. On the Select Installation Type screen, I chose the Parallels Remote Application Server option. Note that with the 17.1 release, you now have the option to choose the Parallels RAS Tenant Broker role.

Installing Parallels RAS

Installing Parallels RAS

After only a few clicks through the installation process, you are ready to log into the Parallels RAS environment.

Adding an RDSH in Parallels ^

The process to publish your first application in Parallels is surprisingly easy. The Start dashboard of the solution (where your focus is by default after installing the application) walks you through a process to:

  1. Add RDSHs to Parallels
  2. Publish applications
  3. Invite users

Click the Add RD Session Hosts button.

Add RDSHs to the Parallels environment

Add RDSHs to the Parallels environment

One of the great things about setting up an RDSH in Parallels RAS is that the Add RD Session Hosts wizard completes all the major steps required to configure your RDSH server for you automatically. As you can see below, it will add the firewall rules needed, install the Remote Desktop Services (RDS) role, enable the Desktop Experience, and restart the server if required.

Automatically configuring your RDSH server in Parallels

Automatically configuring your RDSH server in Parallels

Pushing out the Parallels RAS RDSH agent and making configuration changes

Publishing an application ^

After adding the RDSH server to the Parallels environment, you can publish an application for your end users.

Publishing an application

Publishing an application

You can publish an application after adding and selecting the RDSH server you want to use. The Parallels agent on the RDSH server will enumerate all the installed applications on the RDSH server. You can then simply select the application you want to publish using the Parallels Publish Applications wizard.

Select the application you want to publish

Select the application you want to publish

After selecting the application, you can simply finish the wizard to complete publishing the application for your specific RDSH server.

Invite users ^

After setting up a published application, you can invite users you want to be able to connect to your published applications.

Invite users to download the Parallels application and connect

Invite users to download the Parallels application and connect

In the Invite Users wizard, you can invite users by email using a customized invitation containing the targeted operating system and the gateway IP you want to send to them.

Customize the invite to the operating system and public IP you want to use in the invitation

Customize the invite to the operating system and public IP you want to use in the invitation

Connecting to your published application ^

When you connect to your Parallels RAS server directly via HTTPS, Parallels will scan your device to see if you have the Parallels client installed. If not, it will include the link to download the correct client for your particular device type. You can also simply choose to use the HTML5 client as well.

Prompt to download the Parallels client

Prompt to download the Parallels client

As you can see below, Notepad++ is published and ready to use via the Parallels interface (either HTML5 or the Parallels client).

Published application ready and available for use

Published application ready and available for use

Wrapping up and impressions ^

I found the Parallels solution to be very easy to use, full of great features, and very intuitive. The solution's built-in features, such as the load balancer, Kiosk Mode (thin client-like), and Shadowing (remote assistance), add a nice touch to a system. They make it extremely easy to configure and access remote environments, such as RDS and VDI.

Parallels RAS frees you from using a specific vendor technology for remote access or VDI solutions. It works with most of the big names in on-premises and cloud technologies to fit the needs of your particular environment. In addition, the licensing is very straightforward, being a simple per-user model.

You can test out Parallels RAS with a free full-featured 30-day trial version you can download here.

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