Citrix's GoToAssist: Next Best Thing to Being There

GoToAssist 6.0 gives help desks a shared screen to see what users are experiencing.

October 27, 2004

4 Min Read
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For your helpdesk, a picture of a user's screen can be worth more than a thousand words. With GoToAssist (GTA) 6.0, Citrix's managed service for both internal and commercial helpdesks, staffers can view a shared screen to see what users are experiencing and can solve support problems without a remote-control package such as Symantec's pcAnywhere.

I tested GTA in our Syracuse University Real-World Labs® and found it lives up to its promises. I easily met remote users through a secure channel, chatted with them in real time, shared screens and transferred files.

Citrix gave me a GTA account with a license for five agents accessible over the Web, but one agent would have been enough--a single agent can host an unlimited number of support sessions and end users. GTA's HelpAlert agent application, which runs on Windows platforms, shows the details of individual sessions with users. Posing as an agent, I downloaded and ran HelpAlert, assigned a license to myself and tracked all incoming queries.

End users or customers must use Windows, but GTA supports any Web browser. Posing as a user, I visited a configurable Web page supplied by Citrix that can be inserted into your Web site by the URL or code. Then I entered a typical customer question: "Where did all my applications go?"

The question was broadcast to all agents assigned to my user account. Once an agent accepts the question, the user is directed to a secure Web site to download a small plug-in, which lets the user communicate with the agent through secure Citrix servers. It took mere minutes from the initial inquiry to the opening of the dialog box.As an agent, I could share and control the customer's screen to troubleshoot or let the customer view and control my screen for educational and training purposes. The remote-control or screen-sharing function can be terminated by either party at any time.

Fast Aid

The GTA service was snappy, despite traversing remote servers. Screen refreshes were transferred to the agent in seconds, and the delay for mouse and keyboard controls over the remote machine was easily tolerated. GTA also includes a reboot-reconnect feature with a file-transfer application and a URL push tool.

Citrix's file transfer goes through the communication servers just like KVM commands, so it was much slower than a point-to-point FTP transfer. Pushing a URL to a customer was much faster--seconds over DSL.

Good

• Secure communication channel• Minimal hardware requirements• No application deployment

Bad

• Limited to Windows platforms

Citrix GoToAssist 6.0, $3,900 per named seat per year, plus $725 one-time implementation fee. Citrix Online, a Division of Citrix Systems, (800) 549-8541. www.gotoassist.com

From the chat tool on the agent's desktop, I pushed the URL of our editorial calendar to a customer. The URL was sent to the customer's browser and quickly came into view. I then invoked a whiteboard tool to highlight calendar items.

GTA is managed over Citrix's hosted Online Management Center. From a browser, I could generate, print and save reports in CSV format, monitor agents in real time and even replay sessions.For security, Citrix maintains Web servers or brokers that generate AES session keys to agents and customers. The brokers hand off sessions to clustered communication servers that bring an agent and a customer together over a secure, 128-bit AES encrypted channel.

Citrix's managed service is a good alternative to distributing a remote-control application for large organizations. And its annual subscription fee seems manageable, considering one agent can support an unlimited number of customers.

Sean Doherty is a technology editor and lawyer based at our Syracuse University Real-World Labs®. Write to him at [email protected].

Agent specs:
I downloaded a HelpAlert application (5.5 MB) from Citrix's download center onto an IBM ThinkPad T-41 (Pentium M 512 MB of RAM) to get started. This Windows (95/98/2000/Me/NT4/XP) executable file requires no installation and runs in 5.66 MB RAM. For optimal agent performance, Citrix recommends a 300-MHz Pentium processor or better with 64 MB of RAM and a stable Internet connection with ISDN speed (64 Kbps to 128 Kbps) or better. You also need to make direct, outgoing TCP connections. GTA uses TCP Ports 8200, 80, and 443. Once the application is in memory, a number of helper files are downloaded to a temporary directory for added functionality. These files add to the memory requirements of the agent when specific features are invoked, e.g., file transfer (g2a_filee.exe, 192 KB), chat (g2a_query.exe, 655 KB), and screen share viewer (g2a_viewer.exe, 372 KB).

Customer Specs:
Customers will need at least a Pentium PC with a Windows OS and Internet Explorer or Netscape Browser 4.0 or higher with at least a 28.8-Kbps Internet connection. If customers solicit help from an agent over the phone, the agent provides an access URL. To get help over the Internet, customers go to a portal assigned to the GTA account.0

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