Linux Mint as Graphical Jump Box and Terminal Server

  • When we talk about terminal servers we always always think of Windows, but terminal services are just as viable with Linux and other operating systems. Linux Mint, which makes an excellent desktop, also makes an excellent terminal server. All that we need is to add the right protocol(s) to make it do what we want.

    Linux Mint works well, using the same or nearly the same setup, for both Jump and TS functions. In reality, the two are essentially identical. The difference is only intent - a jump box is a jumping off point for accessing other systems and TS assumes that you will be using that box itself for the functions, at least primary.

    It is common to think of remotely accessing Linux using tools like VNC, and of course this is possible. But for a terminal server we are generally going to want something more in line with RDP, and this too is an option. Of course we always have the native X protocol to consider but it is clunky for connecting remotely. What we probably want to look at is NoMachine's NX protocol which is available from vendors like NoMachine themselves, 2X and X2Go.

    NX is fast and efficient, very flexible, handles multiple concurrent users natively and uses SSH as a transport so that it leverages security mechanisms already in place. Easy, efficient and secure. Everything that we want.

    Using a tool like X2Go's free, open source implementation of NX we can, with nearly zero effort, build a jump or TS server and provide simple remote access to it. The NX protocol is extra flexible and allows us to provide a full desktop experience or simply provide a single application to remote users making the experience more efficient when all that is needed is, for example, a remote web browser.

    Use Case: A remote site has web based network configuration utilities (switches, routers, NAS, etc.) that need to be accessed from inside the network. A VPN could be used but this causes unnecessary complications and exposure. A jump box provides security and ease of use. Remote workers can "throw" an NX window of the web browser from the jump box, which sits on the LAN needing access, to the worker's desktop allowing them to quickly and easily work from "inside" the other network without the risk and overhead of a VPN and without the massive licensing costs of Windows.

    Linux Mint makes an ideal platform for both uses. If you simply need an attractive, mixed use, modern desktop running fat applications Mint leads the pack. Or if you need a graphical jump station Mint can pull double duty providing both the SSH Proxy access commonly used by UNIX Admins as well as the remote graphical environments often needed for Windows, desktop and network support roles.

    Of course other Linux distros will work well here too... openSuse, CentOS, Fedora, Ubuntu, there are many choices. Mint just stands out as an often overlooked and very well suited terminal server option. In the Windows world the OS choices designed for desktop use cannot be used in TS rules, but in the Linux world, they may be the best candidates.