Citrix Synergy 2016 and 5 Ways to Say YES

Panoramic view of Synergy session 106

I had the pleasure once again of attending Citrix Synergy, a four-day event for technology professionals focused around- you guessed it, Citrix Technologies. This year found the conference in Las Vegas (more on that later) at the Sands Expo, located within the Venetian and Palazzo complex.

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Though I’ll say right out of the gate this was not my favorite year, I always love the opportunity to reconnect with many of you, my peers and even customers. Because after all, for me that really is the point. I typically already know all of the ‘big secrets’ hidden away under NDA until Synergy (a certain announcement I was expecting was missing, in fact, so I’ll keep quiet for now). As a result of this, later on I’ll only be outlying my personal top five announcements or focus areas. There are always more, but one thing that was very clear this year is that Citrix is serious about taking a defined direction of serving its core. Myself and others have been critical of Citrix for trying to take on too many focus areas and technologies that have nothing to do with what made Citrix the powerhouse it became in the mid 2000’s. Message received- Citrix will now focus on Application and Desktop delivery (XenApp, XenDesktop, XenMobile), Network Delivery (NetScaler), Cloud and secure data (ShareFile). I’m pleased to report that there was virtually no attention given to niche technology announcements like past years (Octoblu, Melio, Podio and whatever that workspace app was called).

To get the message across, Citrix chose a simple phrase to capture the attitude of Synergy: Yes.

Citrix Synergy and the Business of YES

Though some may have seen this as a risky way to relate, I think at some point when you boil down the question asked of the majority of attendees by customers and management comes down to a simple query. “Can we do this?”

Citrix has been helping me answer that question as an emphatic ‘yes’ for over a decade now, and I was personally glad to see a slogan I could relate to. After all, I believe all of us in the IT industry ultimately find ourselves in a service industry where the ability to meet needs trumps all other focuses. So if a company is asking if they can scale their current application delivery across the world utilizing public cloud resources, it may be easy to say ‘yes’ in many cases, then find out the answer really was ‘no.’ Citrix is doing a great job of aligning products around things like that to be able to answer ‘yes’ and have confidence saying so.

Cloud Alignment

Can I be honest? For the past seven or so years, there isn’t an IT buzzword I hate more than “cloud.” I’m not alone. Even the public cloud providers are nothing more than datacenters defined as ‘regions’, after all. But ‘cloud’ is an easier way to describe this shared datacenter execution. Citrix is doing a fairly good job here of re-defining what this means in the real world, and aligning its products appropriately.

Private Cloud

I’m sure many of my peers will agree with me that the concept of privately held datacenters connected to an MPLS ‘cloud’ is the realistic cloud of today. The difficulty of controlling data, execution resources and security in general in a public cloud has imprisoned companies to maintaining their own datacenters for decades, and in certain sectors such as Healthcare, Financial and Public Sector these challenges are becoming overwhelming as costs have not really come down as they were promised, and VM sprawl runs rampant. So what is Citrix doing here? I’ll be honest- there wasn’t really all that much of any impact at this Synergy. The exception perhaps of some new features for XenServer 7 such as support for 128 vGPU attached VMs, new Intel vGPU integration and much improved health check system and dom0 improvements that breathe new competitive life into the hypervisor. But I would be lying if I said it felt like this is a focus for Citrix, who is attempting to move Xen back into the Open Source community.

NetScaler management is a highlight, as was ShareFile Customer Hosted Keys – but in my mind, nothing was higher impact to these key industries with Private clouds as SD-WAN. Even though I’m not a networking guy by nature, it is hard not to get excited about this technology. SD (Software Defined)-WAN was demonstrated at Summit to partners earlier this year but I felt like there was more applause for this feature than any other feature at Synergy (spoiler- it’s at my number one in the top 5 below) and will be a game changer for easily half of my customers trapped in their private datacenters with a branch offices all around the world.

Public Cloud

Ah, the new hotness. Azure, Amazon and even a few new emerging cloud providers are making it harder to say ‘no’ to putting resources out there. Microsoft is pushing data storage into the cloud with a vengeance with Office 365 and aggressively pursuing companies into a subscription based licensing model for both software and virtual hardware. Amazon is still the unlikely leader here. Seriously- going from selling books to now being the leading cloud provider? That’s a new kind of crazy. But the industry signs are blaringly obvious, just as Mark Templeton noted two years ago: “Don’t own stuff” is the new mantra of businesses of all size.

Citrix is defining itself as a ‘cloud first’ company, and this Synergy made that clear – in fact I would say the majority of technology enhancements have everything to do with allowing companies to either start or move into the public cloud. Though adoption has been a little slow, the lifecycle management product (formerly known as Workspace Cloud) continues to add value and be a very attractive option for flexing to the cloud. XenMobile is finally also pushing to the public cloud, where other MDM leaders like MAS360 already thrive. For me, if they can make XenMobile implementation faster and cheaper to achieve they may finally have a winner.

Hybrid Cloud

Now we come to the favorite of my challenges- how do I help customers flex into cloud resources while still utilizing their own secure datacenter assets? This challenge is probably most front of mind with most of you too. Capacity in your private cloud or datacenter may not allow you to rapidly spin up like-for-like resources in the public cloud. Also, some things just have to stay inside the datacenter but be accessible outside by both customers and staff. There is hardly anything more frustrating in IT today.

Citrix technologies such as ShareFile are absolutely industry leading in this space, allowing data to be accessible the same way to resources anywhere- whether the data is in private clouds, public or both. It is hard to beat, and I can tell you that innovations from ShareFile end up nearly everywhere else in the company including NetScaler MAS and Cloud Services Portal. Citrix moved towards an interesting direction few expected this year in announcing NetScaler CPX- a Docker Container based instance of NetScaler that will allow teams to develop and test configurations as well as flex instances to multiple clouds at once. Though I can see sprawl problems with this, Citrix is ahead of this as well with what they call MAS, more on that soon.

Community Alignment

I’ll be honest, this is something that Citrix had going well for itself in the late 2000s- the IT community rallied around the technology and it was ‘cool’ to be a part of it. Local User groups were a big thing and I remember connecting well with many users learning and sharing tons of great stuff.

Then it all ended.

I am not sure exactly what happened, but suddenly people found themselves abandoned by a sales-focused Citrix that cared less about innovation and connecting with people. Well, last year, Citrix attempted to re-ignite this connection by forming the Citrix User Group Community (CUGC).

CUGC

I immediately jumped in with CUGC at Synergy 2015. Unlike the user groups of the past, CUGC is a worldwide community website that serves as a launching point for several local communities to meet in person. Since I have been wanting something like this in my home state of Colorado for years now, this was exciting and I immediately volunteered to lead a group (which I’m proud to announce will have our first meeting in Denver on June 22nd, 2016!)

CUGC is drastically different from previous groups in that while Citrix helps facilitate the groups, ultimately it is run by the users, as it should be.

This year at Synergy, I dedicated the majority of my time to helping CUGC.

I had a blast handing out t-shirts and meeting people. Far and away my best memories of Synergy 2016.

But… there was a major problem and I’m afraid I can’t let Citrix off the hook for it.
At Synergy 2015, CUGC was the first thing you saw when you walked into the Expo hall. A Tesla greeted you and said loudly “we care about community!” At Synergy 2016? CUGC was nowhere near the expo hall, instead relegated to a low traffic area of the second floor of the breakout sections. It was frustrating, to say the least, that Citrix seemed to change its message so abruptly. They have apologized on Twitter for this oversight and assure me that this was in no way reflective of their overall attitude, though I did not get any explanation beyond this, I’m afraid. In the future, I’m going to challenge Citrix to make CUGC a priority- after all, connecting with peers is the whole reason most people go to Synergy.

We had to take to social media to let people see where CUGC was this year

That off my chest- I highly encourage you to register and participate in our online community at MyCUGC.org and of course to connect locally! We need users to step up as leaders backed by partners, sponsors and of course Citrix Employees dedicated to CUGC entirely. I’ll jump off my soapbox now.

NetScaler Connect

One thing I did not get a chance to attend but was apparently VERY well received this year was a gathering of networking professionals that Citrix called “NetScaler Connect.”

I can’t say terribly much since I wasn’t there but it is quite obvious that with the NetScaler being such a successful product, a dedicated community is emerging for those folks. Stay tuned for the future of that!

My Top 5 Synergy Announcements

Okay, Okay, enough with the news report. You want the meat- the announcements and areas that form up my top five key announcements or technologies unveiled at Citrix.

Now granted, I’m very biased. These are the things that I see having the most impact to businesses in the US specifically in the Mid-Market and Enterprise segments, which is where I do 80% of my work. Here we go!

(note- I will be updating this list with links and more notes, so check back with this article in a few weeks to see more!)

    1. MCS Write Caching… barely talked about but far and away the most anticipated and asked for feature- basically the same RAM Caching in PVS available with MCS. This is HUGE for hybrid cloud deployments and small pod deployments! Get excited people!
    2. AppDisk with AppDNA inspection- Citrix is finally entering the space of application layering… unfortunately however they are using the PvD driver stack to do it. Not ideal, but for now I’ll take it!!!! AppDisk is free for all licenses, but the Platinum AppDNA inspection will allow you to automatically scan for deployment issues to your delivery group. #WORTH-IT
    3. Plug-in support for Nutanix Acropolis (SYN104, SYN123) with some of the best pricepoint integration I have ever seen – watch for great things here!
    4. Linux Virtual Desktop
    5. StoreFront 3.6 with support for DMZ (non-domain joined), NetScaler HDX Proxy (a lightweight NetScaler Gateway) API integration, aggregated resources load balancing non-identical sites and Federated Authentication Support.
    6. SecureBrowser as a cloud service and now as an internal web service.
  1. ShareFile and XenMobile
    1. Customer-Hosted Keys
    2. SecureForms and other MDX mobile application integrations
  2. NetScaler Features (I’ll be saying a LOT more about this soon, stay tuned)
    1. SD-WAN
    2. NetScaler Management and Analytics (MAS)
    3. NetScaler CPX
  3. HDXpi (Rasperry Pi as a ~ $80USD Thin Client- available from ViewSonic or at Micro Center for easy swaps in the US)
    1. Intel vGPU support and better nVidia GRID support from $2/user-month.
    2. Microsoft integration including
      1. driver management from Microsoft Update
      2. SMB support for live VMs (not just ISOs)
      3. Expanded Docker Container support within Server 2016
      4. SCOM integration
      5. Improved MSAD integration
      6. …and of course support for Windows 10 and Server 2016
    3. Security improvements working with Bitdefender (more on that in a few months) for direct inspection APIs which may represent the best performing antivirus we have ever seen on a hypervisor- and the api is extensible beyond that. (read: exciting)
    4. A Health Check feature which can regularly check for updates and notify you in advance of that and any other detected trouble from CIS.
    5. An unfathomable increase in scaling thresholds
      1. Per Host: 5 TB RAM, 288 CPUs, 4096 VBDs (for AppDisk) per SR
      2. Per VM: 1.5TB RAM, 32 vCPU and up to 255 AppDisks (VBDs)
    6. I saved the best for last, however- cgroups for dom0 which allows significant resource tuning that will hopefully put an end to XAPI woes.

In summary- I am glad Citrix has chosen to focus and it shows- instead of new flashy things that will only apply to a few customers (if any), Citrix has chosen to focus on its core values and make it more valuable to more people.

Good move.

See you next year in Orlando!

Lego Mini-Me of DJ