Long Term Service Release (LTSR). It doesn’t happen often. And here’s why this is a big deal!
The Wait is OVER – XenApp and XenDesktop LTSR 7.15
Aside from “should I use PVS and MCS?” the most common question I have been getting this year is, “When is the next LTSR being released?”
When no announcement was made at Synergy, I think people started thinking they would be waiting for “the Citrix” for-ev-er.
Understanding Releases- CR and LTSR
Very briefly if you don’t know already- Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop (yes, one product line with multiple license types, a discussion for another day) has two streams of releases:
CR – Current Release. Roughly every 3-9 months or so, as new features are developed they are released into the ‘wild’. CR has a shorter lifecycle of support but you always have the latest features. It’s a great fit for environments that care about being on the cutting edge.
LTSR – Long Term Service Release. Roughly every 2-3 years a new version is released. This “Locks in” a feature set and only security and stability patches are released. Those that are paying attention will note that Microsoft and other vendors are doing the same thing, and it’s important in the Enterprise.
Why Care About a Long Term Service Release (LTSR)?
There’s a lot of reasons to care about LTSR. Here’s my top 5:
Proven Stability. LTSR has been simply huge in high-availability 24-hr verticals like Healthcare because you can predict what it will do. A longer lifespan means more predictability. LTSR is the Honda Accord of Citrix releases. You just know it’s going to work the same way 3 years from now as it does today. You know it because literally hundreds of customers are using the same version.
10 Year Support Possible. This is because with less changes being made, the support lifecycle is longer. This means in some cases an almost 10 year support lifespan (not that you would, but you could!) Given the amount of XenApp 5.0 and 6.0 farms I’m still seeing out there, I’m reminded that not everyone upgrades often. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
App Vendors Like it. Sure, new features are great but there are times when the development lifecycle for an application is longer than the features of the underlying delivery. An LTSR release lets you specify a standard way of doing things knowing it will be easier to support in the long run.
Better ROI. I have to say this again- Return on Investment only applies if your Operational costs are lower. A standardized release means more people will learn how to administer the environment and get better at it over time. In fact- certifications are now aligning towards LTSR releases.
Better and Faster Support. Not just from Citrix, but from partners and application vendors and even web searches. Let’s face it- for all the reasons above you’ll get better quality and faster support using an LTSR than a CR.
So What’s the Problem?
Well- 1.6 years ended up being a long time to wait for a lot of people. After all, there have been a LOT of useful features in the 7 releases that have come between LTSRs. So, what I have been seeing is a lot of ‘inbetween’ adoption of versions to get a certain feature that have had consequences in the areas I note above. A full comparison of feature sets can be found here. Needless to say, a full 2 or even 3 years just wasn’t going to work. Too many people were clamoring for features that they couldn’t get in LTSR and making compromises in Enterprise environments, which totally goes against the whole purpose!
Key Features I’ve been waiting for in LTSR
There are a LOT of key features I’ve been waiting to see – the list is long but distinguished (DON’T say it…):
HDX Enlightened/Adaptive Transport (note, 7.6 locked in the last great advancement in ICA. This is the next and the single most common reason I’ve seen the switch to CR this year. Solved.)
HTML5 Redirection, Framehawk and H.264 SuperCodec if you’re into such things
Windows 10 support
Local App Access
Local Host Cache. This may be the missing feature others were quick to use CR. Me, I say you still want to have a good SQL structure regardless but at least this makes a more assured stable environment.
MCS for Server OS. I’ll admit it. I’d rather see some image management than none. PVS is not always appropriate despite it’s UTTER AND COMPLETE SUPERIORITY. Bonus points to have access to RAM caching to further reduce the hit to IOPS for writes. [Edit 9/19/17: I noticed today that support for HyperV Gen2 VMs is now included with 7.15! Hello 2016!]
Federated Services and SAML.
Web Password reset
Azure and Nutanix Acropolis support!
Linux Desktops AND LINUX ON FREAKIN PVS!!!
Anything Missing in LTSR 7.15?
WebInterface Support. I try not to giggle, but the reality is that a lot of people are still stuck on WI instead of StoreFront. Some even have legit reasons. And for that I am sorry. But if you are in that very exclusive club, do NOT upgrade to 7.15 LTSR. You will not find WebInterface support follows you. Time to increase those consulting budgets!
Common Criteria Certification and FIPS Compliance. FIPS may actually have a leg to stand on with 7.15 LTSR, but Common Criteria is notably missing. I’m not yet sure why but… if you need to be sure, stay with 7.6 LTSR.
Multiple license editions per farm. Sadly- still missing since sometime around the 6.5 days 🙁
SA Licensing. In a move I’m sure will cause a backlash, only CRs are currently eligible under SA. You must have Customer Success Services active to get the new licenses. Sorry, holdouts. It’s the future.
Mixed component versioning. As with LTSR 7.6 – you must maintain all components at the same LTSR version to get support for the full timeframe.
With XenApp 6.5 going End of Life in… less than a year… (June 30th, 2018… or August 24th, 2016 if you broke your active SA agreement- long story but do you really want to take the chance of calling support and finding you have none?) I’d say it’s probably time to upgrade, and this is the release that should make it practical!
Unfortunately this release has come at a busy time for me but… I downloaded it yesterday (8/14/2017) and am looking forward to getting this live!
Interested in help with your migration? Questions about licensing? My team at Accordant Technology can help or contact me below.
So, how about it? Will you be upgrading this Fall?
(note- this website is not maintained by Accordant Technology, it’s where I work 😉 )
But what good what I be doing to just say “Ditto”? Here’s what I brought this year and why; in the hopes you’ll see this before you pack and benefit (or benefit next year):
My Citrix Synergy 2017 Packing List
First off, I’ve arrived early for Labs, staying for all of Synergy and also staying for E2EVC – so that’s a solid 6 days of walking, sitting, walking, sitting, standing, walking, walking, walking and some more walking. I’m going to estimate roughly 11 miles each day for me. I should also mention that my hotel is a little over a mile away on foot. I’ll be trying the Trolley this year (Thanks, Neil!) – $9 for the week will work for me; I’ll try to remember to report back on that here.
Given the schedule and how IN-SANE certain days and nights can get at Synergy, I use a layering strategy in everything from what I wear to how I pack. (Note- I’ll provide Amazon links when I can)
Layer 1: Clothing
Polo Shirts (note- this is the first year I’ve decided against long sleeve shirts. We’ll see how it goes! The key is be comfortable without being unprofessional.)
Light Fleece (this is the most overlooked item. Trust me- I have never been in a session in all of these years that hasn’t kept the room over 70 degrees. If you don’t have a sport coat or something like that, bring something to take the edge off the cold) – LAYER!!!
Swim Trunks and Shorts (just in case, I’ve rarely used them – count on being so busy you won’t need to)
Layer 2: Accessories and Equipment
Water Bottle (Thanks to Dr. Tobias Kreidl for reminding CUGC in including this critical item.) Pretty much every session will have water stations, but it’s so very important to keep the ability to hydrate with you. Sure the air is humid outside, but inside- cold and dry. More so important if you plan on taking part of any of the numerous occasions for adult beverages.
Vitamins (critical for recovery – I triple my dose round Wednesday just to recover from various adult beverages and late nights that I am never ready for.)
17″ Laptop (I have a Samsung laptop I bought in 2017 that is still rocking. It has HDMI, Display Port and VGA output- which is important for Labs) – used Sunday and Monday and then left at the hotel
ASUS Transformer Chi Tablet with detachable keyboard – cheap and effective for note taking and signing into my work’s XenApp Applications all week.
2 Battery Packs (I anticipate getting more from Vendor Partners this week)
Layer 3: Luggage and Bags
I usually travel with a carry on bag- but mine has the ability to expand. Why is this important? Because you will leave with more than you came. You will. Even if you only take the conference official bag, you will be getting SWAG (Stuff We All Get) from vendors that want you to take their stuff.
Leave space or the ability to expand your main luggage
Always bring stuff back for your team that didn’t have the privilege of going to Synergy
Anticipate things like batteries, shirts, various prizes and fascinating solutions to everyday challenges like multiple charging cables.
LAYER YOUR LUGGAGE
Main bag for laptop (mine is a bag I won in Orlando a few years back that I use every time I travel)- after Monday it stays at the hotel
New bag to hold SWAG, tablet, water bottle and battery packs
More Synergy Advice
You’re going to walk and stand. A LOT.
You’re not going to sleep much.
Go to the parties
Visit the Vendors
Visit me and others at the CUGC booth!
You’re going to get tired.
Your Brain may try to explode.
You’ll go home brimming with new information and confidence.
It may be time to take another look at XenServer, folks.
The new PVS Accelerator feature caches the PVS stream, drastically reducing the CPU and Bandwidth required. For XenDesktop PVS-based VDI… this would solve a lot of boot-storm issues and makes the “Pod” configuration a great option.
My advice- always go with the Hypervisor you know you can support, but if you have a large scale deployment of VDI- it may be very much worth your time to learn how to support XenServer in addition to vSphere ESX.
Why? Because you can put your “Control” layer, now including your PVS servers, on your hardened and HA VMware cluster… and deploy cheaper XenServer pods for your VDI- which doesn’t require HA and would now not really need to have PVS servers on the same XenServer cluster since the data being accessed could be cached. The implications of this in a multi-datacenter or Cold Recovery DR environment are actually really big.
Generally speaking, not doing this can lead to serious problems with speed and even stability. With the way point releases are happening, you should NEVER count on your AV provider to hard-code exceptions for you.
So even if you think an exception is happening by default, I still recommend testing the full list.
But by and large, in my experience with non-persistent VMs- disabling realtime antivirus scan on read and scheduled scans has the largest impact on your scalability. So, work with your security team to get that exception made and make sure they actually do it!
You’d be amazed how many assessments I have done lately where people thought the exceptions were there only to find that they had either been changed or never put in place!
Gotta boost the signal on this. My friend Nick Rintalan from Citrix Consulting has put together a new ‘best practice’ (or leading practices for the lawyers) update that I feel it’s important for people to see!
Nick Rintalan, Lead Architect at Citrix Consulting
New Best Practice(s)?
Here are some of the highlights of the article, sorted here by what I feel is most important for you to read:
PVS and Memory Buffers. Yes, yes, for the love of all that is holy, yes. I haven’t yet deployed for validated the Write Cache features now in MCS, but I can tell you from experience that XenApp with 2-4 GB of RAM cache with failover to disk has been giving roughly 20-30% faster logons and overall better experience for most of my customers.
Protocols (as in HDX). One of my primary frustrations for quite some time now is that Citrix XenDesktop ships by default with a protocol that has a good experience on LAN but tends to be problematic at distance. H.264 is great for video, but frankly I hate it everywhere else. I think it almost singlehandedly ruined things for Citrix since PCoIP can perform better than this hog (my opinion). Thinwire and even the legacy encoder, however- actually deliver on the promises and need to be investigated in nearly every single use case I see. So I agree with Nick- use the policy templates included with 7.6 u3 and above (including LTSR) as a starting point. Odds are good you won’t be disappointed. When I say ‘use’ here what I mean is remember that you can apply these codecs on a per user basis, connection basis or even per delivery group- meaning filters are your friend! It is perfectly acceptable to have multiple codecs going for various use cases. One size nearly NEVER fits all, so test these out!
vSphere Cluster Sizing. Number 3 on my list right now. You need a dedicated resource cluster for Enterprise workloads- but honestly- for XenApp workloads, consider more hosts per cluster. You should be using bigger VMs anyway, so the number of managed VMs is about the same- just more computing power. CCS is seeing 24+ hosts per cluster be just fine in XenApp. For XenDesktop with more than 5000 VMs- I will add here that a dedicated vCenter may save you a lot of pain… my opinion, and of course… you guessed it. TEST!
XenApp CPU Over-Subscription. Seriously. The “1.5x” thing needed an update so I’m glad to see some clarification here. In all things- I still encourage practical testing instead of just implementing something because “Citrix said to.”
PVS Ports and Threads. Those of you who know me know I bang this drum a lot- so here’s some backup for what I’m saying. The defaults are not good enough. Good design is still required!
Farm Design. You’re probably like me and are coming along kicking and screaming from XenApp 6.5, which most would agree has been the “Windows XP” of the Citrix world. It just hasn’t been this good yet, and I still feel 7.9 doesn’t have true feature parity… but as Nick describes, they are getting there. As always… TEST, TEST and then TEST some more before you implement zones with FMA!!!!
XenMobile Optimizations. I guess we have to talk about it. XenMobile is here to stay, so best to not take the ‘out of the box’ experience there either.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!)
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!
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
Plug-in support for Nutanix Acropolis (SYN104, SYN123) with some of the best pricepoint integration I have ever seen – watch for great things here!
Linux Virtual Desktop
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.
SecureBrowser as a cloud service and now as an internal web service.
ShareFile and XenMobile
SecureForms and other MDX mobile application integrations
NetScaler Features (I’ll be saying a LOT more about this soon, stay tuned)
NetScaler Management and Analytics (MAS)
HDXpi (Rasperry Pi as a ~ $80USD Thin Client- available from ViewSonic or at Micro Center for easy swaps in the US)
Intel vGPU support and better nVidia GRID support from $2/user-month.
Microsoft integration including
driver management from Microsoft Update
SMB support for live VMs (not just ISOs)
Expanded Docker Container support within Server 2016
Improved MSAD integration
…and of course support for Windows 10 and Server 2016
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)
A Health Check feature which can regularly check for updates and notify you in advance of that and any other detected trouble from CIS.
An unfathomable increase in scaling thresholds
Per Host: 5 TB RAM, 288 CPUs, 4096 VBDs (for AppDisk) per SR
Per VM: 1.5TB RAM, 32 vCPU and up to 255 AppDisks (VBDs)
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.