In the name of security, Google has unfortunately made Chrome an even larger burden for virtual workspaces. The change to the of the browser now renders each page in its own memory and process space. This is good for security (think Spectre) … But a nightmare for virtual workspaces, especially Server OS VDA (aka Citrix XenApp).
Fare the well, XenApp 6.5. Talk about an amazing run! But alas, the product is no more… I'll break this all down in a moment and what it means for you if you still find yourself running any XenApp version except 7.6 LTSR, 7.15 LTSR or 7.14 to 7.18. June 30th was a big day for Citrix, yet it passed with barely any fanfare. I thought maybe I'd do something about that!
Unfortunately, Citrix has done it again with Citrix Workspace… showing off something pretty cool and adeptly showing off how it works… but not really explaining very well at Synergy how it will be deployed. So I thought I would get some down-to-Earth thoughts together of what's going on up in the clouds from an Architect perspective.
Feeling lazy or just don't like reading? The long and short of it is that you can aggregate Cloud Control and On-Prem Control for your resources by purchasing or upgrading to the Citrix Workspace Service. Still confused? I thought you may be. Maybe it's time to take a few minutes and read this one… But before you do here's an important methodology lesson:
User/Subscriber Layer – This is the users themselves and any peripherals they attach to. It defines how users use a product.
Access Layer – This is how access to applications is controlled. In the Citrix world we're largely talking StoreFront, NetScaler Gateway and if you are still living in 2003, VPN.
Resource Layer – This is important! The Resource layer is the… you guessed it, resources the users need access to. Be it Applications hosted on Server OS, VDI Desktops or even SaaS apps. The Resource Layer defines what they are, where they are located and most importantly- how they are structured and maintained.
Control Layer – This is what we define in the Citrix world as the components that aggregate and control resources. It includes Active Directory, Databases, Licensing and services such as the Delivery Controller. An important element of the Control layer is policies.
Cloud (Hardware) Layer – All these services have to live somewhere, and this layer defines it.
Operations Layer – Someone has to maintain all of this- and the Operations Layer is where we define all of this.
First off- when we are talking Workspace SERVICE, we are talking about the ‘everything' subscription. This means it is Apps and Desktops, Enterprise Mobility Management (MDM/MAM), File Sync and Sharing (ShareFile), and Networking (Which now includes both MAS and the Web App Security Service)… but also the Secure Browser service which is NOT included with the XenApp and XenDesktop service. You can find the full list of the checkboxes here. Your mileage may vary of course, but if you are using even two of the ‘core' services, Workspace makes sense.
Citrix Pricing for basic cloud services as of June 11, 2018 (source: Citrix.com)
At an estimated $34.38 per user per month (Beginning prices as of June 11, 2018), Workspace is certainly not cheap… but as far as powering productivity from any location… I have to admit, this is THE premium service to make it happen these days.
So what is it giving you? Essentially, we are Hybridizing elements of the Access, Control and Operations Layer. You are still ultimately responsible for maintaining your Resources, regardless of if their location!! This is an important part that is VERY often missed when talking about Citrix Cloud, so please don't be one of those confused by it! In other words- you still maintain your own Cloud Layer. Citrix doesn't magically start giving you VDI from their cloud. The exception to this is Secure Browser… but that's a different topic.
The Citrix Workspace App is the new way of aggregating resources FROM THE WORKSPACE SERVICES. It makes a lot of sense because you can aggregate multiple resources, control mobile enrollment and file management all in one- very nice. But this of course brought up a lot of other questions, which largely are answered here. Note that what was shown at Synergy does require the Workspace Service Premium edition. If you are looking at this and thinking there's something familiar about it… you're right. The concept comes from XenMobile's Secure Hub- but is now brought to other devices as well as mobile. It will be generally available in Q3, with additional features coming in terms of what will happen with the ShareFile Service (that's a whole other topic).
IMPORTANT- Workspace App WILL REPLACE Receiver sometime in Q3!
Workspace App is also important because it has significant areas of impact in the User and Access layers.
Workspace Service Can Aggregate Cloud and On-Premises Control
Up until recently it was true that if you have an on-premises (or on-prem, but never on-premise, please) Site or sites already set up, that you had to migrate to Cloud control for your resources if you bought that service. This is no longer true because of Site Aggregation. You'll be able to run both on-prem services (including local NetScaler Gateway and StoreFront) alongside the Workspace App from the cloud!
Danny Feller explains in this video blog that the Workspace service aggregates between both on-prem XenDesktop and Cloud XenApp & XenDesktop Service control planes, using the same unified Workspace App. This capability does NOT exist for existing Cloud XenApp & XenDesktop Service customers, however.
Why This Matters
To date this has been an enormous barrier to adoption, especially in places where the skillsets already exist to maintain local resources. One thing that has not been talked about yet is how this impacts Multi-Site deployments: If you can install a connector and the account you're using for logon is valid or federated… you should be able to aggregate multiple resources thru the Workspace App. This is significant for a lot of companies dealing with M&A because it allows at least the User and Access layers to be standardized more while they transition the Resources (typically a pretty huge undertaking).
Workspace Service vs Platinum vs Workspace Suite
What is Workspace?
Workspace is better thought of as a concept- where everything comes together. This is what Citrix demonstrated at Synergy with the Workspace App. The concept was that instead of keeping all of these apps up to date in Receiver, Sync, etc you could have one app that aggregates both Citrix-Hosted and SaaS apps. People LOVED this concept, I think especially a lot of the administrators and engineers in attendance. And you know what- I get it. Less to maintain? Serviced in the Cloud so it can be managed from anywhere without all the outages? It makes sense. But this concept needs to be broken out a bit because it still confuses especially those of us who have been deploying on-prem resources for over two decades that aggregate cloud resources on occasion. Now we're being asked to flip the concept and use the cloud to aggregate on-prem???
Refresher- What is Workspace Service?
Put simply, any Citrix Cloud service is merely taking what was an on-prem Control mechanism and moving it to the Cloud as a service instead of as a VM. So Citrix merely provides you with a console to manage the polices and settings, you don't need to maintain VMs. As for connecting to your cloud locations for resources, this is done via a Cloud Connector- a universal software that sits on a Windows server in your cloud to create an SSL connection to the Citrix Cloud. This has the added benefit of eliminating VPN and Firewall needs. The connector acts as a bridge between specific services within the Citrix framework only. Citrix doesn't need VPN access to your network; it only sees what you allow the Cloud Connector to see (DNS and Active Directory, along with the Citrix Resources).
As far as the Service itself? That's what you pay for – whatever service you are consuming. In the case of Workspace Service- remember that it is the inclusion of all the primary Cloud services. If that is too much or not needed- there are other Services to which you can subscribe. Keep in mind that Citrix uses a monthly per-user figure for pricing, but you typically need to pay for at least a year in advance.
Platinum and Workspace Suite are On-Prem Control
I probably shouldn't even be talking about Workspace Suite because it's essentially dead IMO, but the concept was the same- a bundled license of products which in this case included some cloud-based components; but your Resources and Control for Apps and Desktops remained in your cloud exclusively. Platinum is still the best fit for most customers who push the edge of what can be used because it includes a boatload of useful stuff which I would get tired trying to go thru in detail. But for those that needed XenMobile as well as Platinum it made sense.
From the Citrix website: “The Citrix Workspace Suite is made up of the XenDesktop Platinum and XenMobile Enterprise products – inclusive of all the additional products included within, such as XenApp, XenMobile MDM, NetScaler SD-WAN (formerly CloudBridge), AppDNA and NetScaler Gateway user licenses.” In other words- don't get it twisted: same name but very different functionality. The Workspace Service is much more all-inclusive and offers you the ability to run the control plane from the cloud. With Workspace Suite you administer both Control and Resource Layers.
What does all this mean to the average Enterprise customer?
Very little… for now. If I'm being honest – in my travels out in the world, most customers on Enterprise licensing aren't even fully taking advantage of what can be done with what they have. I'm actually doing some private research on this and what I'm finding is that some are even aware of benefits their licensing already has such as AppLayering and Workspace Environment Manager… but they are not utilizing them at all! When I've dug into ‘why' this is happening, in almost every case I'm finding that there was either simply no awareness of the entitlement or in more cases there simply isn't the time or HR capital to manage said features. This is a shame because they are already paying for it. Now, I've begun addressing the problem as I can by launching a membership site where people can keep up to date and learn more about these kinds of things (and you should totally check it out!).
But I will admit this: Moving the Control and integration of these features to the Citrix Cloud makes a lot of sense. All Administrators will have to learn is how to use the consoles. Engineers will simply need to learn how to make it all fit together without having to do much of the grunt work, freeing them up their 1,713 other tasks. This has impacts on your Operations Layer! But you are essentially exchanging one cost for another… So is it valuable in that regard? Probably. But time will tell if we see any real movement there. Why?
THIS IS TOO EXPENSIVE! Well- I mean, sort of. In truth, it really isn't when you look at what you are getting. But if you are not taking advantage of the features, then it totally is not worth it. That being said- if your organization doesn't have the ability to fully support a mobile workforce both in the cloud and on-prem… this may be worth taking a look… when you're ready. I'm not a fan of buying things because they are shiny. You really need to understand what you are getting! That said- be mindful of your spend on this- especially around upgrade season. If you are running 50 users and have no admin staff… does maintaining on-prem really make sense? Are you really getting the value out of it? From what I'm seeing in the field right now I'd have to say no; but there is still resistance to the price point. It's a quandary for sure!
But consider this: I recently helped a customer with their upgrade to 7.15 LTSR. You know what took the longest? Dealing with their database issues! It added a whopping 10 hours of effort onto what should have been a relatively simple upgrade. So I decided to look at more of these upgrade projects. Another with issues with Windows services that disrupted the controller services. 20 hrs of effort. Another that had some massive issues with about every member of the Control layer… 80 hours of effort! Another with an issue of a sudden departing Citrix lead right before a major go-live- 80 hours + a few hundred more I couldn't catalog. The vast majority would have been avoided, which is sad. The reality is that the skillsets aren't there any more- hiring qualified Citrix help is extremely difficult right now. This means relying on consultants. So if you are paying someone $200+/hr this can really stack up in a hurry! I think people need to start putting this into their calculations of going to the cloud, because it really does significantly reduce how much you need to spend to maintain the control; you simply need to administrate and upkeep the Resources. Not saying that's easy- but it's less work by those needing specific qualifications that are hard to find. That is very significant.
I'm Here to Help
So- is your head still spinning? Mine too in some ways. But hopefully using some fundamentals helped in some way.
But I want your feedback! I'm considering doing a comprehensive, real-world course that would help better explain the Methodology and what is needed to maintain all of this both if you use Cloud and if you remain On-Prem or do the Hybrid approach discussed here. If you are interested- please contact me and let me know! I encourage you to join the membership site or even our free Facebook Group and chat with your peers and myself about it!
As part of my article The Wait Is Over, I recently asked readers of ctxPRO.com if and when they were planning on upgrading to XenApp/XenDesktop 7.15 LTSR (Long Term Service Release). Not that I was surprised by the results but here they are!
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?
This poll is no longer accepting votes
(note- this website is not maintained by Accordant Technology, it's where I work 😉 )
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.