2013 Summit/Synergy Review

Well, I’m back from Citrix’s annual partner and customer conferences, Summit and Synergy, held back-to-back the week of May 20-24 at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California.  In what’s now an annual tradition, I’ve prepared a review of the key announcements and updates from the conference this year.  As always, there are probably several other sites and blogs that covered the conference, and I encourage perusing those as well, since everyone gets a slightly different view of things at the conference.  Here’s my take:
 
1.  Citrix = Mobile
 
It was no secret that this year’s theme was going to be heavily weighted in mobile technologies and solutions, particularly after Citrix’s acquisition of Zenprise which was finalized early this year.  This strategic acquisition clearly augmented Citrix’s mobility portfolio by adding mobile device management (MDM) and mobile application management (MAM) capabilities to it’s XenApp and XenDesktop application and desktop virtualization product lines and the Netscaler product lines.  These have subsequently been rebranded as XenMobile and the Worx mobile apps (secure e-mail and web).  Combine this with ShareFile, and you have a complete device, application, and data mobility solution.  Furthermore, there is a Worx App SDK that basically enables any mobile application to be enabled to be delivered via XenMobile with the Worx microVPN/MDX technologies, all by including a single line of code, or wrap the apps natively to allow for custom branding, etc.  This is a very comprehensive solution, and one that should enable many IT departments to essentially make any app a SaaS application, delivered to end users on any Receiver capable device (iOS, Android, Windows, etc.) using the same “workshifting” methodologies that they are used to with traditional Citrix infrastructure.  Netscaler plays a huge part in this as well, providing much of the fundamental network enablement, monitoring, and ADC functionality for both traditional app/desktops and mobile apps over Citrix ICA.  Furthermore, there are mobile-enablement technologies through SDK’s that will allow even current applications and desktops to be delivered to mobile devices to take advantage of native mobile OS and hardware features (GPS, camera, keyboards, touch/gesturing, etc.).  In short, the mobile arena is where Citrix envisions it’s concepts of “workshifting”, “anyness”, and “SaaS-ification” to take place, enabling customers to fully adopt the mobile work and play lifestyle.
 
2.  XenApp as we know it has one foot in the proverbial brandin grave – XenDesktop 7 “App Edition” is the new XenApp
 
As has been the case for the last few versions of the traditional Windows server-based computing application delivery product that has been known as MetaFrame, Presentation Server, and most recently, XenApp, there has been a stepped versioning which has resulted in the inability to cleanly upgrade from one version to the next.  Starting with XenApp 5, there has been no direct migration path to subsequent releases 6.0 and the current release, 6.5.  Furthermore, XenApp release schedules have been quite aggressive – on an almost yearly basis, leaving many customers confused and aggravated, and now in a position to make some serious decisions.  XenApp 6.5 is the last version of XenApp we will see.  The product architecture will merge with XenDesktop in the recently announced XenDesktop 7, to enable several features that make application and/or desktop delivery easier, and more cloud friendly, while also setting the stage for managing these environments in the cloud and mobile contexts much more easily.  XenApp will receive one final update with Feature Pack 2, which will incorporate a limited subset XenDesktop 7 features, but not all.  These will primarily be the inclusion of AppDNA (presumably to help you plan towards WS2012 and/or XenDesktop 7), some GPU enablements, and Receiver enablements.  For those worried about how long they can sit on a XenApp 6.5 version, FP2 should still be good out to the current February 2016 EOL date.
 
The other side of this coin is that there is going to be a significant learning curve for nearly everyone moving to XenDesktop 7.  It will certainly be steeper for those who have never worked with XenDesktop before, but the benefits of a single, unified management console for apps and desktops, and a comprehensive monitoring console will be welcomed once past the peak of the learning curve.  There will be a major shift also in the infrastructure and architecture required with the new FMA (Flexcast Management Architecture) as opposed to the traditional IMA architecture of XenApp.  Administrators will have to plan around some things like the loss of the local host cache and subsequent requirement for high SQL availability.  Since even XenApp servers will be enabled by simply installing the VDA on the server (which seems to automate much of the traditional installation process, all the way through application publishing), there are gains in simplicity and uniformity of server and published application configuration which will offset some of the deprecated components like local host cache from an operational efficiency perspective.
 
This product shift sets the stage for some major decision points to be made not only for XenApp shops, but also for IT shops looking at Windows Server 2012.  There’s a clear line of demarcation here – XenApp 6.5 is now and will only support Windows Server 2008R2.  XenDesktop 7 will support both Windows Server 2008R2 and Windows Server 2012, making it clearly Citrix’s bridge platform into FMA-underpinned server based computing products and Windows Server platforms as well.  One other item of note is that Citrix streaming (the RADE services, etc.) all seem to be EOL after 6.5 as well – it appears Citrix has ceded the application packaging/streaming space to Microsoft’s App-V application virtualization technology.  Not a huge deal, as it integrates more cleanly with desktop OS’s (especially in VDI scenarios) and is a better fit for customers managing Windows Server-based infrastructure with System Center and its associated management modules.
 
3.  XenDesktop 7 – The rest of the story
 
XenDesktop 7 iteself has a plethora of new features that have been in development for some time now, and have finally made it to a production release. 
 
One of my personal favorites is the long-awaited (and hugely underestimated) Reverse Seamless technology.  This tech allows a VDI or hosted shared (server) desktop to present LOCALLY installed applications on the endpoint to be available in the virtual desktop session.  I see this having huge potential as an application compatibility or bridging strategy for applications that require local resources or that are too cumbersome or costly to enable in a virtual desktop scenario due to technical or licensing requirements.  It can also enable BYO, as local apps on a personal endpoint (iTunes, for example) can appear to run in a virtual or hosted shared desktop.  Great stuff. 
 
Another is HDX and HDX 3D Pro.  These are high-end graphics display technologies that allow H.264 codec for HD media over reduced bandwidth, and also the ability to leverage GPU sharing to deliver high-end 3D graphics for OpenGL graphics workloads delivered via XenApp or XenDesktop.  This could have significant implications for medical applications such as telemedicine, and graphics-intensive medical imagery, which were previously difficult to deliver with good performance over ICA.
Citrix Director.  This is the new monitoring console for XenDesktop 7, aimed at helpdesk engineers.  This takes a dashboard/graph approach to monitoring the health and performance of the XenDesktop 7 environment.  This includes several helpdesk views, which allow for quicker and easier troubleshooting and problem resolution that in previous versions may have required the use of 3 or more consoles and tools to identify, remediate, and monitor issues or problems on a server or in a user session.  For example, things like session performance parameters, session maintenance (logoff, terminate, reset, etc.), session shadowing, profile management, and personal vDisk management all happen in this one console.  This is the effective replacement for EdgeSight, which many customers wanted, installed, but then found too difficult, cumbersome, or overwhelming to use in their everyday operations.  Citrix Director goes a lot further towards the idea of providing real-time Operational Intelligence to administrators and help desk engineers.  Historical reporting(data over 1 week old) is available in the Platinum edition.  Finally, this technology no longer uses a separate agent (it’s built into the VDA) like EdgeSight did. 
 
Citrix Studio.  This is the administrator’s console for managing XenDesktop 7 infrastructure.  Here, the traditional tasks for server workload management, assignments, provisioning, policies, StoreFront, and all other infrastructure-related tasks are handled.  This effectively replaces several component consoles that existed previously in earlier versions (PVS, EdgeSight, AppCenter, Desktop Studio, PCM, Web Interface, etc.).
 
4.  ShareFile, and everything else…
 
So there was an update to ShareFile in the form of StorageZone Connectors which are really a mobility play.  This new feature allows enterprise ShareFile customers to keep data behind the firewall, addressing DLP issues by not allowing the data to be taken out of the datacenter.  The key benefits are in the ability to support SharePoint and network fileshares through secure remote access, as well as the very cool ability to edit documents accessed securely in a mobile content editor (which also supports the traditional SharePoint functionality of check-in/out and edit, all from mobile devices.  This is really cool, considering how much of the daily workflow this could allow for many – the ability to update a word document, Excel spreadsheet, or PowerPoint presentation from an iPad with just the ShareFile plugin is REALLY cool!
 
NetScaler 10.1 was also a key enabler technology for much of this other cool stuff.  It’s a key component in XenMobile, as many of the features require it.  Access Gateway, which has been the traditional SSL VPN remote access solution provided by Citrix, has now been replaced by NetScaler Gateway, and the configuration is MUCH simpler.  Similarly, Branch Repeater has been rebranded as the CloudBridge Connector in NetScaler 10.1.
 
All in all, Synergy 2013 brought to the table a sea change in how Citrix is moving towards becoming a clear leader in the enterprise mobility space as well as the cloud, ADC controller, and virtual desktop spaces, which it has already established itself as an upper-right quadrant leader.  As the technologies reach GA release, it will be quite interesting to see how they play out in healthcare as the early adopters and technology leaders start working and strategizing around this.  I think that hospitals and healthcare practices that have already gone down the road of desktop virtualization and mobility/BYO enablement will have some strategic advantage in adopting and capitalizing on these technologies early since their infrastructure and experience already give them the advantage of familiarity to a degree.  For others, there will be a lot of watching and waiting for reports from the early adopter field to see how the significant changes in architecture and infrastructure affect the strategic decisions we’ll all have to make as this plays out.
 
On a final note, Citrix has made an adjustment to how they are handling Summit (the partner conference) and Synergy (the customer conference).  Summit will be broken out from Synergy to be more closely aligned with Citrix’s Sales and Services Summit in January, 2014, and Synergy will be a 3 day event returning to Anaheim in early May, 2014.
 
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