Category: Citrix

My response to Vmware’s post – “Enhancing a Citrix XenApp implementation with VMware View and Thinapp”

Vmware published an article  a couple of days back on how they believe Thinapp and VMware View enhances Xenapp. My personal belief, on the contrary is that XenApp ELIMINATES the need for View and Thinapp in a lot of  use cases. In many scenarios, customers want “VDI” without really understanding whether it is the right fit and without understanding what else is out there. I will save this argument for another day, but for now, I want to try and go through VMware’s claims on why they feel View and ThinApp enhance XenApp:

1. “Requires only a single application instance: With ThinApp in a XenApp implementation, you need only one copy of the virtualized application stored on a ThinApp file share. With other applications presented with XenApp, you must install the same application on each of the XenApp Servers in your server farm, and each of these native installations must be individually maintained.”  

This claim is totally FALSE. XenApp includes an application streaming utility known as the Application Streaming profiler which I consider to be ThinApp on steroids. There is no need to install the same application on every XenApp server. Application streaming profiles can be stored on file shares just like ThinApp and deployed to servers. To take it a step further, the security model around the delivery of app streaming profile packages is a lot better. Based on my experience with ThinApp, it is great for virtualizing stand alone applications, but when it comes to cross linkages or any application that goes beyond a snapshot, it gets very complex with ThinApp. The application streaming profiler is a much more robust tool.

In addition to the application streaming profiler, the XenApp platinum license also includes Citrix Provisioning Server which provides the ability to have one golden image streamed to thousands of XenApp servers. So when there is an application update that needs to be rolled out to large number of servers, you only need to update the golden image.

2. “Application conflict is eliminated: To avoid application conflicts, Citrix isolates applications from each other via XenApp silos, which requires additional hardware. ThinApp isolates applications with software, not hardware. ThinApp virtual applications are isolated from each other and therefore can be placed on the same XenApp Server.”

Again this is FALSE.  XenApp provides multiple ways of addressing application conflicts. One way is to create silos or worker groups which host certain applications. The other method is to use application streaming profiles to co host conflicting applications on the same XenApp server. For instance you can run Office 2010 and Office 2007 on the same server, or IE 6 and IE 8.

3.  “Recovery is simpler: If a XenApp Server fails, you have to reinstall the XenApp server. However, if you have stored your virtual applications separately on a ThinApp file share, you have only the baseline XenApp server to reinstall, and you do not have to reinstall the applications.”

My response to the first claim addresses this as well, but to summarize, all of what can be done with ThinApp can be achieved with application streaming profiles. In addition with the help of Provisioning services, we can easily provision additional XenApp servers within minutes since all the servers can boot off the same golden image that is streamed to the server.

4. “Updates are simpler and faster with ThinApp: With a standard Citrix XenApp setup, you must update each natively installed application on each XenApp Server, and you need to take each server offline to update the applications. If you use ThinApp to virtualize applications, you update only the single application on the file share, and ThinApp applications can be updated automatically while in use.”

This once again is a repetition and is already addressed above. Application streaming profiles can also be updated while the application is in use.

5. ThinApp can virtualize IE6, and the migration to Windows 7 is eased: ThinApp allows you to virtualize Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 (IE6), and you can package IE6 along with a legacy application that depends upon IE6 or an older version of Java. Users can run virtual IE6 alongside a later version of native IE on the same desktop. The migration to Windows 7 or to later Windows versions becomes easier if you have the option of carrying forward any IE6-dependent legacy applications.

Application streaming has the same functionality. In fact, application linkage is a lot easier in the application streaming profiler as compared to ThinApp thanks to Inter-Isolation profiles. One of the clients I was recently working at (which by the way was a VMware shop with NO citrix) wanted to evaluate ThinApp and Application streaming profiler. After seeing the complexity of application linkage in ThinApp, which includes text file editing among other things, they decided to to give XenApp application streaming profiler a shot. We got the application packaged and deployed in less than an hour. They had invested over 10 hrs on ThinApp and failed.

So while XenApp can definitely do IE 6 linked to other legacy apps, the important point is that we can virtualize a lot more legacy apps that are complex in nature as compared to ThinApp.

6. “Users have their own desktops, with their own operating system and applications: XenApp provides users with a shared operating system and shared applications, and users can conflict with each other. VMware View provides users with their own desktop environments, with their own operating system instance and their own applications. Users do not conflict with each other.”

I am not sure how this claim proves that “VIEW ENHANCES XENAPP”. XenApp does provide users with a shared operation system, but users run their own instances of application within their session. The claim that users conflict with each other is FALSE! Published desktops in XenApp has been around a long time and is a proven solution. Users can have their own customization using profile management solutions. The look and feel can be completely skinned to look like a desktop operating system. This is much more cost effective as compared to a solution like VMware View. Not to mention, if we want to talk apples for apples, Citrix does offer XenDesktop!

7.”You can eliminate physical desktops and cut costs: Eliminating the maintenance of physical desktops saves time and money. See The Business Case for Desktop Virtualization.”

HUH? And XenApp does not? I thought the whole premise of using XenApp is to virtualize your applications and thereby reduce costs on desktop hardware refresh!

8. “The underlying infrastructure is familiar: If you have used VMware vSphere to virtualize your XenApp Servers, you can use your vSphere expertise to run View virtual desktops on the familiar infrastructure.”

Ah! I was waiting for this one. VMware’s favorite point to convince customers to go View! Just like View, XenDesktop also runs on vSphere. Oh but wait, XenDesktop also runs on XenServer and Hyper-V! In addition, in a lot cases, there wont be a need for View or XenDesktop when XenApp is in place!

Bottom line is that View and ThinApp by NO MEANS enhances XenApp. If anything, XenApp eliminates the need for View and Thinapp in a lot of scenarios.

Synergy 2009 – An analyst’s perspective.

After a truly exhilarating week at Synergy 2009 spending 12-14 hrs every day trying to absorb as much as I can from all the geniuses around, I am at the airport waiting to board. I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to pen down my thoughts and share them with you all. I learnt a lot these past few days, and amongst them the most important realization is that Citrix is probably the only vendor out there that TRULY has an end to end virtualization solution. They make it seamless to the end user with the introduction Desktop receiver client that acts as a one stop shop regardless of whether you are using a fat client, thin client, mobile device or whatever else it might be. The other highlight from Synergy is that Citrix understands that their bread and butter product going forward is going to be XenDesktop and the VDI solution (VDI is expected to be a 56 billion dollar industry in 5 yrs). They are slowly shifting focus from XenApp to XenDesktop and it was quite obvious all through the conference.

As far as the keynotes were concerned, I thought Mark Templeton did a great job showcasing Citrix’s vision and showcasing their technologies. Most of the demo’s worked well. The key takeaway for me was the emphasis on Simplicity and how Citrix can make life simple for its customers with their end to end approach to application and desktop delivery (whether it be remote or in house). Some of the key announcements were:
a)  Citrix Desktop Receiver and integration with iPhone
b) Citrix Dazzle and how it fits into the Software as a Service model
c) XenServer Enterprise going free!
d) Introduction of the XenClient Client Hypervisor (although its not ready for primetime yet)
e) Netscaler VPX (Virtual Netscaler appliance for small-medium businesses and lab environments)
f) New advancements in XenDesktop including Flash remoting, multi monitor support, High Definition video (although the audio/video sync leaves a lot to be desired), enhancements in USB redirection etc

A few years back, I was really puzzled with all of Citrix’s acquisitions (Sepago, Net6, XenSource, Netscaler, Ardence etc) and wasn’t quite sure of what their end goal was. But now everything fits into place. I was also very impressed with their SaaS (Software as a service) model with the introduction of Dazzle. i think this gives many organizations, including my own the ability to bill various departments based on appication usage. Citrix’s partnership with Amazon in the Cloud Computing arena was also a very interesting development for me. I think the “pay as you go” model will work well for a lot of companies, especially small to medium businesses who want to reduce the administrative overhead and might not necessarily have the skills/manpower in house.

There were a lot of things that I liked about Synergy this year such as the iForum technical sessions, the various demo’s at the Expo, Dom Mcmillan’s stand up comedy session (if you havent checked him out yet, YOU MUST!), the various demo’s presented during the keynote sessions (particularly the desktop receiver demo on the iphone and the Xen Client hypervsior on the Mac!). But my favorite part about Synergy HANDS DOWN were the GeekSpeak sessions. It was great hearing from Citrix Technology Professionals and Industry experts like Brian Madden, Ruben Spruijt, Brad Pedersen, Jeroen van de Kamp, Rick Dehlinger, Simon Crosby, Jason Conger, Shawn Bass, Alex Danilychev, Benny Tritsch etc.. They gave a totally unbiased, highly technical and insightful look at everything Citrix like the VDI strategy and how its evolved, the future of Cloud computing, Security trends, the future of XenApp etc. The debates (like the one between Benny Tritsch and Brian Madden on TS vs VDI) showed how passionate these folks are about what they believe in. Truly inspirational! There are two key GeekSpeak sessions that I would like to talk about in greater detail:

  • The first was on Project Virtual Reality Check by Ruben Spruijt and Jeroen van de Kamp. Without getting into too much detail, last yr, these two guys decided to demystify some of the myths and marketing claims made by various vendors about peformance. So they built their on test environment, built a set of benchmark criterion/scenarios (totally unbiased and accurate I must add) and conducted a TON of tests. They then went on to publish their results to educate the industry on their findings. They also developed a tool for benchmarking that they give out for free!!! Totally awesome session. If you folks havent checked out project Virtual Reality Check, you must! You will be surprised at some of the findings (User density on Win2k3 was better than Win2k8 etc)
  • The second GeekSpeak session that I loved (more than others) was the one by Shawn bass on XenDesktop 3 and how far its come. Shawn Bass is an independent consultant and a CTP based out of Chicago who is highly regarded in the Citrix community. At Synergy 2008, Shawn presented at GeekSpeak on XenDesktop and basically concluded that its probably not ready for prime time. This was not well received by all at Citrix for obvious reasons 🙂 This year he looked at the advancements in XenDestkop and had a much more favorable opinion about XenDesktop 3. He talked about the advantages of going with a Citrix VDI solution (hypervisor agnostic, host platform agnostic, Host OS agnostic, Endpoint agnostic and connection agnostic) and also talked about the advancements in the new released that he cared about including Flash acceleration, Speedscreen Multimedia acceleration and USB redirection. It was as exremely information session, not to mention that hearing from someone you know is unbiased really helps!

Now coming to the iForum breakout sessions and labs, overall I was quite satisfied. Back when I was consulting, I have attended a number of Citrix Hands On labs. 90% of the time, I would find these to be half baked and totally uninformative for an individual with a decent background in Citrix technologies. This time at Synergy, I attended the XenApp 5.0 Hands on lab and was pleasantly surprised. The lab was first of all running on XenServer and the test machines were XenDesktop based hosted desktops. What better way to showcase your technology and make your customers true believers! For the most part it worked like a charm. The content of the lab was terrific. They covered key concepts such as Preferential Load Balancing, User Profile Management, Application Streaming and more importantly linkage between various streamed application profiles (in the past, if you had multiple streamed profiles that were not linked, file associations etc would not work well. An example would be if you had Firefox and Reader as two different application streaming profiles that were available to a user, and if the user launched Firefox and launched a pdf from within Firefox, it wouldnt work. This has been fixed with the linkage) etc. The iForum technical sessions that stood out for me were two on XenApp, “From A to XenApp” and “How to transform your XenApp farm from average to awesome”. Talk about cramming every minute of your 50 minute session!! I also found some of the XenDesktop sessions quite insightful. Unfortunately with the overlapping sessions, I couldn’t attend some of the sessions on Cloud computing that I really wanted to.

One observation however was that among the Citrix consultants, information seemed to be silo’d. You would think that every consultant within the Citrix team would know quite a bit about all their products. I did not find this to be the case especially when it comes to XenDesktop. I wanted to gain an in depth understanding of the various VDI options with regards to XenDesktop (hosted/streamed/offline etc). I also wanted to understand a little more about licensing. I was sent from one consultant to another (3 times) and it took about 20 minutes to find a guy who knew his stuff!

Twitter is another thing I wanted to talk about a bit. I’ve been using twitter for the past few months. I follow some of the Citrix industry experts and get updates on everything Citrix. But Synergy took it to a whole new level. Most of the CTP’s and experts were tweeting using a specific tag (#citrixsynergy). So by doing a search on the tag, in essence you could get the pulse of Synergy. They were tweeting in between sessions about which sessions are worth attending etc. Very useful. I also found out through twitter on Thursday that they were allowing people to register for odd numbered Citrix exams for FREE!  Needless to say that I went  and took one of the exams 🙂 If it wasnt for twitter, I would have to spend 150 bucks on that exam!

I have to be honest, I was a little skeptical going into Synergy this year. But now in hindsight, I am so glad I attended the conference. It was totally worth my time and my organization’s money. I understand the big picture now and I believe my organization will benefit from this a great deal!  Kudos to Citrix on hosting a FANTABULOUS event! Cant wait for Synergy 2010!!!

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