Features IT pros have missed are returning to Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop.
When Citrix combined the two products under the FlexCast Management Architecture (FMA) in 2013, many key features were left out. Some, including anonymous logon and database connection resiliency, are back in the new XenApp 7.6 and XenDesktop 7.6. Citrix has also added new features aimed to improve user experience and the performance of storage and high-end graphics.
That leaves many other features -- including local host cache, single global XenApp farm support, , application streaming, advanced load balancing capabilities and Secure Gateway – still not part of the platform. But it’s tough for Citrix to immediately reintroduce them all at once, said David Johnson, analyst with Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.
Phillip JonesAdvocacy consultant, Varrow
"[Citrix is] doing as much as they reasonably can," Johnson said. "What they've done is prioritize what customers are demanding they want the most from the old platform and bringing forward what they can."
Part of the problem is that many of the older features may not be compatible with FMA, Johnson said.
New XenApp 7.6 features
XenApp 7.6 and XenDesktop 7.6 users will again have anonymous logon at their disposal. The feature lets users immediately access a virtual desktop and authenticate once into an application.
Anonymous logon’s return to XenApp is welcome, said Phillip Jones, an advocacy consultant with Varrow, a solutions provider based in Greensboro, N.C.
Instead of requiring users to log into Citrix Receiver with Active Directory user credentials, they instead use a combination of network security and authentication within the application itself, Jones said.
"Anonymous logons are most popular among healthcare customers but may be used any time an application is used in a kiosk or has its own security and user management," he added.
Citrix also reintroduced connection resiliency, where if database connections are lost between the XenDesktop/Xen App controller and SQL database, an environment can continue in its existing state without losing data. The feature, called Connection Leasing, ensures users can connect to dedicated or assigned VDI and server-hosted apps and desktops if the controller cannot reach the database.
FIPS 140-compliant security is also back in XenApp. An application monitoring capability that was previously part of EdgeSight, a former Citrix product, will now be integrated into XenApp as well.
XenDesktop 7.6 storage, performance improvements
Citrix will make user experience changes around instant application access, where IT creates a pool of resources for a given app that's already running before a user logs in. If a user closes an app but wants to re-open it shortly thereafter, a linger feature will keep the app running for a timeframe configurable by the administrator for easier access.
Through its partnership with Nvidia, Citrix will use fully virtualized GPUs to offload some higher-end video encoding from the CPU to improve scalability and frame rates for 3D applications. Without the feature, the CPU would have to fully handle the workload -- a heavily taxing task in environments that use a lot of video.
Receiver for HTML 5, Chrome OS
Citrix will also launch versions of Receiver, its XenApp and XenDesktop client, for HTML 5 and native Google Chrome OS. Citrix had previously stopped development on a Chrome OS Receiver but reconsidered after finding increased adoption of Chromebooks among its customers, the company said.
These new Receiver versions are steps in the right direction for Citrix, said Simon Bramfitt, an independent desktop virtualization analyst.
"Citrix really did make a significant mistake in dropping development for Chrome OS a while back and assuming that people would be able to get what they wanted from an HTML 5 client, which was incomplete at best," he said.
"To fully virtualize a GPU so that it's not just a shared GPU, it just means better performance for high-end 3D applications," Johnson said.
And to improve VDI storage performance, Citrix’s provisioning services technology can use commodity server cache instead of solely solid state disk, potentially reducing the number of input/output operations per second.
Some Citrix customers still run XenApp and XenDesktop 6.5 -- either because of the loss of features when FMA debuted, or because they run on older servers like Windows Server 2008 R2. For these shops, Citrix will offer several of these new features -- including the HTML 5 and Chrome OS Receiver clients, plus monitoring and storage enhancements -- as standalone deployments to 6.5 environments. Customers still on XenApp 6.5 can download these features from the Citrix website.
"Adding the ability to have some of those features ad hoc in older releases will be a good thing," Jones said.
VMware Horizon 6 breeds competition
The improvements to XenApp 7.6 and XenDesktop 7.6 come as Citrix faces a new challenge from VMware, which introduced a competitor to XenApp in its Horizon 6 suite. Parata Systems LLC, a pharmacy automation technology company in Durham, N.C., has found success with VMware so far, said Jon Howe, a systems architect there who was a Citrix administrator at a previous job.
"The biggest thing for me is, it's faster and easier to do things [in Horizon 6 than in XenApp and XenDesktop]," Howe said. "The less time I spend doing this is more time I can spend making the company money in some way."
The new features and capabilities in XenApp and XenDesktop are not responses to VMware, and many were planned prior to Horizon 6's spring launch, a Citrix spokesperson said.
VMware has been aggressive in its Horizon 6 push, but its application remoting capability is still a version 1.0 feature going up against established Citrix technology, Johnson said. Varrow’s Jones agreed.
"It's good to have competition in the marketplace, but Citrix is far and away the leader, and I don’t see [VMware] taking much market in that category," he said.
Horizon 6 will take time to mature, and there could be scenarios where customers using a large VMware View environment for virtual desktops and a limited XenApp environment to deliver apps could look to consolidate licenses and test Horizon 6, Jones said.
Citrix expects XenApp 7.6 and XenDesktop 7.6 to be available by the end of September. Pricing remains the same for both products. XenApp starts at $350 per concurrent user, while XenDesktop starts at $95 per user or per device and the VDI edition costs $195 per concurrent user.