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XenApp 6.5 support extended, upgrades delayed

A XenApp 6.5 migration tool is finally available to help IT shops move to XenApp 7.X, but IT shops are in no rush to get there.

ORLANDO – Citrix has put its anticipated Workspace Cloud platform into the hands of IT pros but hasn't yet abandoned...

the technologies that put the company on the map.

Questions about the future of Citrix's crown jewel, XenApp, were addressed as a first order of business here at the company's annual Synergy Conference this week with CEO Mark Templeton assuring IT pros the company still "loves" XenApp, and that feature updates are due next month.

The renewed focus on XenApp is wise given how many of its customers still rely on the application publishing technology while VDI remains a niche that IT pros deliver to only a small subset of their users, if at all.

Citrix two years ago combined XenApp and XenDesktop as part of its move from IMA to FlexCast Management Architecture (FMA), and some important features were lost in the process. That architecture change, and the missing features, has kept many XenApp shops from moving forward.

With that, Citrix has extended XenApp 6.5 maintenance for Windows Server 2008 R2 through the end of 2017.

Citrix needed to extend support following the customer outcry, said Steve Brasen, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates, based in Boulder Colo. 

"You don't mess with your base," he said.

New features emerge, old issues remain

A new Feature Pack for XenApp 6.5 will be available in June with support for StoreFront 3.0, Provisioning Server 7.6, AppDNA, new Receivers, new Microsoft Lync 2013 optimizations and more. Citrix also made it possible to run XenApp 6.5 with all other XenApp versions side by side in one environment.

For XenApp and XenDesktop 7.6, Feature Pack 2 brings new Receiver support, Lync 2013 on Mac optimization, and Touch ID support. Citrix also updated HDX technology – which it will continually do on a six month cadence. HDX has improved graphics and multimedia support across a wider range of devices and supports 20% more users per server and 30% lower bandwidth consumption, according to Citrix.

In addition, FrameHawk will be generally available in June. FrameHawk is integrated with Receiver to work with HDX to enable a local-like experience over lossy satellite, cellular or Wi-Fi networks. This is important for VDI users who experience video buffering as FrameHawk eliminates that problem, said Gunnar Berger, Citrix CTO, during a session on new XenApp features.

Also introduced here is AppDisk, an app layering analysis tool that will be integrated with AppDNA for application onboarding to assess, prepare and package Windows and Web apps.  It will allow IT to provision a clean OS layer, and apps are updated separately. It is available in limited tech preview, due in beta in Q3. 

"It's no secret that the current [Citrix Personal vDisk] product is clunky," said Neil Spellings, an enterprise and cloud infrastructure architect and owner of XenCentric, an Internet services provider. "Hopefully the limitations will be removed now that it's being invested in."

Citrix also added support for Linux virtual desktops after VMware recently added Linux support.

Meanwhile, the same old issue continues to plague XenApp users.

"Every time I show a cool new HDX feature, people say, just fix printing," said Juan Rivera, Citrix's VP of cloud and server engineering, during the session.

IT pros complained that there's still no easy, reliable way to print from virtual apps, and though most print problems stem from printer driver issues, universal print drivers don't do the trick.

However, the upcoming Universal Print Server 7.6 will bring much better performance over the WAN, with scalability to about 50 print jobs per minute. It is due in tech preview soon.

Users want to hit print and see it print within 30 seconds, otherwise they'll hit print again and again, and there ends up being four print jobs in the queue, Berger said.

"With this [update], you hit print and it actually prints," Berger said. "This is huge."

XenApps 6.5 users stall upgrades

While support for new features is great, XenApp users want support for features in version 6.5 that disappeared in the architecture change, such as load balancing.

"You can get load balancing but you have to use PowerShell commands now," said one admin in the legal industry who runs XenApp and XenDesktop. "It used to be simple, and now it's not."

App publishing in 7.6 isn't as good as it was in XenApp 6.5, either, according to users in another session. It's a problem that can also be solved with tools such as PowerShell – but Citrix is working on a fix.

During that session, a Citrix engineer said they are listening to customer feedback and actively working to close the IMA-FMA feature gap, while adding new features. The company has slowly brought back old features, such as anonymous logon and database connection resiliency.

When IT pros are ready to move from 6.5 to 7.6, they can use Project Serenity, now in beta. The tool, expected last year, exports 6.x configurations, analyzes them and the apps and policies are converted from IMA to FMA architecture.

Bridget Botelho is senior news director of TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization and End-User Computing media groups. Follow her on Twitter@bridgetbotelho.

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