Do I really need Citrix NetScaler?

NetScaler or not, you need an application delivery controller. But XenApp and XenDesktop shops that use a non-Citrix gateway run the risk of losing Citrix's support.

DENVER -- Whether or not NetScaler is a necessary part of your infrastructure depends on how much you like having Citrix's support.

NetScaler is a sophisticated application delivery controller (ADC) that also acts as a load balancer, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) virtual private network (VPN) and app firewall. It's an alternative to the combination of Web Interface (WI) and Citrix Secure Gateway (CSG) that many experts think will someday become extinct.

Claudio Rodrigues, CTO of WTSLabs, Inc. doesn't agree that CSG will meet its end, however his session at BriForum was a primer on NetScaler that was meant to move shops away from CSG.

"WI and CSG are like cockroaches and my mother-in-law. They are the three things I know just will not die," he said. But Rodrigues also said NetScaler can do a lot more than WI and CSG, which makes NetScaler the better of the two options.

CSG can only provide secure access to XenApp and XenDesktops. It also doesn't support the ICA protocol, and it's not a VPN. NetScaler does support ICA, and it allows users to securely access XenMobile, ShareFile, email servers, file shares, and other in-house resources.

Shops that use XenApp and XenDesktop need to have a Citrix product between the backend and users. Citrix won't support environments that use third-party options such as the Application Delivery Controller from F5 Networks, Inc.

Although it's possible to use a product other than NetScaler as a VPN or ADC, doing so can create connection and network problems that are hard to troubleshoot in-house. Citrix products are made to work with NetScaler, and the support that Citrix provides when shops go whole hog is worth it to some administrators who may not have the time or expertise to troubleshoot problems on their own.

Be aware that NetScaler licensing can get confusing. The license for NetScaler is tied to the host ID, but there's a separate product -- NetScaler Gateway -- that's tied to the hostname. Additionally, NetScaler has a different feature set based on the edition (standard, enterprise or platinum) XenApp or XenDesktop.

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