XenDesktop & XenApp 7.5 – time to get planning!

Time is moving on for the current XenApp 6.5 platform with only some two years left to go on the standard Life Cycle, that will come around sooner than you think.

There are many things to consider when moving to a new XenApp platform, not least of all changes in operating systems, application compatibility and printing (as always). Since my early days of working on MetaFrame 3, Citrix has been promising reduced management overheads, fewer consoles and better support for mixed OS environments. However, while they did do away with the old Citrix Management Console eventually, you were still left with Web Interface, Licensing and AppCentre to manage different parts of your environment. Then of course XenDesktop came along and brought new consoles, new management protocols and another database – and a StoreFront. Nearly forgot –  a Provisioning Server farm, console and database just to keep you on your toes!

My previous blog post on AppDNA touched on the challenge of making applications compatible with new desktop and server operating systems. But what about the management challenge of hosting virtual desktops, shared desktops and publishing your applications?

Citrix has been working hard on that chestnut for a couple of years and the recent launch of XenDesktop/XenApp 7.5 now provides administrators with the ability to manage and deploy various operating systems and applications from a more unified console, namely Citrix Studio.

Key to this new platform is the FlexCast Management Architecture, or FMA. FlexCast was previously used in licensing terms only. For nearly twenty years now Citrix Presentation Server based products including XenApp 6.5 have relied on IMA – Independent Management Architecture for the underlying farm communications, load balancing, policies, and admin etc etc. A tried and tested product, many millions of users have been relying on IMA all over the world for application and desktop delivery.

Here are a few of the new terms to get your head around –

Instead of this in XenApp 6

Think of this in XenApp 7

Independent Management Architecture (IMA)

FlexCast Management Architecture (FMA)

Farm

Delivery Site

Worker Group

Session Machine Catalog, Delivery Group

Worker

Virtual Delivery Agent, Server OS Machine

Desktop OS Machine

Zone and Data Collector

Delivery Controller

Delivery Services Console

Citrix Studio and Citrix Director

Publishing applications

Delivering applications

Data store

Database

Load Evaluator

Load Management Policy

Administrator

Delegated Administrator Role

(Source, XenApp eDocs – http://support.citrix.com/proddocs/topic/xenapp-xendesktop-75/cds-previous-xa-admins.html )

FMA however introduces some new capabilities that IMA could not deliver. The main being the ability to deploy the Citrix Virtual Desktop Agent (VDA) to both Windows desktop operating systems, and servers –  and manage both in the same place. Think about that for a second. No more multiple farms with different version of Windows and XenApp. A single console where you manage desktops, machine images and applications. You can even use the VDA on physical PCs – useful for administrator or power users with heavy graphics and connect directly with HDX.

Key Components:

fma

Of course, with change – there are some things that are no longer. User Shadowing, Oracle Database support, SSO for Win 8.1/2012, Local Text Echo, Legacy Printing (XP/DOS clients) –  are no longer supported. Secure Gateway, still in use by some customers, is no longer supported and customers are advised to move to NetScaler Gateway as a replacement for remote access. Web Interface is still supported but customers are also expected to migrate to StoreFront with Web Interface having a limited shelf life and no further development.

So get planning! A two year window to get all your old x32 or 16 bit applications tested, upgraded or redeveloped is really not very long. Some will be easier than others. With an AppV now bundled, you could give that a try or look at Unidesk. Licensing, print strategy, remote access and your hyper visor platform all need careful consideration. I’ll be looking into those in more depth in my next few blogs.

Useful Links:

XenApp 7.5 and XenDesktop 7.5

XenApp/Desktop 7.5 – Not supported

XenApp Support Matrix

 

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Citrix AppDNA – analyzing your apps for those new OS deployments.

Upgrading a Citrix farm from one operating system to another has always been a difficult task to manage particularly if you have a stack of applications that have been developed for an older operating system. Neither Microsoft of Citrix support “in place” upgrade for terminal servers – so you must deploy new server OS and new Citrix platform to move up to the latest system. New servers, new Citrix, new profiles, new printers ..and potentially new applications.

Getting your apps to work on a new OS is often the biggest headache in a Citrix migration. This may be because your internal application team or third party developed the apps for your business on tools that were current at the time – but pretty useless now. If they developed them on Windows XP or Server 2003 – it’s very likely they won’t run at all on Windows 8 or Server 2012 R2. Various changes to Windows security and kernel access on 2008 R2 and 2012 mean that these older apps will fail at the first hurdle on any x64 OS. The same challenge exists if you want to move from Windows XP to Windows 7 or 8, and if you want to go for a VDI solution like Citrix XenDesktop or VMware View.

This is not the same challenge as deploying the application. Using tools like AppV or Citrix Streaming, or Unidesk doesn’t get around the problem of the application not working on the platform. These tools help with deployment – not compatibility if the application doesn’t work.

This is a big challenge for companies with a large set of applications. Hospitals, councils and other government department have hundreds of applications. Some private sector companies with lots of staff and specialist manufacturing systems have apps written by staff that may have left years ago – but the business relies on those applications for critical processes. I know of one customer who is still running Windows NT 4 and Citrix MetaFrame 1.8 because of this very issue. They also have Windows Server 2000 and 2003 with Citrix XP and PS4. The apps are written as 16 bit. The systems are years out of support – but they can’t migrate the applications – they just don’t run. They have a XenApp 6.5 farm on 2008 – but can’t deploy the apps.  The risk to the business is running aging applications on old server platforms with no support, poor recovery methods and lack of best practice and security. With little or no chance or being updated  – without massive cost just to evaluate the code.

So what do you do? You could take the application and ask one of your developers (if you have one) to dissect the code, tell you what’s wrong and then fix it. This could take weeks depending on the code and your developer’s knowledge of an app he didn’t write, in a language he’s never used. There is a good chance something will be missed. You could engage an external developer to look at the app and the code, and give you a quote for rewriting it. That could also take weeks, and be very expensive – per application. Multiply that across your entire application list and you could be looking at a substantial outlay to get your applications up to Windows 8 and Server 2012 standards.

The Citrix answer to this challenge is AppDNA. AppDNA “reduces the amount of testing needed for applications and provides detailed information that can be used as the basis for the overall testing plan when migrating”.

 app1

AppDNA – Windows 8 overview. Five applications analysed, one needs re-written, others need some work and two are good to go.

This is a powerful analysis tool that can take your application installer MSI, capture or AppV package and deploy it through a virtual machine template and pull together all the changes, DLL’s, registry and system security changes that are required to get it installed. The AppDNA server is then able to compare this to various target operating systems that you want to migrate to – and provide you with a very detailed breakdown of the applications requirements and what’s needed to get it over to the new OS. Newer applications may only require a few changes.

Older applications may require complete re-write. Either way , the system reports this back in minutes – not days or weeks. Inject a several more application into the system and you could easily have an estimate of the work involved in updating or re-writing  your critical applications. Web sites can also be targeted to report back on browser compatibility using user simulation and a web spider tool. Using an easy to follow Red, Amber,Green traffic light system – management reports and effort calculations can be provided.

The latest 7.5 version is available for download and trial, bundled with Platinum Edition, and includes integration with XenServer, VSphere and Hyper-V as well as VMware Workstation. As a Citrix engineer I can see this being a very useful tool and could drastically reduce the time, effort and cost involved in application migration to the latest server and desktop operating systems. Still, I’m glad I’m not a developer!

Some sample reports:

app3

app4

References:

AppDNA – Over View

http://www.citrix.com/products/appdna/overview.html

Citrix TV – AppDNA

http://www.citrix.com/tv/#tags/appdna+7.5