Setting the Stage for the Biggest News to Hit XenApp Since ... XenApp Itself

Posted by Tom Rose on Jan 10, 2016

citrix-xenapp-unidesk.pngCitrix XenApp is trusted infrastructure, used by thousands of enterprises and service providers to remotely deliver Windows apps to any endpoint device. Unidesk is making a major announcement at Citrix Summit in Las Vegas that will be the biggest thing to hit XenApp since it was first introduced as "Winframe" back in the late 1990s. Yes, that big!  To set the stage for our announcement and help you understand the incredible value that Unidesk will bring to Citrix customers, here's a quick look at the history of XenApp and the XenApp landscape today.

Winframe/Metaframe Ushers In SBC

Citrix was the pioneer in Windows terminal servers. In the same way that mainframe users would logon to a shared IBM mainframe from their "green screen" terminals back in the 1970s and 80s, Citrix made it possible for Windows users to logon to a single shared instance of Windows Server. Hence the early names for XenApp - Winframe and Metaframe.

Citrix promoted its Server-Based Computing (SBC) offering throughout the 1990s around 4 themes:

  • Management. Citrix made it easier for IT to manage Windows applications by updating them once centrally, instead of  running around and updating them on hundreds or thousands of distributed PCs.
  • Access. Apps delivered via Citrix could be instantly accessed from almost any end user device, including non-Windows clients. Even though the app wasn't locally installed on the client device, users could interact with it as if it was.
  • Performance. In these early days of client/server computing, it was important for running apps to be as close to their database or management server as possible. With Citrix, the app could be sitting in the same rack as the the back-end server, with just the display of the app being remoted to the end user device.
  • Security. With Citrix, your data never left your datacenter. Only the display of your desktop or app was "projected" across the wire.  To this day, Citrix's strongest customers are those who are security-conscious, such as financial services, healthcare, legal, and government.

Let's Put More Apps On Citrix!

Citrix deployments usually started with a few key apps installed on a single Citrix server. As end users became comfortable accessing their apps remotely and IT saw the benefits of centralized management through SBC, the edict would be issued, "let's put more apps on Citrix!" More apps would get loaded onto the Citrix server. Eventually, there would be so many different types of apps that the regression testing needed to apply a patch to just one of them began to outweigh the benefits of moving to SBC in the first place. Giving every user access to all of the apps on a Citrix server also added unnecessary licensing costs, since every user didn't need every app.

Silos Emerge

IT began splitting their XenApp servers into logical collections called "silos." Each silo would host a different subset of the overall application portfolio. While the creation of these silos helped simplify patching/testing and gave IT more control over application access to minimize licensing costs, it introduced a new image management challenge. You now had to patch Windows Server on multiple silos every time Patch Tuesday rolled around. You also had to patch the same apps multiple times on different silos. For example, if you were a healthcare provider delivering the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) app from 40 Citrix servers in 5 different silos, you had to update EMR 40 times. In solving one problem, silos created another.

Citrix Provisioning Services

In 2006, Citrix bought Ardence to help solve the growing image management challenge. Now called Citrix Provisioning Services (PVS), this technology enables multiple Citrix servers to simultaneously boot from a common disk image (vDisk). Instead of having to patch each XenApp server over and over again, you now need to patch the shared vDisk only once, and all of the XenApp servers that share this vDisk will be updated. PVS is now widely used for delivering shared images to XenApp servers and XenDesktop desktops.

Still Too Many Images!

While PVS is awesome at delivering images, as a block-based solution, it was never designed to manage the content of the images it delivers. Every XenApp server that shares the same vDisk image delivered through PVS is going to deliver the same Windows Server OS and the same set of apps. So if one group of users needs Acrobat, Office, EMR, ChartMaxx, and Dragon, and another set of users needs Acrobat, Office, QuickBooks, and Project, you're back to creating multiple silos, each with their own vDisk images and different set of apps. And you're back to patching Windows and apps multiple times.

Any enterprise organization or service provider who has tried to deliver 100% of their Windows apps through XenApp understands this image management challenge. They invariably hit it because all of their users are a little bit different, and need different sets of apps. This is why XenApp is often used in combination with traditional agent-based software distribution tools and application virtualization technologies. These other solutions are used to reduce the image management pain.

Wouldn't it be better if you could leverage your existing XenApp investment - and PVS - to deliver all apps?

Attack of the "Crap App"

There's another issue that has limited how many apps you can deliver through XenApp. IT pros give it several names. The "one-off app." The "departmental app." And my personal favorite coined by one of our customers - the "crap app." It's the app that's only used by a small number of users that doesn't warrant the time and effort to get built into a PVS image.  Nor does it warrant its own XenApp silo and the shared storage and server resources to deliver via SBC.

Yet these apps still have to be delivered. Sometimes they're locally installed on the physical PC or virtual machine. Sometimes they're delivered separately through application virtualization.

Again, wouldn't it be ideal if there was a way to deliver these one-off apps just with XenApp?

"I'm Not Like Everyone Else!"

1,300 customers have now selected Unidesk for their VDI deployments. One of the reasons they cite for choosing VDI over XenApp is to give every user their own personal desktop experience. With VDI,  every user gets their own VM and their own Windows instance. Whereas with XenApp, every user is using the exact same image and the same Windows instance.

Sure, there have been things you can do to make XenApp appear more like a personal desktop. You can use roaming profiles, implement folder redirection, stream in apps, and configure custom shortcuts and links. But ultimately the look and feel is not quite the same, with user-installed plug-ins and apps unable to persist between sessions. Furthermore, the time and effort to use these additional "bolt-on" technologies adds significant overhead and cost for IT.

What if there was a way to make a XenApp session behave just like a personal PC or a persistent virtual desktop? Without the need for all of these different add-on "tricks?" Wouldn't XenApp then be able to satisfy 100% of users within an enterprise?

100% of Apps, 100% of Users

You now have the context for the announcement we're making Monday. New patented layering innovations from Unidesk are coming that will extend Citrix XenApp to 100% of apps, and 100% of users. While massively reducing XenApp silo and image management challenges for IT. Stay tuned!


Topics: Image Management, Citrix XenApp, application layering, Personalization, Patch Management, Citrix, Unidesk 4.0, Persistent Session

Posted by Tom Rose on Jan 10, 2016

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