SysTrack provides the actual user and system data to accurately scope, size, implement, and monitor XenApp 7.x for the best end user experience.
With the introduction of Citrix® XenDesktop™ 7.x the underlying technology for Citrix XenApp™ and XenDesktop are unified under the Flex Cast Management (FMA) architecture. Long time XenApp customers who have deployed XenApp versions 6.5 and earlier were running on Citrix's Independent Management Architecture (IMA), which is being phased out.
Customer and partners who architect, design and execute an IMA to FMA transition have a number of tools at their disposal. This whitepaper introduces how Lakeside SysTrack can be leveraged as a fundamental success platform to aide in the migration and the continuous assessment and management of the environment. Ultimately, this leads to reduced project risks, faster time to value, and numerous operational benefits and a better ROI to all organizations who adopt Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop.
The architectural differences between XenApp IMA and FMA are detailed in the Citrix XenApp Migration Guide (Citrix, Citrix XenApp migration guide, 2014). Due to the technical differences between the two product architectures, in-place upgrades from IMA to FMA products are not supported. Citrix currently offers a technical preview of the web-based XenApp migration service, which enables Citrix Architects to automatically analyze their current IMA-based XenApp 6.5 architecture with this cloudbased web service. It loads up a simple analysis file and then translates it into a downloadable configuration file for the new FMA-based solution which contains the list of all previously published applications and desktops along with their specific settings that can be directly imported into the FMA-based Citrix XenApp deployment.
This can be very helpful for larger organizations, but we will see that this is not entirely sufficient to promote a successful and efficient migration to XenApp 7.x and higher.
Figure 1 - Migration Methodology
The fundamental methodology for any IT project is predicated on the Assessment, Implementation, and Management phases, but the following paragraphs will specifically illustrate a migration to the Citrix XenApp FMA architecture. It is important to note that there are always multiple iterations in any migration or update, and IT organizations are always assessing something and spawning new implementation and management phases as a result. This is similar to the DevOps approach of IT management, where systems design, user feedback and IT operations intersect to provide an ever-improving environment that ultimately supports the business objectives of the entire organization.
The initial assessment of a project typically starts with the definition of the project parameters and is largely seen as a management exercise with little or no technical components. This is where the project is framed, where success criteria are defined and the overall scope of the project is laid out. In the context of a XenApp FMA migration, the definition can be seemingly simple and may be phrased simply as "Migrate all applications, desktops, and users from IMA-based XenApp deployments to the latest FMA-based architecture with no negative impact on the user experience."
But, just like many other IT initiatives, there are often other considerations that come into play as well. Because organizations need to build out a new environment anyway, many teams will also choose to upgrade the hardware, the server OS, and several applications along with this initiative. After all, it would not make sense to deploy the FMA infrastructure on outdated hardware or with all the old applications, which then have to be upgraded again at a later time. The "one and done" approach supports the desire to make a major change now and comes with the expectation that the environment won't have to undergo a major overhaul for a few more years. This presents additional challenges that are discussed in the next few paragraphs.
SysTrack can effectively help in the definition of the project scope by also identifying user groups who are served with physical desktops and traditional applications to determine whether they would also benefit from inclusion in the project.
Any use cases where the user experience on the physical device is shown to deteriorate can greatly benefit from Citrix XenApp in a number of ways:
All these attributes are easily identifiable with SysTrack through its Enterprise Visualizer and Resolve Tools:
Figure 2 - SysTrack Enterprise Visualizer showing Resource Intensive Applications
Figure 3 - Applications by Network Connection and Bandwidth Consumption
Figure 4 - Resolve Tool showing Applications with high latency backend network connections
The assessment and design phases which are described in the Citrix Virtual Desktop Handbook is where SysTrack found a following in the industry among consultants, system integrators, and IT architects alike. With its ability to capture all users, all applications, their resource consumption, usage patterns, and time-correlated demands on the overall environment, SysTrack plays a critical role in sizing and designing the XenApp infrastructure, even if the new environment includes application consolidation, new operating systems, and other factors.
IT professionals and Citrix Consultants often face large scale organizations who have a long list of published applications and desktops in their existing XenApp farms. Frequently it is not entirely clear how one ended up with hundreds of applications (which sometimes take the form of a myriad of intranet applications in the form of published web browsers) and whether or not they are actually still being used. The mantra has been to never touch a running system and, other than the occasional clutter in the management consoles, a few additional applications really don't do much harm.
However, the FMA migration now provides a great opportunity to review the portfolio of published applications. Not only looking at those applications that are published to users, but also at those that are NOT published but are still being used. These "Child
Applications" are best understood in the context of a published email client like Microsoft Outlook, which may be the primary published application that is used to initiate a user session. Once a user opens a PDF attachment, the Adobe® Acrobat Reader application will launch from within the Outlook session. As the user moves through her day, more
and more of these child applications get executed on the server and consume resources on the server as well as provide a user interaction. Not all of those will need to be published separately, but it is absolutely imperative for Citrix architects to account for those child applications as well.
Figure 5 - Image Planner showing most used applications and application delivery options
In today's end user computing environment the user experience and application performance is often times an afterthought. Citrix XenApp customers may have implemented the EdgeSight for XenApp capability to provide some insights into key metrics that allow a glimpse into the user experience and technical server parameters, but applications that are running on traditional physical desktops or servers that have not been instrumented remain invisible to the typical IT organization.
It is therefore critical that organizations have a look at the current performance base line of their environment before they explore migration to XenApp 7.x or publishing applications and on-boarding new user groups for the first time. What are the resource requirements for the applications as they are being used? What are the application faults that are happening and in which versions of the software? Is there an opportunity for remediation or version consolidation? Is there a need to assess compatibility with a new operating system? Would certain users benefit from being physically closer to the Citrix environment to ascertain better network performance? Would certain applications benefit from being closer to their backend infrastructure on the network?
All these questions need to be answered before an organization should decide on a simple 1:1 migration to the FMA architecture.
CIOs and, by proxy, Citrix Architects, Directors, and Administrators perform a balancing act with respect to the IT environments they manage that is almost impossible to get right. On the one side, organizations don't like to oversize servers, storage, and network infrastructure relative to the needs of the user base. Doing so would become potentially expensive and take away from other critical projects. On the other hand, not providing enough resources can quickly impact the end user experience and therefore cast a shadow on the success of any project and the IT leadership.
Therefore, it is critically important that the new Citrix XenApp FMA infrastructure is sized just right to meet operational demand with a bit of additional room to grow so that fluctuations of resource demand can be met and a good user experience can be maintained. That is easier said than done. It is therefore important to continuously assess the user experience and load on the infrastructure not only as a one-time exercise in the migration planning, but on an on-going basis. Especially if the FMA migration initiative includes new applications, or even just new versions of existing applications, the resource demands may end up quite different compared to the previous XenApp session hosts.
Figure 6 - Users with Resource Footprint
The implementation phase is critical to any IT project. This is where the first users are asked to interact with the new environment and provide feedback to IT leadership. Especially the early pilot users may not always be able to articulate challenges in the right technical terms. SysTrack provides a deep view into the environment, can detect resource bottlenecks, application crashes, unexpected application dependencies and other factors that may require tweaks or changes before a larger scale rollout is conducted.
Figure 7 - Application Faults
Because of SysTrack's ability to trend and analyze data over time, the performance base lines that were established earlier can serve as an immediate reference point for the end user experience and system performance of the new solution in the new XenApp/XenDesktop environment.
We are confident that volumes of books and articles have been written about this topic, and we won't pontificate at length here. Most IT methodologies call for initial testing of the new environment (which is typically done by the project team) to ensure that applications and desktops can launch successfully and common remote access scenarios are addressed. This is typically followed by a limited go-live to a pilot user group who can give additional feedback and is then followed by a much large and broader go-live, which typically concludes the project.
We believe that this approach is somewhat archaic in its underlying philosophy. Today's users are much more nimble, and changes in their jobs require them to change the way they are using the Citrix environment on almost a daily basis. We therefore believe that IT organizations adopt a DevOps approach to the management of their Citrix XenApp environment, where there is a continuous cycle of user feedback, assessment, implementation, and management to provide a well working, flexible, and cost-effective end-user computing environment that meets or exceeds the expectations of the user base. This is the only approach that has a chance of identifying trends in user acceptance, resource requirements, and underlying changes to the way people work and interact with the Citrix environment that may necessitate a series of relatively small changes in order to keep up.
IT systems maintenance is often approach as "maintaining" the status quo in the true sense of the word. Systems ought to be stable and provide a constantly good (or acceptable) user experience. IT systems management on the contrary implies that the solution is actively managed with an ever improving user experience and business value as a goal. While the two terms are often used interchangeably, there are important differences in the approach and in the effect on the users!
Citrix EdgeSight for Desktops and Endpoints (5.3) has an announced end of life date of July 2015. The EdgeSight for XenApp (5.4) product's end of life date is concurrent with the end of life of XenApp 6.5.
Although XenApp 7.x comes with Citrix Director as a monitoring tool and an EdgeSight capability that allows for longer data retention and analytics in Director, it is quite different from EdgeSight for XenApp 5.4 in one fundamental aspect: It does not have any insights into the applications or operating systems that make up the session hosts in XenApp or XenDesktop 7.x.
Instead, Citrix Director and its Monitoring Service provide insights into the infrastructure. For example, Virtual Desktop Agent registration error with the Citrix Controllers as well as stats about users and sessions are readily available in Director. But it does not have insights into the resource consumption of each child application within each session or aggregate user experience scores for individual users across the entire environment.
What the Citrix Virtual Desktop Handbook describes as the Monitoring phase is what we would like to call simply the management and continuous assessment. This is where the DevOps and Design Thinking approach comes into play.
If IT looks at the Citrix FMA adoption as a project (as in "project" with a defined start and end date), it is likely that nobody will really be in charge of watching over the on-going (and ever changing!) needs of the end users. That is why it is so important to provide an on-going assessment of the user experience, changing conditions and demands, a continuous feedback loop to the business and to provide the best possible service.
SysTrack can pro-actively alert on literally thousands of potentially adverse conditions and automate remediation steps and tasks.
Figure 8 - SysTrack Operations Alarm Management
Implementing SysTrack is quick and easy and can often be done in the span of a few hours. SysTrack comes with many factory configurations for the data collection of specific systems such as Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop deployments. For more information on the technical architecture, refer to the resources on our website at www.lakesidesoftware.com.
Organizations who are interested in migration their Citrix XenApp 6.5 deployment to the new FMA architecture of XenApp 7.0 and higher are well advised to take advantage of the capabilities that SysTrack has to offer in order to support the highest levels of success in the transition. SysTrack is available through a network of resellers. Visit www.lakesidesoftware.com to learn more.