Cloud workspace solutions: A 1st look at Citrix cloud – XenApp Essentials


The workspace world is moving to the Cloud or at least making moves to do so. Citrix like others also offers a Cloud solution for your workspace. Citrix partnered with Microsoft to offer Cloud services to customer. In this blog I will talk you through Citrix XenApp Essentials, one of the offerings offered by Citrix from Microsoft Azure. A quick look at the consoles and offering.

Architecture

First let’s take a look at the architecture. There are several architectural option to pick from but XenApp Essentials is setup a certain way. For a different setup you need to select a different offering.

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Copyright – Citrix

In the architecture you see that in the Citrix Cloud you will be offered three components;

  • StoreFront
  • NetScaler Gateway
  • Delivery Controller

One requirement for the Citrix XenApp Essentials implementation is that you bring your Microsoft Azure subscription. Within the Azure environment you need to have the Azure AD setup. The complete requirements are found right here. Select the Citrix XenApp Essentials for the Azure marketplace and follow the procedure. At one point you will link your subscription. Doing so will automatically deploy connectors in your Azure environment. These connectors are the proxies between the Citrix Cloud and Microsoft Azure.

Communication

As everything is Cloud based communication is key but it has to be secure. You don’t want to open up your Microsoft Azure environment to some hacker. This is why the connector is installed and is the only one talking with the Citrix Cloud.

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Copyright: Citrix

Communication is simple, everything talks over 443. Communication between the Citrix Cloud and Microsoft Azure, your Azure environment, also talks over 443. Make life of an admin easy.

Setup in Citrix Cloud console

When you first logon you will have the setup possibility, create a catalog, publish and assign apps and share the StoreFront link.

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Directory, profile and license

Setting up an Azure Active directory (in your Azure environment) and connect it in the Cloud of Citrix is one task you have. You have to setup Citrix Profile management and the RDS license server. In a high available environment you will setup two license servers and enter both. Citrix uses roaming profiles for the solution as there is no (or I missed it) User Environment Management available. Logon takes  a bit, saw 25 seconds to just load the profile with some users already. I think there is something to gain here in the future.

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Subscription

One of the first things to setup is the subscription, in the “XenApp and XenDesktop services / Manage / Subscription” you add the subscription. you can add multiple if you want certain catalogs to connect to a different subscription.

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 Master image

The first thing to do is create a master image, this image is needed to create a catalog. You create the virtual machine by Microsoft Azure resource manager. Upload this master image when it is finished from the Citrix Cloud “XenApp and XenDesktop services / Manage / Master images”.

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As you see, you can have multiple master images. In the column “Catalogs” you see which master image is connected to a catalog.  Here we have one image used with four catalogs. So once you have the master images ready you can create a catalog.

Catalog

A catalog is a collection of servers / desktops provisioned in a certain way. In on on-premises solution this could be Provisioning services or Machine Creation services.  In the Cloud solution you don’t have those options so all catalogs are the same. Only the master images are the difference here.

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Sizing and management

The catalog you create has certain parameters, you have the option to select the XenApp servers to run on standard disks or Premium disk. Of course Premium is more expensive. Also you select the number of user per XenApp server for a list Citrix provides. The instances used are D2 v2 instances so not that fancy, better not place to many users on one server.

The usage of the XenApp is setup so that on day time there are enough servers available to handle the load  and that during the evening the servers are scaled back to accommodate the number that would work during the evening. The last option you can set here is the idle or disconnect session time-out. so After 4 hours sessions still idle for that time are logged off.

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Monitor

From the monitor tab you can monitor the sessions that are active / disconnected or in error state. First you select the catalog to monitor and the list of user/sessions is populated below. If you want to zoom in on the session or user you click on the highlighted session name.

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Sessions in error state will show a n/a state. You can zoom in on them but you can’t do anything to log them off. The status screen is the same screen you see in the on-premises solution of Citrix. In the monitoring section I miss a number of options. Only the user information about their session and so on are like an on-premises solutions. The logon performance, sessions in error state, performance overview and so much more are missing here. Because this is a SAAS solution you don’t get access to everything but solving issues and managing the environment would be easier with a bit more data.

Of course some will say that with XenApp Essentials you leave backend management to Citrix but I only partly agree with that. Of course they are in control and they should solve issues as it’s a SAAS offering. But it is never a good thing to manage/debug with multiple parties each having a small part of the total information. With this SAAS solutions (not just Citrix) where Azure in customer owned you have exactly that. Two parties, two sets of information and no way you can see each others info.

I would change that and offer the customer a view on certain logs in the SAAS service, logs that could help them solve issues without consulting Citrix.

Connector health

A last thing I’d like to show in this 1st look at Citrix XenApp Essentials is the health status of the connector. It is the life line between Citrix cloud and your Azure subscription. You will get some data here but I’m not convinced that this is the most important data to see. I think the disk space wil hardly grow as the servers are static for one purpose. I’d rather see some functionality check, latency check, # of connections or things like that.  I think this is more a dashboard you’d use from the Azure environment to mange your own servers.

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Conclusion

In general the console looks fine, it is easy to navigate but there are small irritations when working with it all day long. opening different TABS or management options will take time. The console is slow to use as everything seems to load slow. When you want to go the the manage/monitor section every time you are presented with the getting started page. There is no way to mark that you don’t want it. It takes time to load the manage/monitor tab as after a while that stops being acceptable.

From a SAAS solution I think you should expect fast working consoles to work in.  I noticed that Citrix Cloud had some issues lately so perhaps this experience is due to that.  The solution itself is simple to setup and easy to use. It offers a basic XenApp environment based on a D2V2 virtual machine. If you look for a quick environment where management is outsources when it comes to the backend, this is a possibility.

Some issue we ran into is that you miss the lack of overview of your servers. We had an issue with servers not being started even though the schedule said so, the console lacks the functionality to show the status of the server it thinks it has. It would really make the product better if a customer could see the Citrix view on it’s world from the console, just a view would be perfect.


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