Why now is the time to upgrade your XenApp 6.5 to 7.x

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XenApp and XenDesktop architectures came together back in 2013, the old Independent Management Architecture (IMA) was scrapped in favour of the new Flexcast Management Architecture (FMA) that had been in use by XenDesktop for years.

FMA worked well for XenDesktop VDI environments, however application publishing lagged well behind when compared with IMA. Citrix attempted to amend this limitation by embracing Microsoft App-V, with basic integration with Studio.  Many of us quite rightly saw FMA as a step backwards, with very few reasons around to justify ‘upgrading’ to 7.x. The thought of scrapping those Citrix streamed applications in favour of Microsoft App-V seemed like a daunting prospect.

What has changed with XenApp 7.x?

Key improvements

With FMA both XenApp and XenDeskop now share a common infrastructure, so Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH) and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) can now be deployed and managed from the same management layer and infrastructure servers.

ICA has been replaced with HDX, and many improvements have been made to improve the user experience, even over the most challenging network conditions, visual quality is automatically optimised based on its type (video, test etc).

Full Linux support for both VDI and RDSH to provide Linux based apps and sessions, direct to a user’s endpoint.

Citrix Studio and Director

These are two new management tools introduced in release 7.x, Studio removes the management from XenApp server, so it can’t be accidentally stumbled upon by users.

Citrix Director provides a web-based management portal, where user information and trends can be viewed, such as logon times, failed connections as well as machine load which is great for user support and identifying performance bottlenecks.

Access levels can be controlled by AD groups so the service desk users, might only be able to shadow a user, end applications, and perhaps log them off, but the infrastructure team gets full control of the machines and their maintenance.

Workspace Environment Manager (WEM)

This is a result of Citrix’s acquisition of Norskale in 2016, the product has been re-branded as Workspace Environment Manager (WEM).  This is eligible to enterprise and platinum licenses as long as you hold an active software maintenance agreement.

The key features are:

  • CPU Management – This prevents application spikes and can also be used for clamping for troublesome applications. Applications can also be given priority levels. This seeks to improve user experiences and help remove those “Citrix is slow” service desk calls. Additionally, it can improve user density, which helps support lower resource usage on your underlying infrastructure.
  • Memory Management – Applications can often sit idle consuming valuable resources, but with memory management any idle memory can be reclaimed and given back to the OS, which is particularly useful in XenApp environments.
  • GPO Improvements – Anything that can be applied with GPO preferences can be replaced with WEM. This not only allows applications, environmental variables and registry keys to be applied on a very wide range of conditions, but these can also be combined to provide granular control of the user environment. These are applied after the initial logon, as opposed to during logon as with GPP so significantly reducing the login times for user sessions.

Citrix App Layering

Another great add-on that eventuated because of Citrix’s acquisition of Unidesk in 2017. This is available to all license versions and works with both VDI and RDSH sessions. Layers of applications can be created to reduce the amount of image management:

  • 1Layers are built per OS so multiple images can be built up from layers, which contain the OS, Anti-Virus / Virtual Desktop Agent, and applications such as Office. This allows multiple images to be deployed from these layers, in any combination. Updates, such as patches or upgrades can be applied in the individual layers, this prevents gradual degradation of your gold images, reduces security risk, speeds up deployment and provides a wonderful way to test your changes before production deployment.
  • 2Layers can be versioned and rolled back if required, so when you come across that awkward VDA or AV update, these only need to be completed once per OS, and rolled back once per OS if required.
  • 3Elastically Assigned Layers – Ever wanted multiple versions of an application based on user group? Perhaps Office 2013 and 2016, or a variety of users with different versions of Chrome on the same XenApp server? This is now possible with only a 5-7 second delay in user login while the layers merge.

MCS support for cloud providers

Are you are considering flexing out to the cloud during peak usage, or perhaps looking for just a few high graphics desktops? However, a GPU may not be practical i.e not compatible with some HCI appliances or servers, inadequate  budget, or you may have considered using the cloud for DR to reduce the Capex cost of on premise hardware for DR.

MCS now supports both AWS and Azure as resource targets to provision machines, so this can be achieved with minimal effort.

Storefront improvements

Storefront replaced the web interface in version 7.0 and has now continued to improve. It is now much simpler to provide corporate branding for your storefront site, and with the introduction of SAMIL authentication, multiple identity providers can now be used. Improved HTML5 receiver applications and desktops can be used in a web browser without the need for the receiver client.

NetScaler – more than just an ADC

Although not part of the XenDesktop suite, it’s a great add-on and no deployment is complete without considering its addition. Integration is very tight and an application\desktop delivery can become seamless whether on WAN or LAN.

When using smart access filters, granular control of the user experience can be different from remote and internal connections which is great for aspects like low bandwidth sites, or data loss prevention.

In summary – too many improvements to mention

There are far too many improvements in the 7.x to mention here, but as you can grasp, upgrading to XenApp 7.x has an  abundance of benefits. If you would like to discover further details on the 7.x upgrade or if you have queries about how the features could benefit you specifically, please do not hesitate to leave a comment below or to us directly.