Posted by: Leon Godwin Posted date: 12 January 2017

Citrix Summit: Day Two

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Day two of the summit starts with a cup of coffee at dawn on the balcony of my room, as I plan my day ahead. I have decided to put a bit more structure around my blog today with details of events, classes, etc…

 

Keynote 2

First off is the Keynote 2, which had a recurring theme of #CitrixCan, in other words here are our USP's which our competitors cannot match. ShareFile has introduces a bunch of new features including:

  • Better integration with OneDrive
  • Workflow functionality to allow a document to be contributed to, and approved or cc'd throughout different departments within an office.
  • Data loss prevention (DLP)
  • XenMobile integration

Citrix state that ShareFile is the ONLY way to deliver #Onedrive for business in a virtual environment.

Citrix and BitDefender have collaborated to develop a Hypervisor Introspection. In overly simplified terms this is a new security framework that sits outside of the virtual machine, analysing its memory for evidence of advanced targeted cyber-attacks and then taking remediation, whilst being isolated itself from potential attack. I remember BitDefender had a client firewalling product in the very early days of me using the internet, and I was amazed at the number of unsolicited incoming connection, what we would now call script kiddies. My little connection was getting over 100 inbound hits on various TCP ports looking for a way into my machine and network and BitDefender was the first tool to open my eyes as to how seriously we had to take security. They have grown as a company and adapted extremely well to the changing IT landscape and have developed some interesting capabilities, with Hypervisor Introspection being just one. Much like the firewall client from almost two decades ago, they Hypervisor Introspection brings visibility and actionability, the latter being key to IT Ops.

A new wave of hyperconverged appliance was also revealed at the day two keynote. Citrix is announced a program to simplify the scalability and manageability of VDI environments for mid-market organisations. Citrix Ready HCI Workspace Appliance Program, enables hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) appliances from hardware and storage partners to connect to Citrix Cloud to automate the setup and maintenance of XenApp and XenDesktop Service. The example given was an iPhone and iCloud, the first is a device and the later a cloud based configuration and data repository, however in this scenario the appliance is the commodity device, which is pointed to the cloud to receive its entire configuration including virtual desktops and apps. This significantly reduces the build time and helps ensure standardisation, which is typically the purview of the enterprise customer due to their larger pool of Citrix expertise, but can now be leveraged by the mid-tier entities.

Information about NetScaler was also in the keynote. Citrix is position NetScaler as a replacement for separate firewalls, routers and WAN optimisation devices. The integration of Citrix NetScaler Unified Gateway with Microsoft Intune was highlighted, which means Citrix NetScaler Unified Gateway provides secure access and single sign-on across all applications, and Microsoft Enterprise Mobile + Security (EMS) helps manage and protect users, devices, apps, and data. IT admins define the access control policies based on the state of the end user mobile device. These policies will then check each mobile device before a user session is established to evaluate whether the device is enrolled with Microsoft Intune and is compliant with the organisations security policies before allowing or blocking them access to the network. Think Cisco NAC for mobile devices and you want be far off. There was also talk of NetScaler being multi-cloud aware, but this will require more of a deep dive, before I can report back on this.

There was also some fanfare regarding NetScaler MAS (Management and Analytics System). Networking is not my strong suit so I will do my best to explain why Citrix think it's such a big deal. NetScaler MAS is an orchestration, automation, monitoring and analytics platform for application delivery services. It replaces 3 legacy tools NetScaler Insight Centre, Command Centre, and Control Centre. It's a combination of these three different tools. The idea is to bring your network data that relates to your application into a single pane of glass, such that you can:

  • Integrated. Single touch point for managing inventory, analysing traffic and integrating with orchestration or SDN solutions;
  • Automate. Helps IT Staff to automate operational tasks for better efficiency;
  • Isolate. Enables isolation of Application & Network Admin Roles;
  • Consolidate. Provides ways to consolidate your application network functions;
  • Anomalies. Identify configuration anomalies and suggest associated actions;
  • Weak Config. Brings out weak configuration as potential threats for the infrastructure;
  • Trends. Identifies trends over traffic patterns and system events;
  • Granular. Granular HTTP & ICA Analytics

And that about wraps up the first few hours of the day two and the keynote. So it's off to the first Event session of the day.

Tech101 – XenApp and XenDesktop: What's new and roadmap.

Now I have to confess that I am starting to grow weary of the satellite view these sessions deliver. They provide headline information but little substance due to most sessions being limited to 30 to 45 minutes. That said some of the headlines here were quite interesting. The continued development of the remoting protocol and associated enhancements has been relentless over the last decade, and the latest crop of developments had some headline grabbing numbers:

  • 10 x faster printing
  • 2 x faster session interactivity (whatever that means)
  • 10 x faster file transfer (more and the in a moment)
  • Adaptive protocol functions to maximise bandwidth usage
  • HTML5 media redirection (i.e. clientless media redirection)
  • Better resource utilisation (thanks to Norskale)

Again as this was such a sort session I cannot bring you all the meat on these bones without some offline research; however the faster file transfer was of interest to me. They took a PC, a Citrix XenApp server and a VMware (I assume VMware Horizon View) and transferred a file over a WAN connection. The VMware platform took over 10 minutes to transfer the file, I assume that means over a PCoIP transport, the PC took around 5 minutes, I assume over a and SMB transport and the XenApp server transfer it in less than 3 minutes. The secret sauce here that was delivering the speed difference was that the WAN circuit had a 250ms latency and 1% packet loss. This causes problems for PCoIP which is not designed for high latency scenarios, and SMB is not a fan of packet loss, however the XenApp server I believe was switching functionality of it protocol based on the prevailing conditions to optimise the transfer, including switching between TCP and UDP, adaptive compression and deduplication with HDX. Now these network conditions have no doubt be selected to best high light its advantage, but the interesting point for me was that it was faster than a PC. For the longest time we have used the local PC with a native application as the benchmark with which to assess an virtual desktop or virtual application's performance i.e. how close can we get to a traditional setup, but here we are seeing advancements that are enabling better than PC experience, and this is not is some niche use-case like GPU offloading, but in file transfer and printing, things that office staff do every day. A truly interesting development.

 

The improved resource utilisation comes from Citrix acquisition of Norskale. Norskale leverages real-time machine-learning technology to monitor and analyse application and user behaviour. It then dynamically adjust the way applications utilise systems resources to optimize resource allocation across all users. I am quoting here:

"This algorithm intelligence, now unique to Citrix, ensures that each user has the necessary resources to be productive while conserving overall resource allocation in a way that instantly increases server scalability by up to 70 percent, dramatically increasing your ROI"

Wow wow wow, back the truck up, 70% increase in server scalability, that a huge deal, now I am sure that number is a best case scenario, but even if it meant 25% more users per server, that's a huge deal. Less kit, means lower Capex, and less kit to manage therefore lower Operating costs. I would like to see this in a lab environment to evaluate this. We did see not insignificant savings in users density moving from 2008 R2 to 2012 R2 due to the newer OS making better use of resources, but if we can get further efficiencies here, this could be a boon for the service provider. The Norskale solution, is rebranded as Workspace Environment Manager and is used in conjunction with XenApp and XenDesktop.

After a bit of networking with other attendees, a call home to reassure loved ones I am still alive, and some live tweeting of the conference, that completes my morning, so it's off to lunch.

Sandpit

After lunch of something claiming to be oriental and a green tea that tasted like 2 day old cold PG tips, I decided that I had enough of the satellite views and death by PowerPoint and wanted to get my hands dirty. Citrix has prepared a large number of desks grouped to provide different hands on labs. Different folk have different strokes, I am one of the folks that learn best by doing, I feel if I have the technical depth I can talk with confidence to a customer, and that is important to me as I believe the customer buys into you as a sales person as much as the solution. So I sat down for 2 hours and played around with Studio and Director, allowing me to better understand machine catalogues, delivery groups, etc… all delivered via Citrix Workspace Cloud, if you think Azure for virtual apps and desktop and you won't be far off.

Check out a quick video here to see the type of experience I had https://youtu.be/88yLLw-XRKA

There is not a lot of information I can relay to you about the hands on labs, expect to say they are extremely useful to me and are available to any partner who has an account, so if you are as sad a person as me you can play with these labs from the comfort of your own home.

A coffee break followed by some more live tweeting, more networking with other attendees. Take me up to close of play. I now have the choice of more classroom PowerPoint or return to the hotel to produce this blog entry, I opted for the later.

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the blog post author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s employer or other organisations with which the author is associated.

Leon Godwin