Every year, Citrix organizes their Citrix Synergy event. This year, the event was held from May 24-26 in Las Vegas, NV. With a new CEO, a restructure of the company, and the competition getting closer and getting more aggressive, everyone was really curious as to what what Citrix would present at this event. Here’s my experience of the recent Citrix Synergy event and my reaction to their newest announcements.
Citrix Synergy 2015 was the last Citrix Synergy where former CEO Mark Templeton was on stage. For a CEO, Templeton was really technically-minded and really loved showing new developments/techniques during his keynotes. The new CEO of Citrix is Kirill Tatarinov, who exudes a totally different personality. Tatarinov’s focus is less on the technical and more on the business and strategy sides of the business. This became very clear during the first general keynote. Unlike Templeton’s heavily-technical speeches, Tatarinov would discuss technical enhancements in short but powerful form. Only one demo was added to the keynote, which unfortunately didn’t end up being as seamless as other demos done by Templeton. For technical people in attendance, which I think was the majority of those at the event, these keynotes may have been a little too business focused, but there were certainly executives at the event who would have appreciated the new angle and approach.
Whereas last year’s second keynote on day two was more business related, this time the keynote amplified announcements made the day prior. More demos (this time successful) were shown. Citrix customers were asked on a high level to discuss how their products were helping their business. Also, striking to many was Citrix’s new marketing strategy. During the keynote, Citrix took direct jabs at VMware with attacks on topics such as vTAX and comparing the performance of Citrix’s XenDesktop with VMware View. As an European guy, I don’t appreciate these kind of selling techniques, but in the US, I saw that most thought of this to be normal. After all, VMware is using the same methodology, so it’s logical that Citrix is adopting the same strategy.
The breakout sessions I attended were much technically oriented. The majority of sessions were led by external speakers, many of whom were people working with the Citrix Technology Professional group, and they provided good content. As the breakout sessions were pretty technical which is what I came for, the overall feeling of the conference was good.
Let’s go into more detail about the announcements made during the event, so it’s logical to begin with the most exciting announcement:
Citrix and Microsoft are starting a renewed partnership.
In my opinion, this is pretty spectacular. Citrix is going to offer a “Windows 10 Desktop as a Service” functionality on Microsoft Azure. Windows as a Desktop as a Service (DaaS) has been, until now, not possible, as Microsoft has not allowed it from a licensing perspective. Furthermore, Citrix and Microsoft are going to collaborate more within the mobile space, where XenMobile will (partly) embed with the MS Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS). This new partnership is worth a whole article for all the details.
Citrix has announced that Citrix Workspace Cloud will be renamed to Citrix Cloud and that available services will also be renamed. Citrix is already notoriously famous for its frequent product name changes, so this is nothing new. Personally, I think the new name is more logical and offers extensibility in the future.
One of the things that fits better with the new name is the announcement that Citrix will be offering the NetScaler Gateway Service via the Citrix Cloud. With this service, no NetScaler Gateway is required on-premises for XenApp/XenDesktop. I like this addition. I see many companies struggling with the NetScaler, so this can be a reason to offload this technology to the cloud if the Citrix Cloud also supports in setting the NetScaler Gateway up easy and quickly.
Additionally, several enhancements have been made to Citrix Cloud components Citrix Lifecycle Management, a product/feature that supports in building and maintaining Citrix infrastructures, and Secure Browser Services, a service that offers a browser in the cloud mainly for backward compatibility or shifting the workload of Internet browsers.
More exciting news in the NetScaler Gateway space is the announcement of the NetScaler HDX Proxy. The NetScaler HDX Proxy is a virtual machine that offers the HDX Proxy, which can secure a Citrix XenDesktop/XenApp session, for free. The set of features is limited and Citrix is using this NetScaler HDX Proxy to get rid of the widely popular and widely used Citrix Secure Gateway product. The NetScaler HDX Proxy can host up to 500 users, and from what I gather, it will be standalone appliance without load balancing or failover concerns.
Another pretty impressive announcement came from a new management product centered around NetScaler called NetScaler Management and Analytics System (MAS). With this product, you can maintain and analyze your whole NetScaler infrastructure. I’m not a NetScaler specialist, but the console looks impressive and displays lots of useful information.
The last thing on Citrix NetScaler is the renaming of Citrix CloudBridge to Citrix SD-WAN, making it now fully part of the NetScaler Family.
HDX Ready Pi
Another really cool announcement was the for the HDX Ready Pi. This Raspberry Pi device is preconfigured with ThinLinx so it can be used as a thin client. Citrix was already doing some refinements about the Pi as a thin client, but that did not previously see how this could be useful for companies, bearing in mind detailed assembly and configuration steps. However, they have now found two companies, Micro Center and ViewSonic, that will do these steps and supply a fully configured Raspberry Pi that includes ThinLinx. This brings the Raspberry Pi to a fully supported system that includes management, for a nice price (around $99). I’m pretty excited about this trend and will definitely try the concept.
XenServer is also fully back on track. During Citrix Synergy, version 7.0 of XenServer was officially announced. Again, Citrix has introduced some nice features:
- Full GPU support for Intel Virtualized Graphics
- Automated Windows VM drivers update management
- Docker container support in Windows Server 2016
- Integration with XenServer in the Citrix Lifecycle Management tool
ShareFile has also been enhanced and details were announced at the event. To highlight some of the most important: Office 365 co-editing and collaboration, secure editing of protected files, watermark printing/viewing, revoking access rights of documents (even with downloaded files), and the ShareFile DriveMapper for XenApp/XenDeskop.
Let’s end with the flagship of Citrix XenApp/XenDesktop and corresponding products, StoreFront and Provisioning Services (PVS). Version 7.9 of XenDesktop was announced at the conference. The most compelling feature is MSC I/O storage optimization. Other features announced include Universal Print Server enhancements, application groups which will result in easier management of Published Applications, Federated Authentication Service support (FAS), and SecureBoot for RemotePC.
For the new StoreFront v3.6, the option is finally available to install StoreFront on a non-domain joined server. Another feature I really like is the possibility to load balance non-identical farms. The third feature announced is the simplification of the configuration of the Citrix NetScaler within the StoreFront, where the NetScaler administrator can export the configuration which can be imported into StoreFront.
Lastly, Citrix Provisioning Services is mostly staying the same; not many improvements have been announced. PVS is now added as a product to the Customer Experience Improvement Program, BDM support for EUFI has been added, and last but not least, the BDM partition can now be updated out of the PVS console.
The most impressive announcement for XenApp/XenDesktop was actually made in one of the breakout sessions. In that session, it was announced that in the future, the Local Host Cache functionality and Zone Preferences will be reintroduced. Both of these features are highly anticipated and are the reason many customers have been holding back. Citrix did not mention any technical details nor a time frame as to when these features will be added to the product, but customers are now hopeful.
Citrix Synergy was a bit different than last year. The keynotes were far more business oriented and the company took a much more aggressive stance against VMware. I like the new vision and strategy, although the aggressive marketing is not my cup of tea. Still, the announcements of several products are pretty impressive. I also like that Citrix already mentioned several upcoming features which will become available in later versions of their applications. The partnership with Microsoft is huge, although we need to see how this will become reality. After all, given the size of both companies, there is a big possibility that other companies will complain about this partnership.
Photo credits: Citrix. Used with permission (thanks, Justin Levy!)