Third Party add-ons: Do you really need them?


I am pretty confident this is the second most asked question after ‘Do I need Citrix?’. The first question we already answered in another article published in April, ‘To Citrix or not to Citrix’ that you can find here.

With the most asked question answered, it is time to take a look at the #2 one. ‘Do I need something else on my Server Based Computing environment?’ you may ask. Note I used the term SBC and not Terminal Services or Citrix. Why? If you think Citrix is the answer for all your prayers and it does everything and a little more, you are wrong. Just ask all the guys you know using Citrix if they use something else to handle problems like printing, profiles, system/interface lockdown and so on. You may be surprised with their answers.

Are there any problems?

Well if we are looking for third party options, there must be a reason for that. Unfortunately most people start looking for them when they start having issues with their environment. And that is the funny part. In real life we usually go to the dentist every six months for a checkup, cleaning etc. But with TS/Citrix most of the time we wait until we feel the pain to start looking for solutions.

But, are there any problems with TS/Citrix out there? Of course! If there were no problems, people like you and me would not be here today working. Secondly there would be no companies out there with this plethora of add-ons claiming to fix something that could be considerably better on TS/Citrix. So there are problems. And, thank God, there are fixes.

The right approach?

Ok so we could just sit in the office waiting for the problems to appear and then we start looking for a solution. Yes, you can do that way for sure. The main problem I see with this approach is sometimes the issue is beyond a solution. And by that I do not mean you will not be able to find a solution for the problem. I simply mean the amount of time you will spend trying to find a fix may be huge. And as anyone here knows, time is money. The more time you spend fixing a problem, the more money this is costing your company.

And this is where most administrators/techies do not get the point. They think that if they find a solution (no matter if it took them one day or three weeks) and did not have to spend a single dime on a third party product, they just saved their company a lot of money!


Unfortunately that is not the case. If you consider a typical (US dollars figures) 60k a year salary, assuming the typical 261 days of work we have US$ 230.00 per day, not accounting for extras your company has on top of your salary like benefits, taxes, etc. So if you spend a week of your time trying to fix something, the cost for your company was more than US$ 1,600.00!

Not counting the waste of time (and productivity) of other employees affected by the issue. Sometimes just getting a user unhappy (i.e. something is too slow, fails many times, etc) will make him less productive. Ok I know it is not that hard to make a user unhappy. 🙂

Bottom line is you must always think what is better for the business side and not necessarily the technical one. Yes, I will get flames for that. But like it or not, for example if sales is not selling anything, it does not matter how great your technical solution is. Or if your solution costs tons of money but something else costing half would do all your company needs, your approach makes no sense.

Ok what all this has to do with ‘Do I need third party or not question?’. Keep reading…

There is more to simply getting the job done…

As you guys know, I am a consultant and have to go to all kinds of customers with completely different, and in many cases CRAZY, environments.

On some of these, after reviewing what they have done, I find that some solutions their administrators put in place not only work but are marvelous feats of scripting techniques! Really cool and impressive stuff.

But there is a major problem with these… In many of these companies, if the administrator gets sick or a bus runs over him and he dies, NO ONE in the company and probably just a FEW IN THE MARKET will be able to understand what the administrator had in mind when he developed that great one line batch file (I love the ones Rick Mack comes up every once in a while! Thanks Rick.) that in one shot creates 100 users, sets their TS Profile path, configures their desktop shortcuts, changes all the relevant registry keys to lock down the session and orders a pizza from the pizza place across the street.

This may be great from a technical perspective but from a business one, no matter what happens to the administrator, life must go on and the business must survive. This usually means finding someone to replace him quickly AND with a similar end-of-the-month pay check.

So what are you saying?

Simple. Pretty much anything can be done without third party add-ons. You can have a happy TS/Citrix environment with no printing issues, no profile problems, 99.9999% locked down and with 10-9s uptime without ever touching a third party tool

But if you disappear from the face of the earth, not even alien technology will be able to figure out what the hell you had in mind when you came up with such masterpieces in the scripting realm. People may even think you were either nuts or on drugs most of the time…

The main idea of using well known and reliable third party tools is not only to avoid problems and fix the ones you were having; but to have an easy to use solution that most administrators can get the hang of in a couple hours. This is critical for any business and any decent IT Manager/Director should be concerned if what his tech guys are doing is rocket science or something other techies could easily understand or not.

As I said, the business side is critical and these tools greatly reduce the pain associated on finding new employees with all the required skills (not only to replace old ones but also when you are expanding your team! The less time required training someone, the more streamlined and smart is your operation).

The really right approach!

Am I nuts? Nope. At least I do not think so.

I do think the right approach is to develop great ‘point-and-click’ in-house tools. But there is usually a major problem with this approach: the time (remember, time IS cost) you will spend doing that (and in a way, reinventing the wheel) and the fact you are back to square one as if you are dead meat, chances someone will be able to look over your code and understand what you did, are pretty slim.

Sometimes I take a look at code I wrote myself and all I can think is that was the craziest thing ever written in software history and there is no way I can figure it out. And as we mentioned above, this is terrible for the business (your company) and should be avoided at all costs!

The remaining option is to get these easy-to-use tools from someone else. And here I do not mean your buddy with great scripting knowledge. Your company must have someone backing them up in case something goes wrong and help is needed. Especially when you tried everything you could think of and the problem is still there. You need someone to call and help you out. That is where the third-party tools, from established companies, come into the picture.

Some will address major TS/Citrix weaknesses (printing and profiles for example); others will give you an easy to use interface, point-and-click, that can lock your TS interface down in a matter of minutes and with great extras on top (like auditing for example). My main point is, these tools are a must-have on any properly planned TS/Citrix environment.


As I said, I do believe we, tech geeks, can develop anything to fix any problem out there. But on the other hand I do think this is not practical. When we do that we end up with environments that not even ourselves, after a couple months, can understand. We look back at these beautiful one line scripts and they look like gibberish to us! Yep, that happened to me a couple times…

Keep this in mind and you will understand why such tools bring a lot to the table and make your life way much easier. You will learn to appreciate it the next time you go on vacation and get no calls from the office because no one there can figure it out.

Simple is in. Rocket science is out.

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