A message from AppDetective to Mark Templeton: Can we count on Citrix to be enterprise class?

Can Citrix become a thought leader again? How did Citrix respond?

Before jumping to the conclusion this is one of my standard knee-jerk rants full of bad language and poor grammar, it's not meant to be. Although I don't expect the CEO of Citrix to know anything about my alias or to read this, I do feel this is an important topic of concern and hope at least some people will understand the spirit of what I am trying to say.

Several years ago, Brian Madden asked the question Can Citrix become a thought leader again? How did Citrix respond? Well today Citrix has a vibrant blog with all levels of the organization contributing, the Access message has significantly evolved, and there have been many positive efforts engaging with customers. Additionally Citrix has ramped up their talent with some great additions in all areas who regularly reach out to the community. So for that I say thank you and well done.

So what is the concern?

Desktop virtualization is here. VMware View is not relevant to enterprise customers for desktop virtualization for many reasons that I'm not going to dig into today blog but clearly Citrix knows this. As a result many of us are trying to implement desktop virtualization today using the Citrix stack, even when it's on top of an ESX hypervisor. As that happens, Citix is becoming more strategic to organizations, and that means Citrx has to continue it's evolution and become an enterprise class provider. To do that several areas need to be addressed:

  • Quality
  • Product leadership
  • TCO & other items

Quality

If Citrix releases a product, as a customer I need to be able to trust the quality of what I'm getting. Sadly that has not been the case with XenDesktop. I've sat back and watched under the premise that the product was new and that rapid innovation was occurring, so therefore problems would occur. However we're now at XenDesktop 4.x and still basic quality issues are rampant in the product. The XenApp product is better, granted it's more mature, but even there it needs to be much better. If you don't believe me, go and look at all the XenDesktop client connectivity, a.k.a. "VDA problems" that have plagued the product for so long. It's clear that Citrix does a sub-par job of testing their XenDesktop product. As a result I (and I'm sure many others) have gotten lots of black eyes with from my user base due to Citrix quality. It feels like Citrix expects their customers to be their testers, and ultimately it results in very slow production deployments of the Citrix infrastructure which ultimately means one can't take advantage of new features quickly. (And is it reasonable to charge maintenance for a product I can't deploy until many months of basic bug resolution that should have been caught by Citrix in the first place?) Of course this is just one example. I could also mention the basic lack of information on how the whole Citrix stack integrates between all the various moving parts: which versions work with which, what's been tested, etc.

Frankly I have to question the competence of the product and engineering teams that develop XenDesktop. Of course there are bugs, but the efforts to date have been rather amateur, despite great response from support teams after the fact. If Citrix wants to drive broader adoption of their stack, then this level of quality can't continue. As a contrast, when I get a product form VMware, I have a much higher level of confidence that it will work and I will be able to deploy it into production faster.

Product leadership

While Citrix has done a great job of opening up in the last few years with blogs and community efforts, current XenDesktop product leadership is bringing back a lot of the old Citrix mindset that we didn't like back. (e.g. Very closed and false certitude that their way is best.) That is how Microsoft behaves, but in this critical time in the evolution and growth of Citrix, the Citrix leadership can't afford to be this way as they need to win customer trust. Interactions specifically with the XenDesktop product leadership have mostly resulted in nothing but canned answers and excuses and very little constructive two-way dialogue that results in action. (Although the recent the addition of the delegated administration feature provides a ray of hope.)

The quality discussions have been there from the beginning, but there are fundamental things that are totally ignored which are important to those of us implementing, not some figment of the imagination of some manager who knows nothing about the desktop and fantasizes about mass market needs that may never happen. It is we, the early customers who have put our faith in Citrix, taken big risks in implementation every day, and suffered black eyes due to lack of quality, and yet Citrix product teams tell us again and again that certain things are just not needed, despite the obvious need to those of us who understand the desktop.

A good example is Reverse Seamless which has been talked about for years. Every conversation with the XenDesktop team has resulted in excuses. Why can't Citrix give a clear answer on this? Are they ever going to do it? It's needed by many of us. Sure there's a commercial version of this feature now from RES Software, but this is irrelevant as I'm not going to pay for something that needs to be a native feature of XenDesktop.

Here's another example where there is still no direction from Citrix and just excuses from the XenDesktop team: HDX Connect. In the comments section Shawn Bass highlights key use cases for implementation in the real world: (For the record I haven't asked to or corresponded with Shawn while writing this blog article.)

"There's another use case that wasn't covered here. That of the IT person who's responsible for supporting/troubleshooting XenDesktop. Today, when there's issues with broker registration, firewall rules, etc. there isn't a way to confirm the basic ICA Client -> ICA Host connectivity is working without incident. This is because the ICA/CGP ports are not opened until after the broker tells the VDA to do so. This makes troubleshooting ICA/CGP connectivity almost impossible. If this was opened up, one could just fire up an ICA client, type in a machine name and boom you're in. Combine this with the use cases of:

  1. Immediate DR ability without having to assign a bunch of machine names to people (I know there's pools, but if the app set doesn't match then this is still a problem)
  2. Being able to have a single user use multiple XenDesktop systems without having to create multiple desktop groups.

And there's probably other use cases I'm not thinking of right now. But the biggest one for me is enabling troubleshooting and firewall traversal."

A key point Shawn makes is about a way to just connect without a broker and no management for troubleshooting purposes. It's an enterprise need. Due to all the quality issues with the broker as well, it's even more important. Please tell us, why have the XenDesktop team completely dodged the issue with HDX Connect? Where is it? What is the direction? Why is it so hard, since we all know you can give it to people given the work done with IBM and Kaviza who can use HDX in their stack.

I'll end this section by simply saying that this kind of ignorance can't continue. The current XenDesktop leadership has done little to gain trust. I have little faith in them driving pragmatic customer needs moving forward. Bring back the more open Citrix who listens. Please have product leaders who "get" the desktop, not the puppets put forward today that ignore customers who are currently implementing by talking about broader market fantasy that may never come true.

TCO & other items

I'm also tired of hearing about VMware Project Horizon delusion and futures that are many years away and a total lack of focus on the real world of the next three years. TCO is still a big issue for broad desktop virtualization. VDI costs more that PCs although it offers other benefits that may make it worth it to drive business needs as in my case. XenApp is the cheapest model, which is good, but I'm also tired of hearing debates of VDI vs. RDS/XenApp. So here are some suggestions:

  1. VDI/XenApp hosted desktops can be made cheaper with better personalization. Brian has a good blog on this. The bottom line is "how to move people beyond persistent desktops?" is a piece of the puzzle that needs to be solved. The current product capabilities are not there, and should be evolved to help both models. Citrix's own CTO Harry Labana articulated the problem quiet well here, so where are the results?
  2. Storage for the VDI model is too expensive. Local cheap commodity storage is the future, and another good Brian blog here. Citrix should take a leadership position here and help guide the market. Ignore all the fools who invest in SAN for the desktop to store stateless system files.
  3. XenApp. It's unclear to the world what the future of XenApp is for the published desktop model, (which is still the lowest cost deployment model for many). XenApp 6 is pretty good, but it's x64 only. What about 32-bit desktops? Will there be innovation in both models?
  4. Citrix should help fix the problems with App-V (there are many), assuming Microsoft will let them. If Microsoft wants to continue to not innovate with App-V I would strongly encourage Citrix to innovate in application virtualization, just as VMware is doing with ThinApp and their IE6 solution (which again many of us need to run locally in our environments).
  5. Integration. If Citrix truly believes that VDI and XenDesktop will be part of the future, then they need to demonstrate that commitment by bringing the products together. Citrix marketing talks about a Flexcast model of multiple desktops which is fine. But the reality is it's several products bundled together to tell a bigger story. That's also fine, but we need to see a simpler infrastructure in the future that brings this stuff together.This will result in a very powerful product. Quest vWorkspace has some of this today, although you will have to configure all their integrated solutions which adds back to the complexity.)
  6. XenClient. Great! It's released! But it's slow, the user experience with multiple VMs needs lots of innovation, and there is a weak management story. As I've written on the comments on this blog many times, MokaFive still has the best enterprise management story for client hypervisor use cases. Then there's that Apple thing also, so having a rich-managed Type 2 solution for Macs to start with would be an awesome addition to the Citrix story. The bottom line here is that Type 1 will be slow to evolve, and offline Apple use cases are a problem today. What can Citrix do to help?

A critical time in the history of Citrix

Desktop virtualization and its evolution are very important for those us already on this path who have invested a lot of skin in the game. There is a huge opportunity ahead for Citrix. VMware is faltering all the way, and doesn't understand the desktop. Citrix has made great progress, has some great assets and some great people that have have positioned them well. But to adopt desktop virtualization, Citrix needs to be a trusted critical part of a customer's enterprise infrastructure. It needs to be enterprise class.

Therefore product leadership that is able to deliver quality products on time, build features that aid real implementation, listen and build trust by not ignoring obvious requests as opposed to arrogant "I know better answers" will be key to ongoing success. Citrix is not Microsoft and therefore can't afford to behave like them. Citrix requires leadership who get it. (Granted there are some who do get it at Citrix.) I've alway enjoyed listening to Mark Templeton whom I think has great vision and comes across very sincerely. I am sure Mark and team will (as usual) paint a compelling vision at Synergy next week which I will follow. However given my experiences over the last few years with XenDesktop, I'm wondering how much I can count on the execution and leadership charted with delivering enterprise class desktop virtualization? No matter how good a vision is painted at Synergy, unless I can trust Citrix to deliver reliably in the enterprise today, that vision will quickly become delusion.

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I'd like to hear from customers who have gotten it right. What have they done differently? Have their expectations been met?


I agree that Mark is impassioned but i also believe Citrix has too many chefs and not enough cooks.


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Brilliant post!


Citrix inspires to lead the Desktop Virtualization revolution so they must provide true leadership.


They can't afford to be stagnant, they always have to listen to the customers and innovate.


I have high hopes for seamless product integration in the future.


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A question for anyone with experience with XenDesktop and vWorkspace.  How do these 2 really compare in functionality, maturity etc please keep marketing/sales gumpf out of this also that of install base.  I need to make a hard decision on which vendor to support and invest in from all aspects as an implementation partner for both vendors?


Please be brutely honest.


Thanks.


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@AppDetective


Great post. I think a lot of points raised apply to more than just Citrix. Reverse seamless would be a welcome feature - again not just with Citrix!


@Louis


The simple answer is... It depends. What are your requirements (or the customers)? Both products have good and bad points.


Personally I love vWorkspace but by no means hate XenDesktop. I love the back-end architecture of vWorkspace. It's easy to scale and integrates very well with Hyper-V, ESX, etc.


I think in terms of display protocol, from the end-user point of view Citrix are in the lead with ICA/HDX but the gap is closing and closing quickly. EOP Xtream is fantastic and will no doubt get better in future releases. I've found flash/media re-direction and USB support to be superior with vWorkspace but server side/remote rendering superior with XenDesktop.


Both will offer support for RemoteFX but my gut tells me Quest will do a lot more with it!


Quest listen to the customer, they do not dictate! Their honest about their shortcomings and don't allow their marketing department to pretend the solution can do something it can't in reality.


Dan.


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Fantastic post and very straight to the point.


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I think Citrix is addressing some concerns with XenDesktop 5, they are definitely addressing mine.


They are making it easier for me to justify SBC VDI, albeit we are utilizing Desktop Virtualization as more of a political approach to enable power. We will see if our Proof of Concept lives up to the hype.


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@Louis @Daniel Have you noticed in the latest release notes of vWorkspace 7.2 beta (I believe it was in 7.1 also) that running the Citrix Receiver inside desktops is not supported?  Something about the Citrix Receiver bits breaking the EOP logic on the vWorkspace PNTools.


This was a show stopper for me as we run hosted Citrix apps from outside resources (think ADP payroll) as well as me not being 100% ready to commit moving all XenApp published apps to vWorkspace for TS.


I've used both rather extensively and like the others have posted, they both have their pros and cons.  I still think user experience with XenDesktop is a hair nicer then vWorkspace, but external/remote connection with vWorkspace is easier then XenDesktop (ie SSL-IT/Proxy-IT vs. having to stand up CSG/CAG)


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@Daniel@Tony, thanks guys constructive feedback and as always it depends.  I was actually waiting for someone to say that vWorkspace being inferior but I guess they both are good products.  As for the Citrix receiver breaking, never had that issue since we don't use XenDesktop currently.  Documentation we only read when things break :)


Louis


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I think these last few comments are digressing from AppDetective’s excellent article – mine included…


Maybe we should discuss product opinions between XenDesktop and vWorkspace on another post/forum…


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I agree about the matter.best of luck.


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Extract from my XD 5 blog post, which I think covers the topic well enough


Citrix’s initial focus on XenDesktop has been to deliver the appropriate level of functionality necessary to meet enterprise adoption criteria. Having now achieved this goal, Citrix is changing priorities and focusing its efforts on ensuring system stability and resiliency. The most significant change here is that Citrix has broken away from the independent management architecture (IMA) system that its development for XenApp (at the time named Citrix Presentation Server) and carried over into the prior releases of XenDesktop.  While Citrix has continued to develop IMA far beyond its initial implementation, the IMA management architecture was better suited to hundreds or low thousands of XenApp servers rather than tens of thousands of virtual desktops.  As part of the transition away from IMA, Citrix has also made a fundamental change to the implementation of XenDesktop’s configuration management database.  The IMA database, while implemented on Microsoft SQL Server (support for Oracle and IBM DB2 databases has also been offered at various times in the past), is a proprietary flat file structure implemented within the hosting database platform. XenDesktop 5 will use a standard SQL Server database configuration which will go a long way to simplifying support.


Just as important, although less visible is a change to the architecture of the XenDesktop desktop delivery controllers. the desktop delivery controllers are now fully stateless in the operation, which will significantly improve reliability during failure him himmode operation.  Citrix XenApp has had stateless operation of XML brokers ever since they were first introduced, and it is difficult to understand why this model was not adopted from the start with XenDesktop.  Irrespective of past design decisions, the introduction of a state-less architecture for desktop delivery controllers will significantly improve end-to-end system reliability. Availability of system monitoring and diagnostic data for problem resolution and remediation, and adoption of modular architecture that supports multiple failure domains within a single management domain to reduce the risk of total loss of service in the event of a system failure.


I think that covers it well enough.


The rest is here if you want to read it - http://www.simonbramfitt.com


regards


Simon


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"Citrix is changing priorities and focusing its efforts on ensuring system stability and resiliency"


Amen! I was talking to Shawn Bass a few weeks ago and he aptly called the early View vs XenDesktop battle a "Feature's Arms Race".  I remember thinking "Why the hell do I care if youtube runs better on one than the other?  That isn't going to make me money"  For me I felt like "features" that would benefit 10% of my users were 90% of Citrix's priorities.  Not to say that it wasn't important to others but as Simon says....(HA I crack myself  up)... the "focus on stability and resiliency" are a much better selling point (IMO) than "Hey, our Video looks better than theirs".


I know that we will always have a Features "Arms Race" and we likely have a better View and XenDesktop for it but if VDI is to become a trusted technology, I want stability, reliability and scalability.  VDI is still a leap of faith for some, especially among gray haired C level execs who have seen "Pretty Features" before only to be burned by a lack of scalability.  


Also, great point on not being Microsoft during a time when we need innovation.  


Thanks for the post AppDetective


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@simonbramfitt. Not sure what point you are really trying to make in the context of this blog post. Sure there has been a features race which has not added key features that are needed. The VDA stability issues are real life issues that have plagued XenDesktop. Scaling to thousands of desktops without tons of infrastructure is not possible. So sure XD 5 is marketing a bunch of new stuff to address scale etc. My point is about Quality which will is TBD with XD5. My points is also a point of leadership, which has failed to deliver key features for those of implementing now to get around all the limitations that are very very real. Arrogant management just ignores the problem with the usual mass marketing features BS when they have no idea how to implement.  If you work in the real world you know what I am talking about. This is not about a Burton Group feature list to get ticks. Those are only good for the analysts and vendors. Customers need this $hit to work. If XD 5 is poor quality, then we will again fight with no features to relief the pressure with immatures new architecture. We don't know yet how well the new architecture will scale on multiple hypervisors. Until then, the smart people are not going to touch it, which goes back to the cry for help.


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@appdetective


It's pretty simple; short-term wins come from a complete feature list, long term wins come from reliability.  Up until this point the majority of sales have been small scale proof of concept deployments, deals that are won through being able to deliver functional rather than non-functional requirements.  Now that the market is moving into larger scale production deployments, so the emphasis shifts to non-functional requirements such as reliability.


That's not arrogance, but pragmatism.  


If you need scalability and reliability today, there are ways to achieve it. They don't come out of the box. but they exist.   You just have to know what you are doing. Now with a shift in focus it will be easier to achieve what you are looking for, which i'm sure will benefit us all.


Regards


Simon


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@simonbramfitt short term wins don't come from useless quality. It results in long term pain from end users who inflict suffering back on IT who were naive to believe the BS features touted by vendors and fanned by analysts trying to make a name for themselves. The VDA quality is a disgrace, and result in users loosing faith in the architecture.This results in many short term deal losses when POCs fail and people loose confidence. It is exactly that kind of backward thinking that is holding back progress. i.e Marketing BS and product mgmt arrogance, certainly not pragmatic and naive customers and analysts who simply offer opinion with ltd current practical experience.


If the product does not have reliable operation, then scale is irrelevant. Sure XD 5 is talking scale now, but they have not yet proven reliability. It's also BS to delude that building complex infrastructures to work around stuff that doesn't work reliably is a good strategy.


If PM were smart, they would build in features that relief pressure as they fix the problems and build scale over time. Scale and features mean nothing until quality is there. Until quality is achieved not a Citrix strong point, alternatives must be offered out of the box.


There are also limitations. Anybody with a half a brain will understand that not all media can be remoted and will take time to reverse engineer to be remoted if there is enough demand. Therefore the flexibility to run some stuff locally is required, and why reverse seamless is a real life scenario. If you are still F'ing about with 200 user pilots, it still matters because confidence must be built on how to deliver all application user cases, or like most people you sit stuck in POC reading analyst feature punch lists that are way too neutral to be useful for real world implementation.


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I think it may be time to temper some of the vitriol with facts.


In a CIO survey that Morgan Stanley performed in January and March this year of enterprise plans for desktop virtualization.and


27% of respondents were planning pilots


9% had pilots in progress


17% had small deployments planned


8% had small deployments in progress


5% had large deployments planned


1% had large deployments in progress


1% had cancelled planned projects


Less than 10% of respondents had production projects in progress (of course if you have firm evidence to the contrary, let's hear it).  Furthermore review of feedback presented here and elsewhere suggests that the number of people reporting difficulties with XenDesktop deployments (yourself excluded) is not that great. Under these circumstances, premature focus on reliability and scalability delivers little market advantage and allocating resources to delivering core features necessary to meeting enterpise requirements alongside those needed to scale-out production deployments is perfectly valid.  


Given that Citrix has indicated XD 5 will be shipped this year, I think it is safe to say it was already acting to deliver a more appropriate infrastructure architecture alongside the work to deliver missing enterprise features, and I would trust that you would accept that shipping new features as they are ready for release is a valid stategy to take even as work on a new architecture is progressing.  


Regards


Simon


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@appdetective


IMO reverse seamless does not coincide with the vision of Citrix.


Reverse Seamless is a feature restricted to ONLY having a local app on a local desktop being pushed into your Remotely hosted desktop. This feature is soley a Server Side feature.


Reverse Seamless is a feature that involves a "double-hop" sortof speak, where two OSes are "layered" to complete the computing enviornment. The advent of XenVault proves that Citrix thinks the "double-hop" approach is old school, after all the purpose of 2 corporate computing environments of the same purpose is redundant and unessecary.


The advent of XC and client hypervirors in general enables an opportunity for a different approach, a Client Side feature for Secure Application Sharing.


But instead, pushing corporate (priveledged) apps to non-priveledged environments which has the same result.


At the end of the day, Reverse Seamless is a not so useful feature because of it's limitations and requirements of needing a local OS and Remote OS.


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@simon you are missing the point. I am not disputing adoption stats which are low. What I am disputing is the insistence that there should not be simple to add features to drive adoption faster to help customers who took the plung to work around the gaps which won't be addressed fast enough.  I suggest you go and ask some large customers who are doing this stuff how things are going or have been. I'm not going to name them here to be fair. Explain to customers who are taking heat everyday that Citrix will get there and see their response to the reality they face. This is not some academic analyst survey that is so broad that it looks back at data as opposed to understanding where things are going.


I am also disputing denial at any scale about quality. Even for the 1%, the fact that the VDA is tested on a customers dime is unacceptable. Issue after issues, Citrix clients forever have been buggy as hell which makes them so difficult to roll out to production users.  If you want to defend that with some logic of they will get there, go for it. You don't have to face real world users.


Quiet happy to respectfully disagree, by all means continue to tweet to @brianmadden that things are not working out with me. It's the difference between an analyst mind set, and actually doing this stuff everyday. Not a personal attack on you.


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@Icelus Looks like Citrix showed something at Synergy Berlin based on what I saw on the twitter stream, so I beg to differ that they won't do it.


The use case is very simple. Not everything will work remotely so I can't bet the house on remoting protocols from any vendor. Again all vendor BS that they want you to believe the fanned by analysts who have no clue about real world and talk to a broad set of naive customers to write their reports. Analysts just pay back what they hear for the most part, they are not very good for the most part as they miss the DO day to day experience.  Many business need to run business apps with multimedia etc. That's just one use case. Can't wait around for XC, or some remote protocol innovation that may never happen. It provides an options to help complete the desktop vision with the bulk of the content hosted centrally.


Even if you are right. Citrix has given no direction in this area, and it's a sore point for years.


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@appdetective


First, sorry to digress from your great article.


Second, I didn't mean to say Citrix won't do it, the demand just won't be there.


It's because of the technology behind streaming apps/os to endpoints and allowing the execution environment to be local. This way management is centralized while execution is local, when execution is local then Reverse Seamless being a server side feature is not needed - Secure Application Sharing is needed.


When customers deploy an infrastructure with the primary use case of centrally managed apps/os and distributed computing it makes the use case for Reverse Seamless obsolete because it is a SBC feature. That was my point.


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@Icelus Centrally managed locally executed with XC sure. I get the app sharing need there when multiple VMs are used.


This is about people who want centrally hosted but need to deal with exceptions that must execute locally. Not a broad use case, but important features that let's your project continue. Just think you are in the middle of your VDI deployment, then a new app is written or purchased that 100% must run for the business. HDX, PCoIP, RDP, SPICE, ALP etc can't run it because it is new. Does that mean your centrally hosted desktop infrastructure can't run it? Even if you run locally on XC or other, the bulk of your apps still run on the hosted desktop and you don't want to flick back and forth between the screen and annoy end users. It catches the exceptions, and helps over come objections.


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Rule #1 Before communicating research your audience


20 + years designing and managing enterprise windows environments including 10 yrs as senior architect with responsibility for a XenApp environment of 200,000 users and 80,000 concurrent users used to deliver an electronic medical record system.


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Yes Simon I know you worked on XA at Kaiser permanente, a short stint at IBM I believe after that and then the Burton group and now you are free blogging again. You are experienced and smart and I enjoy your blog. But you know that a XA farm that has a black hole problem can impact many users. That is not way to run a business. You know full well the ica client issues of the past and the quality issues of XA. I respect your opinion, but I will respectfully disagree with you when you make excuses for an immature product that does not work with $hitty leadership who don't get it. This is just a repeat of past mistakes already made by Citrix. Trust I understand your point about evolution of a product as it matures. Today if you were trying to implement at Kaiser scale with XD you'd be singing a different song. It's what's happening now, not what you did in the past.


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