Citrix plans to end support for XenApp 6.0 in 2013. What's that? You're still migrating to 6.0?

Andrew Wood wrote a nice blog article about the end of life of a number of key XenApp-related products.

A few months ago Andrew Wood wrote a nice blog article about the end of life of a number of key XenApp-related products, and it reminded me of some conversions I've been having with a number of my customers about this topic.

Like all big vendors, Citrix maintains a product support lifecycle policy for XenApp (as well as all of their other products). The current lifecycle timelines are available at CTX122442. I'm not going to spend any time in this post discussing the differences between End of Sales (EOS), End of Maintenance (EOM) and End of Life (EOL) as Citrix's Jeff Muir wrote an excellent article describing all of this in great detail.

Instead, the main point of this article is that Citrix would like all of their customers and partners to cease using XenApp 6.5 Beta (err, I mean XenApp 6.0) by July 2013. In addition, they'd also like you to stop using XenApp 4.5 and 5.0 as well. What does this mean to us?

It means that you have exactly 17 months from right now to architect and migrate your existing Citrix infrastructure from XenApp 4.5, 5.0 and 6.0 over to XenApp 6.5.

I see several major problems with this and I'd like to break the discussion down into three separate parts. They are:

End of life of XenApp 4.5 on Server 2003

End of life

Server 2003 SP2 is officially end of life by Microsoft on July 14th, 2015. Citrix ends support for XenApp 4.5 on March 31, 2013. This means there's a 27 month window between when Citrix drops support for XenApp 4.5 and when Microsoft stops supporting the core platform. There are some legacy apps out there that won't run on Server 2008 in 32-bit mode let alone on Server 2008 R2 which is 64-bit only. For the customers stuck with these legacy apps your solution is either to migrate to a pure RDS environment or migrate away from Citrix and over to Quest or another competitor if you can't get your legacy apps off XenApp 4.5 by then. Of course you can buy extended support from Citrix for 4.5, but I'd rather migrate off from XenApp and buy a few Ferraris with the spare change left over ;)

Server 2003 is rock solid!

I've been happily running XenApp 4.5 on Server 2003 in many customer environments and the reality is that is that it is just a rock solid platform. Barely any Citrix related stability issues, barely any OS-related stability issues (ok ignore print drivers for a moment). XenApp 4.5 just runs and runs. Compare that with XenApp 5.0 on Server 2008 and XenApp 6.0 on Server 2008 R2 which were substantially poorer code quality from my perspective and XenApp 4.5 on 2003 looks like the platform of choice as long as one can milk it for.

IE6

Perhaps a small problem for small and medium customers, but quite a bit problem for Enterprise customers with old crappy apps. IE6 is a big problem because it only runs on Server 2003 and isn't available to install on Server 2008 or Server 2008 R2. So if you have some legacy apps using IE6 your only option is to stay on Server 2003 with those apps. For that situation, I'd strongly recommend talking to Quest about their extremely low cost RDS solution specifically designed to support IE6 dependent apps.

Migration

As long as you're running HRP5 for XenApp 4.5 (ok "XenApp 5.0" is what Citrix calls it, but it's 4.5 seriously), you can leverage Citrix's XenApp 6.0 migration tool CTX125471 if you're planning on moving to XenApp 6.0. The migration tool will help you move over published applications, policies, etc into XenApp 6.0. It's command-line based rather than GUI-based, but it does the job. Alternatively, if you want to move right to XenApp 6.5, the built-in Migration Center utility is a GUI based system that allows you to migrate from XenApp 4.5 HRP5+/2003, XenApp 5.0/2008 or XenApp 6.0/2008R2 to XenApp 6.5.

These utilities are designed to be used in parallel farm migrations. You cannot mix farms between 4.5/5.0, 6.0 and 6.5 so you must build the systems in parallel and then use Web Interface to aggregate the two farms together. There is one other option for migrating XenApp 6.0 to 6.5 in place, but I'll discuss that in the XenApp 6.0 section below. By far the most difficult part about a migration from 4.5 to 6.0/6.5 isn't the actual Citrix pieces because you probably could reconstruct all of your published apps and policies in a weekend if you really needed to. The biggest challenge in this migration is whether or not your apps are compatible. Moving from XenApp 4.5 where a majority of farms were deployed on 2003 32-bit to 2008 R2 which is 64-bit presents a number of challenges such as OS compatibility, 32-bit vs 64-bit challenges and new security technologies within Windows Firewall, UAC, DEP/ASLR, UI0Console Detection, Windows Resource Protection, IE8/IE9 compatibility and security restrictions, CredSSP, architectural changes to service privileges, etc. Most likely you'll spend a bulk of your project time just testing and remediating your applications. BTW, it might be a good time to look into the recently acquired Citrix's AppDNA solution or Quest's Changebase as tools that can help you with some of this analysis and remediation work. Neither tool is perfect, but if you have a ridiculous number of apps and no time to conduct full blown testing, then the tools will be of great value to you during your migration.

End of life of XenApp 5.0 on Server 2008

End of life

Server 2008 is officially end of life by Microsoft on July 10, 2018. Citrix ends support for XenApp 5.0 (2008) on July 15, 2013 (yeah 3 months after 4.5!). This means there's a 60 month (or FIVE YEAR!) gap between when Citrix drops support for their platform versus when Microsoft ends support for the core platform.

Not a big surprise

Not too many customers adopted XenApp 5.0 on Server 2008 and ultimately that was probably a good thing. It wasn't the most stable platform and 2008 R2 was so quickly behind Server 2008 with a completely different architecture that it was only a matter of time before this platform would be doomed to be replaced by 2008 R2. I feel like this would have happened very rapidly if 2008 R2 wasn't 64-bit only which I think severely limited it's uptake in the early days. Ultimately XenApp 5.0 on 2008 is sort of the ugly duckling at Citrix that never turned into a swan. Why was 5.0/2008 such a bad platform? Aside from what I've already mentioned regarding 2008 R2 being right behind it, it still suffered from some architectural changes that introduced app compatibility issues along with the fact that Citrix was late delivering XenApp 5.0 by about 3 months past their intended release date and about 6 months after the release of Server 2008. Also, several new enhancements/features that were delivered in XenApp 4.5 lagged behind on their 2008 counterpart until later Feature Releases. I believe all of those things contributed to slow adoption of XenApp 5.0 on 2008, but the heads up that 2008 R2 was right around the corner was really the nail in the coffin.

Migration

Well hopefully you don't have anything on XenApp 5.0 on 2008, but if you do the same general migration strategies apply as listed above for XenApp 4.5. From an application compatibility perspective there are still some challenges moving from 2008 to 2008 R2, mainly from an improved security perspective, etc. but if you're already running on 2008 you've dealt with a lot of the OS security improvements, UAC, etc. so moving your apps to 2008 R2 will really be mostly about 32-bit vs 64-bit and a handful of other challenges. The app migration issues from 2008 (especially if you're on 64-bit 2008) to 2008 R2 are substantially less than moving from 2003 (especially 32-bit) to 2008 R2.

End of life of XenApp 6.0 on Server 2008 R2

End of life - Server 2008 R2 is officially end of life by Microsoft on July 10, 2018. Citrix ends support for XenApp 6.0 (2008 R2) on July 15th, 2013 (again 3 months after XenApp 4.5). This means there's a 60 month (or FIVE YEAR!) gap between when Citrix drops support for their platform versus when Microsoft ends support for the core platform. Citrix has XenApp 6.5 available which has a longer lifecycle on Server 2008 R2, but even that product is end of life on July 24, 2015. So even the latest XenApp 6.5 still ends support three years prior to Microsoft ending support for Server 2008 R2. The biggest issue I have with the retirement dates of XenApp 5.0 and XenApp 6.0 having the same expiration is two fold:

  • XenApp 6.0 is a much more challenging platform to migrate to vs XenApp 5.0/2008. Due to this factor, many customers have been experiencing a very long migration cycle to get their applications onto Server 2008 R2 / XenApp 6.0. I know of several customers who are partially through their migration to XenApp 6.0 right now and based on these timeframes they'll be doing it all over again soon (albeit a quicker migration in most cases).
  • XenApp 5.0 was launched on September 10, 2008. This means that it will have been on the market for almost seven years when retired. XenApp 6.0 was released on March 24, 2010. Therefore, XenApp 6.0 will have a total lifetime of just over three years when it's sunset. How can this be that a substantially more difficult platform to migrate to has less than half the lifetime of a product that is much easier to migrate to? The reason is that Citrix has introduced XenApp 6.5 and has decided that they would much rather support that platform ongoing. XenApp 6.5 was released in August, 2011 which gives it a total of just under 4 years of life. Better than XenApp 6.0, but probably at least a year short of what most Enterprises would be looking for.

Stability

I joked earlier that XenApp 6.0 is sort of like XenApp 6.5 Beta. Anyone that reads this who was an early adopter for XenApp 6.0 probably knows exactly what I'm talking about. Between Server 2008 R2 and XenApp 6.0 there were loads of issues. Heck we're up to well over 100 hotfixes and HRP1 was just recently released for this platform. For a while there I was wondering if HRP1 would ever come out, or if Citrix would just keep pumping out hotfixes.

Migration

If your applications are already running on XenApp 6.0 that means they are already on Server 2008 R2 64-bit. Therefore, you should have almost no app compatibility challenges moving to XenApp 6.5 on Server 2008 R2. However, XenApp 6.0 and 6.5 cannot be part of a mixed farm. Therefore, you must take one of three migration strategies:

  • Build two farms and aggregate through web interface and manually move your applications over through publishing changes.
  • Leverage the XenApp 6.5 Migration Center to move your farm objects (published applications, etc) between the farms. You will still need to install all your applications on XenApp 6.5, etc but this can save a lot of time instead of manually re-creating farm configurations. This also still requires Web Interface farm aggregation.
  • Leverage the XenApp 6.0 to 6.5 In Place Upgrade Utility. It may not be quite fair to call this an in place upgrade utility as Citrix doesn't directly support an in place upgrade from 6.0 to 6.5. Rather what this utility does is automate what would otherwise be a manual process of uninstalling XenApp 6.0 off of a server and re-installing XenApp 6.5 on that server. If you have an existing XenApp 6.0 footprint and you're not sure how your applications were installed on your XenApp 6.0 servers, this can be an effective way of getting you to XenApp 6.5 without having to deal with figuring out how to re-install your apps. This utility does not help you get your farm resources over to 6.5, you would still need to use Migration Center to do that or manually re-publish apps, etc but this will help you get from 6.0 to 6.5 on exiting server builds. All of the same rules apply with respect to farm aggregation through Web Interface.

This topic is something that I have been discussing with a number of my customers over the last 6-12 months and I hope it's something that many of you have been thinking about as well. I know that there has been a quite heated discussion about this topic within in private CTP mailing list over the last year. In those conversations there are some CTPs with a "Good riddens!" opinion. There are others like myself and Pierre Marmignon @pmarmignon who spend a large portion of our time with large enterprise accounts who take a very long time to complete migration projects like this. It's particularly frustrating to be half way through a large migration project like this only to tell the CxOs that now that this project is almost to a close we're going to have to start up the next Citrix-related migration project. Let me be the first person to say that I truly do understand how difficult it is for Citrix to maintain developers on multiple platforms, and none of us want Citrix to be at a standstill from an innovation perspective simply to hang on to the legacy stuff. However, it's also of vital importance that with an Enterprise product comes a responsibility to provide an Enterprise level support lifecycle. What would I like to see Citrix do? Simply support any kind of Enterprise related product with a minimum of 4-5 years of product support. No need to match Microsoft's 7-10 year support lifecycle, but ending things at just over 3 years is a difficult pill for large customers to swallow. Should XenApp 6.0 be sunset this soon? I say no.

So am I blowing things out of proportion here or is this a real problem for customers out there?

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