A rundown of the new features that matter in Citrix Presentation Server 4.5

Citrix Presentation Server 4.5 (previously codenamed "Project Ohio") will be released soon.

Citrix Presentation Server 4.5 (previously codenamed "Project Ohio") will be released soon. In this article, I'll describe its new features.

In my mind, the most important thing about PS 4.5 is what it is not. Presentation Server 4.5 is NOT a major overall of PS 4. PS 4.5 has several new features—some of which are really cool—but none of which are architecturally significant or game changing. I think this is okay though. As an admin familiar with PS 4, you can "upgrade" your knowledge to 4.5 after poking around the admin consoles for about 30 minutes. All of the "hard core" stuff—farms, data stores, zones, data collectors, application publishing—is identical in PS 4.5 as it was back in 4.0.

In fact, Citrix Presentation Server has not changed significantly since MetaFrame XP was released. Again, I don't mean this in a bad way. I mean sure, PS 3 added real delegated administration, more useful policies, and enhancements to the way that inter-farm communication works. And yeah, PS 4 introduced a brand-new printing architecture, application isolation environments, and integration with the Citrix Access Gateway and Advanced Access Control. But in both cases, the core architecture remained the same throughout. (This is great news for someone like, say, an independent analyst who makes his living teaching architecture classes. This means that the class content from 2004 is pretty solid even today.)

That said, there are a few new features of 4.5 that are kind of cool. Maybe these aren't things that are going to make you want to upgrade, but certainly if you do upgrade you'll at least have something to show for it.

The most noticeable change you'll see after you install Presentation Server 4.5 is that Citrix moved a lot things around in terms of what's configured where. (I won't go into that here since I kind of ranted about it yesterday.) But once you get past that, there are some things that are kind of cool.

Health Monitoring and Recovery

This is the productized version of an ongoing project within Citrix known as "Project Kevlar." One of the problems that occasionally happens in current Presentation Server environments is that a server sometimes freaks out and partially breaks. The key word here is "partially." If a server totally freaks out and crashes or blue screens or otherwise vanishes, Presentation Server does a really good job of realizing that and not sending any users to the dead server.

But what happens when a server half freaks out? For instance, maybe the Terminal Server subsystem is screwed up so that no one is actually able to log on. This would be bad. But imagine you have a multi-server environment. You probably configured the Presentation Server load balancing so that it routes new users connections to the server with the fewest users. Well if one server isn't letting anyone log on, guess which server is going to have the fewest users on it? And of course the data collector will see that the broken server has the fewest users, so every single new connection will be sent to that server. Of course every one of those connections will fail. This means that one freaked out server can essentially take down your entire farm.

This is exactly the problem that Presentation Server 4.5's health monitoring and recovery (HMR) functionality addresses. HMR performs two functions:

  1. It conducts tests against the servers in your farms.
  2. If a particular test fails, it performs some action.

PS 4.5 ships with a handful of preconfigured tests. You can use the SDK to write tests that do anything you want. Tests might include things such as performing a sample logon, making a request to the IMA service, requesting a Citrix XML ticket, or enumerating a list of terminal services sessions. You can configure these tests to run as often as you want, for example, every 10 minutes.

If any test fails, the system can perform a certain action. This action might be as simple as writing an item to the event log. You can also configure actions that restart the Citrix IMA service, remove the server from load-balancing, or even reboot a server.

One of the cool things is that while you configure multiple tests on individual or groups of servers in your farm, you can also set a farm-wide "safety net" that specifies a certain maximum percentage of servers that can be automatically taken offline by HMR. (By default this is 10%.) This prevents one poorly-written test from accidentally taken your entire farm offline.

Administrator Configuring Logging

While we're talking about preventing accidents, another new feature of 4.5 is administrator configuration logging. Basically this means that you can configure a separate, stand-alone database that logs every single change that's made to the data store by an administrator. This database hooks in at the IMA service level, so it picks up all changes—regardless of whether they were invoked via the Java console, the MMC, a CPSCOM (previously MFCOM) script, or a command-line tool.

For now there aren't any really great options for actually viewing these reports. You're limited to basic HTML reports accessible via the MMC reports center. Personally I'm hoping that someone like Jason Conger writes a "real" interface for this just like his "real" web interface for Resource Manager.

The other limit of this admin configuration logging is that it doesn't have any provisions for "rolling back" changes that didn't work, so you're on your own there. But at least now we have a place to look to see whether anyone changed anything when a bunch of published apps just randomly disappear.

A new version of the Application Isolation Environment engine

Citrix first introduced Application Isolation Environments (AIEs) in PS 4 a few years ago. This is the technology that lets you install multiple applications on a single server that ordinarly conflict with each other. You can use AIE to "trick" the applications into using custom registry and file system areas so that they don't step on each other.

The AIE technology is a major component of Citrix's Streaming Server (Project Tarpon) since it relies on the ability to stream an app to a client without that app conflicting with anything else. In PS 4, the overhead of using AIE was huge, and it really slowed things down when it was in use. Since Tarpon relies on AIE, the AIE technology in PS 4.5 has been majorly overhauled. This means that while a lot of people are focusing on the new coolness of Tarpon, even if you don't want to use Tarpon you'll still be able to benefit from the re-engineered AIE subsystem.

Application Streaming

While we're talking about this, I guess I should mention that PS 4.5 will be integrated with Citrix's Streaming Server / Tarpon product. This happens in two ways:

  • A PS 4.5 server can also be a Citrix Streaming Server, meaning it can stream applications down to non-Presentation Server Windows workstations.
  • A PS 4.5 server can be a Citrix Streaming Server client, meaning you can use another Citrix Streaming Server to stream applications to the Presentation Server instead of manually installing the apps or using IM.

In reality, the first option will only be used in small environments or for playing around in a lab. But the second option, where you stream (and presumably then publish) applications to Citrix Presentation Servers, will probably get to be fairly popular. It certainly fits well into Citrix's dynamic desktop initiative (where a user logs onto a server, and any apps they need that aren't there are streamed to that server on demand).

ICA Display Enhancements

PS 4.5 has a couple of features that should make ICA perform a bit better in certain situations.

  • SpeedScreen Progressive Display. A sixth technology was added to the SpeedScreen lineup for PS 4.5 called Progressive Display. When enabled, highly-complex graphical items in motion can temporarily be sent to the client at a lower resolution so that they can be displayed in real time. Once the motion stops, the image will "snap" back up to the full resolution. This means that the user can get a good interactive experience while scrolling or moving an on-screen object.
  • Improved Tossing and Queuing Algorithm. In some situations, there would be more screen updates going from a Presentation Server to a client than the network could handle. In this case, the ICA protocol driver on the server would send as many packets as it could to the client, but when it got behind, it would randomly drop bits of the screen as it tried to keep up. The result was that screen motions looked choppy and weird. In PS 4.5, the ICA protocol driver on the server has an improved technique for deciding which graphical elements can be discarded (tossed) and which should be held and sent together to the client (queing). Think of it like this: If you had some 15 frame per second screen activity, and the network could only support 20% of that, what would you rather have, a few random chunks that make up 20% of each frame, or 100% of each frame at a reduced frame rate of 3 frames per second?

Logon Throttling

The logon process has always been very resource intensive for a Citrix Presentation Server. In fact, in some cases as server can be brought to its knees just by more than a few users logging in at the exact same time.

To fix this, Citrix added a new load evaluator rule in PS 4.5 that lets you specify the "resource cost" of a user logon. You can use this rule to temporarily show a server as "full" whenever the logon rate exceeds a set level.

Tertiary Component Updates

Along with Presentation Server 4.5, Citrix is updating Web Interface to 4.5 and the first-tier ICA clients to Version 10. (We'll look at each of these more in-depth in the coming weeks.)

What didn't change?

Like I said in the beginning of this article, 4.5 is just a minor update to Presentation Server. There are several components that only received minor updates

  • Printing (Same engine as PS 4, but of course with all the hotfixes "built in." There are some new policy items that mostly refine how client printer settings work.)
  • Licensing (No changes that I've found, except that the graphical FlexLM configuration exe has been removed from the LS folder. You can just use the one from PS 4 or any lother FlexLM installation.)
  • Policies (Several new policy items, but everything else is the same.)
  • Resource Manager (You can apply templates to servers to make them easier to configure.)
  • Installation Manager (You can install applications into Isolation Environments with IM.)

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Thorough article. Thanks for that Brian.
 
I really like the Administrator logging because in most environments i've worked in I've been one of 2 or 3 Citrix Admins and something changes and no one claims responsibility.
 
Richard
www.datacrash.net
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FYI.  I am currently working on extending the configuration logging features of 4.5 by adding some web based reports just like Web Interface for Resource Manager as well as adding some alerting mechanisms.
 
Jason Conger
http://www.jasonconger.com/
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Brian are you really saying that despite taking more than two years between releases the fact that Citrix is not introducing any substantial innovation in PS is a good thing? Do you really think that the PS architecture is so good that it does not deserve any substantial changes after a decade? I think that innovation in SBC is a must-have not a nice-to-have in order that SBC does not become an evolutionary dead-end.
Dan
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Nice overview.
 
2 things I noticed, and didn't particularly like in 4.5 were the fact that if you are running PS4 on Win2000 servers, there is no upgrade path, the package (at least the Tech Preview) calls for a complete reinstall of all servers, and the Streaming is an Enterprise Edition thing, seems like the Standard and Advanced licenses are on their way out......
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I'm not saying that Citrix have perfected their product, but demanding a substantial architectural change from a product, based on its age is unwise. Why redesign the architecture for a product that has been successfully working for a decade? I object to being forced to upgrade everything and re-train all my staff based on a change that's made because the product is "getting old".
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Don't forget the Dot Net 2.0 support.
 
Also I have been using the Web Interface 4.5 for a while now (it was released seperately) and I like the new changes.
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There are some nice new additions but no compeling reasons to upgrade. I wrote an overview of the technology preview release a while back -> http://www.cug.co.nz/features/presentationserver/4.5/technologypreview
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Suppose such a change could increase server scalability by 25% would you still prefer that it not be done? Suppose the MTBF could be substantially improved or the logon speed, what then? And the funny this is that despite the lack of any substantial innovation you are still going to have to retrain your staff for 4.5 because of what has been done to the administrative UI.
Dan
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I was hoping to see some mention of the upgrade path to 4.5 from 4.0. I would be interested to see if anyone has tried an in-place upgrade of 4.0 to 4.5 on a Windows 2003 Server. I have not been able to find any readme docs on this yet.
Is 4.5 final release yet, or can we expect some more refinements to it?
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I wouldn't expect that many businesses require a 25% scalability in a product that allows 1000 servers in a farm. The MTBF can be significantly improved without an architectural change or "significant innovation", and I've been very pleased with the MTBF I've had since upgrading to PS4. Improvements in logon speed can also be made without significant architectural changes. I agree that improvements are always welcome, and I'm not saying that Citrix can rest on their laurels and stop improving the product, but my stance remains that same that PS architecture does not need substantial changes just because it hasn't changed in a while. However, in saying that, the money that Citrix charge for "Subscription Advantage" each year does lead the consumer to expect innovations, but this does not mean asking for change for the sake of change.
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Well, given that you're not looking for changes you should generally be happy with CPS 4.5. For what it's worth, I think that most businesses would be happy with a change that would allow them to pack 25% more users on the same number of servers, or cut down on the number of servers they need to manage without reducing the farm's capacity.
Dan
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ORIGINAL: shappir

Well, given that you're not looking for changes you should generally be happy with CPS 4.5. For what it's worth, I think that most businesses would be happy with a change that would allow them to pack 25% more users on the same number of servers, or cut down on the number of servers they need to manage without reducing the farm's capacity.
Dan

 
Isn't it true that Citrix in a round-about way has already addressed user density per server based on the X64 PS4 that has been on the market for over a year? You gotta give credit where due
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WTS x64 is indeed a great Microsoft innovation, Citrix just created a version that supports it. And BTW Ericom released a version for WTS x64 several months before Citrix did. Also, Citrix on WTS x64 will improve server scalability only if you have lots of RAM otherwise it may actually provide lower scalability. In any event scalability enhancements is just one example. I stand by my claims that innovation is still required in SBC and that CPS 4.5 does not provide it. One example of an innovative technology that Citrix is working on is project Pictor, but that is not a part of CPS 4.5.
Dan
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memory requirements aren't really about Citrix but about how windows handles memory and 32-bit applications.

As for many companies wanting 25% more users on serves, my experience has shown that most companies right now aren't fully utilizing there hardware anyways. Almost every single company i've done work for big and small have never, ever done stress testing to see how many users they potentially could have on a single server. What does this mean? The hardware is underutilized and they could already easily get another 25% more users on the system.


ORIGINAL: shappir

WTS x64 is indeed a great Microsoft innovation, Citrix just created a version that supports it. And BTW Ericom released a version for WTS x64 several months before Citrix did. Also, Citrix on WTS x64 will improve server scalability only if you have lots of RAM otherwise it may actually provide lower scalability. In any event scalability enhancements is just one example. I stand by my claims that innovation is still required in SBC and that CPS 4.5 does not provide it. One example of an innovative technology that Citrix is working on is project Pictor, but that is not a part of CPS 4.5.
Dan
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Jeff,
First server scaling was just one example of where innovation can come to play. Second, while Windows memory management is certainly a limiting factor, tests which we have conducted (as well as tests conducted by our customers, partners and some competitors) have shown CPS 4.0 supporting 5% to 50% fewer sessions than a plain WTS running on the same hardware (depending on hardware config and application mix). That many organizations under utilize their hardware is neither here nor there in the context of innovation.
 
Bottom line is, Jeff, do you think that Citrix is innovative enough in SBC? Do you think they have innovated in CPS 4.5? Or maybe you think that innovation is no longer required in SBC?
Dan
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Brian, not sure if it's the case with PS4.5, but as far as the CAG4.5 goes it requires a new install of their license server. Can anyone verify this is also the case with PS4.5?
 
~Gabe
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The quick answer is yes you will need to upgrade the license server first, or the upgrade may probably (will) fail.
 
 
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I heard a rumour that CSG will not be in PS 4.5 and that users will require a CAG to support secure access.  Can anyone elaborate ?
 
Also, we are looking at upgrading all our existing users from PS XP/V3 to PS4E.  Are we better of waiting for 4.5 and could we upgrade straight to this instead ?
 
thanks,
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Here, everyone has reported that after Upgrading to PS 4.5, server capacity to handle sessions may improve by 25%. Actually if you follow the link given by Citrix and open the PDF where they have stated this, you will find that it is applicable for PS 4.0 though they have given the link under PS 4.5 features.

Does anyone have a document/link where Citrix claims this benefit on PS 4.5? Please share your views. 

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I believe what you are referring to is this: Citrix Licenses Performance Technology from RTO and Aurema. These technologies can improve server capacity by optimizing memory and CPU utilization. In any event, your mileage will vary, and nobody can guarantee you a 25% improvement,

Also, it is worth noting that:

  1. RTO only licensed part of its technology to Citrix. OTOH Ericom and RTO have integrated the entire solution into PowerTerm WebConnect
  2. Citrix eventually purchased Aurema to keep it from going under. It has since discontinued the Aurema products (though I believe it still uses the technology in CPS/XenApp)
  3. Despite all this, as this RTO whitepaper shows, the simple act of installing CPS/XenApp on a TS can degrade its scalability and performance significantly.
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