The feature release is back! Well, kind of... On the upcoming 21st of September, Citrix is planning on releasing something called Feature Pack 1 for Citrix Presentation Server 4.5. This Feature Pack adds some band-new features to Presentation Server 4.5. In this article we’ll be having a sneak peak at what Feature Pack 1 is all about.
What’s in a name?
I think that it’s safe to say that Citrix isn’t the most stable company when it comes to the names for the versions of their product. I mean, we went from Winframe, to Citrix Metaframe 1.8, to Metaframe XP 1.0, to Metaframe Presentation server 3.0 to Citrix Presentation Server 4.0 to Citrix Presentation Server 4.5.
This confusion about the naming of some of the products isn’t just limited to the .0 product versions of Presentation Server. Just as Citrix did in the Metaframe XP’s timeframe with their Feature Releases, Citrix is also planning on releasing feature enhancements to Citrix Presentation Server 4.5. This time around it’s called Feature Pack 1.
Feature Pack 1 vs. Rollup Pack 1
A couple of weeks ago Citrix released HRP1 (Hotfix Rollup Pack 1) for Presentation Server 4.5. This also contained some added functionality. So what’s the difference between Feature Pack 1 and Hotfix Rollup Pack 1? Well, it’s kind of hard to tell. The easiest way to put it is that HRP1 set the stage for Feature Pack 1. For example it had some licensing hotfixes and Access Management Console extensions to prepare CPS 4.5 for the added features of Feature Pack 1.
OK, enough about that. Let’s get to what’s really important: the new features in Feature Pack 1. When you look at the feature set of Feature Pack 1, there are two big brand-new features and a lot of smaller new features and some enhancements to existing functionality. Let me give you a run down on the most important stuff:
To me the most important new feature in Feature Pack 1. The name SmartAuditor might not ring a bell but I bet you Project IRIS does. SmartAuditor is the production release of Project IRIS. This new feature in Feature Pack 1 allows for the recording of ICA sessions. Using the familiar management tools you can select which sessions should be recorded based on Server, User or Published Application. This allows for very specific control of what sessions should be recorded.
Since Project IRIS was around in October 2004 one would that Citrix has had enough time to “finish” it. Well, it does indeed look like they did. Smart Auditor packs advanced features like digitally signing recordings (tamper proofing recordings) and adding important metadata to the recordings which you can then use to find a particular recording. Think about metadata like user name, client name, client IP, Published application name, session duration etc.
Note that the entire sessions is recorded from the moment you hit the server. Now this poses somewhat of a challenge. The server is only able to determine whether or not your session needs to be recorded after you hit the server. So even in the most perfect scenario you would miss out on (the early) part of the session. No good. So Citrix solved this by, by default, recording all the sessions. It’s only after the session recording policies are checked that the recording is either stopped and discarded or just keeps being recorded.
One question that is bound to popup is the issue of storage of all these recorded sessions. Well, as it turns out it’s not that bad. Here are some example figures. For users that are extremely interactive (heavy users) an eight hour sessions would yield a video file of about 25MB. The average, less interactive user would yield a video file of about 10 MB for an eight hour sessions. So let’s say you want to record 1,000 (eight hour) sessions per day and assuming that 40% of your users are heavy users and 60% are “average” users, that would mean that you would mean about 16 GB of data per day. Want to keep a history of one month? Make that about 500GB. Is that too much? I don’t think so.
Smart Auditor does require a separate server the Smart Auditor Sever. All Presentation servers also run a Smart Auditor agent to facilitate the recording of sessions. So in terms of storage just get a BCD (Big Cheap Disk) of 600 GB and you can store quite a lot of recording.
This almost sounds too good to be true right? Well, it kind of is. Smart Auditor is only available to Platinum customers …
The other new feature is called EasyCall. This feature that must somewhere be the result of the collaboration between Citrix and Cisco. In a very tiny nutshell Easy Call is a software agent that uses password manager like techniques to “recognize” phone numbers in your session. You can then click the recognized phone number and the Easy Call agent will ask you if you want to dial this number. The Easy Call agent will set up a connection to a special EasyCall appliance which in turn will contact the company PBX . This PBX will then set up a connection to your phone and the number you have chosen to dial.
The cool part is that you can select any phone to be your originating phone. So it could be your mobile phone or your office phone for example. This is basic VOIP stuff actually. Using this feature you can make finding and dialing numbers a lot easier (hence the name perhaps..). You can also take advantage of least cost routing to complete your call.
The feature (the agent) also pulls phone numbers from you Active Directory for easy searching. Additionally Easy Call has a basic call history that you use to track your phone activity and redial from that list.
At some level EasyCall is probably the product of the cooperation between Citrix and Cisco, with Citrix taking care of the agent part. It makes sense: Citrix already had the password recognition technology with password manager and now leveraged it to recognize phone numbers. Supposedly the technique is pretty advanced. It can recognize phone number from almost everything: published applications, local applications, pdfs, scanned documents, web applications etc.
Depending on what the EasyCall appliance is going to cost (it's going to based on the 2010 appliance model) this looks like a nice enterprise feature and that is no coincidence. Right, you guessed it: EasyCall is only available to Platinum customers.
Another big change (or rather set of changes) is set to take place in the licensing department. Citrix calls it simplified licensing. It’s kind of hard to figure what’s changing and when this has changed (because some changes were already in HRP1 ). Anyway, here are the most important changes (as far as I can tell):
You no longer need separate licenses for the products of the Platinum Suite
So instead of having separate licenses for Presentation Server Enterprise Edition, Application streaming, Password Manager and Edgesight now you only need the new Platinum license. The Smart Access feature remains a separate license though. EasyCall and SmartAuditor will also use this new licensing.
One very important thing to note is that this new licensing will technically enforce the Platinum licensing, while this previously was not the case!
The Enterprise Edition of Presentation Server no longer requires an separate license for application streaming
That is if you upgrade Streaming Client to v1.1. Note that you still needs the same total amount of licenses, they just don’t need to be separate streaming licenses anymore.
Application Streaming and Password Manager can be used offline
If this is configured for a user, a CPS Platinum license is checked out for the duration of the offline usage ( from 2 to 365 days).
Other new features
There are also somewhat smaller new features.
New Health Packs
There will be new “Health Packs” to enhance the Health Assistant feature of Presentation server 4.5. These health packs apply to Printing, Local Host Cache, DNS, XML thread and ICA listeners.
x64 support for SecureICA
So now you can configure ICA connection encryption to 64-bit Citrix servers.
This new PNagent adds the ability to change passwords and makes the PNagent shortcuts “real-time”. So when the PNagent has put a shortcut to C:\Program Files\ApplicationX\appx.exe in your Start Menu, now if the administrator changes that shortcut to D:\Apps you do need to login. The shortcut will launch the application form D:\Apps without the user needing to refresh the PNagent.
Windows Mobile 5 and ActiveSync support
Feature pack one supports Windows Mobile 5-based smart phones and PDAs and supports syncing with ActiveSync 4.x as a published application.
True COLOR ICON Support
Web Interface 4.6 already was a prelude to this but now Presentation Server itself also support true color icons. Hurray!
Password Manager 4.6
Version 4.6 adds Vista support and Multi-domain support.
Citrix has made no secret of the fact that the goal of Feature Pack 1 is to get more customers to buy or upgrade to the Platinum Edition of Presentation Server. With the addition of SmartAuditor and EasyCall to the set of features, the Platinum Edition should become a more interesting choice for more customers. Feature Pack 1 also illustrates that Citrix is making a lot of effort in making the Platinum Edition looking like one separate product instead of a suite of separate products. The licensing “simplification” is a good example of that. Feature Pack 1 for mere Enterprise or Advanced customers is a lot less exiting but still brings some nice enhancements. General availability for Feature Pack 1 for Presentation server 4.5 is slated for September 21.