Citrix buys Application Performance Management vendor Reflectent. Is this a YAM?

Those of you who attended Citrix iForum last October (or who listened to the podcast) remember that I was really struck by the sheer number of vendors in the new Application Performance Management (APM) space. (This section of the podcast starts at 12 min 36 sec into the show.

Those of you who attended Citrix iForum last October (or who listened to the podcast) remember that I was really struck by the sheer number of vendors in the new Application Performance Management (APM) space. (This section of the podcast starts at 12 min 36 sec into the show.) One of the vendors at that show (and that I spoke with in the podcast at 18 min 36 sec) was called Reflectent. Today Citrix announced that they’ve acquired Reflectent.

To analyze this deal, let’s first look at what an APM vendor is. (We’ll get to the “YAM” part later.) Traditionally, server monitoring products (such as Citrix Resource Manager, Lakeside Systrack, or Microsoft Operations Manager) have recorded data based on server performance monitor (perfmon) counters. Most of these products can trigger alarms, emails, or events based on certain perfmon counters exceeding some threshold that’s been preconfigured by an administrator.

For example, if the CPU utilization goes above 99%, or the free memory drops below 10%, or context switches exceed 200,000 per second, an alarm will go off to notify the administrator of the potential problem.

Products that do this have been out for years, and they work fine. However, the problem with these products is that they only trigger alerts based on perfmon counters, but a high perfmon counter does not necessarily indicate that the users are having a bad experience.

In other words, perfmon counters are great (and necessary) for troubleshooting performance problems after users call the helpdesk to complain, but a perfmon counter alone cannot tell you that the users are having a bad experience.

Here’s a perfect example of this. On your computer, open up the Microsoft calculator. Set it to the “scientific” mode (View Menu | Scientific). Then type in 999999999 and hit the factorial key. (The purple “n!” to the left of the “M+” key.) You’ll notice that your CPU utilization immediately jumps to 100%. (If a warning dialog box pops up after a few seconds, you can just ignore it.)

Most people's reaction is, “Uh-Oh! This is probably negatively affecting my other applications.” However, with the CPU pegged at 100%, try using some of your other applications. What do you notice? You’ll see that your other apps work fine. You can use email, surf the web, and launch new programs—all at full speed—even though the CPU is spiked at 100%.

The reason for this experiment is to show that a “bad” perfmon counter does not always equate to a “bad” user experience. If you were using one of these “traditional” perfmon-based monitoring tools (RTO’s Kevin Goodman calls these tools “YAMs,” for “Yet Another Monitor”), then the tool would start alerting you and you would start freaking out, even though the user experience was fine.

This is the problem with YAMs. They are great for troubleshooting purposes once a real human user reports a problem, but they can only be used reactively. They cannot be proactive in letting you know that there is a performance problem before a user calls the helpdesk.

Enter the Application Performance Monitoring Tools

The new wave of APM tools that I first discovered at iForum attack the performance problem from an user-centric instead of server-centric approach. Tools from RTO Software, Premitech, Reflectent, PerformanceIT, Cesura, eG Innovations, and others take a user-centric approach.

Of course the exact implementation varies by vendor, but these tools all work on the same concept. They essentially “watch” what’s going on within a session to see how long things take. For example, they could track how long it takes from the time a user selects “New | Mail Message” from the Outlook menu until the blank message window pops up.

Some of these vendors even have ICA client snap-ins so that they can collect this data from the client device itself. This data can then be transmitted to the server where it can be combined with the session performance data to create a real-time snapshot of the actual end-user experience.

Once an APM-based alert is triggered for a server, then the administrator can dig in with the traditional perfmon and netmon tools to find the problem.

As a quick side note, in my mind this would be a very cool way to load-balance users. As long as the performance on a box is good, who cares how many users are on it or what the CPU utilization is? Conversely, even if a server is only hosting five users and has a CPU utilization of 4%, if Outlook emails are taking 30 seconds to open on that server, I don’t want to send any more users there until I get that problem addressed.

These APM tools are also cool for monitoring compliance to SLAs.

Who is Reflectent?

Reflectent has a client-side agent that runs on the ICA client workstation. This agent collects local perfmon data at 5-second intervals and maintains it in a client-side database. 5-minute summary data is transmitted to the server where it is stored and aggregated. The server database also collects metrics from the Citrix servers. Then, when a user calls the helpdesk and complains of a performance problem, the Reflectent management console can be used to look at perfmon data from the server and the client. If the users says, “It’s really slow,” then you can counter with, “Yeah, but I see that you’re also downloading 27 movies right now!”

Reflectent also tracks the network performance between the two and application errors. (application crashes, missing DLLs, etc.) All of this data is aggregated for analysis, and you can even compare one point in time to another. (i.e. It worked fine an hour ago, what has changed since then?)

I'm not sure whether Reflectent is a "true" APM product or a YAM (or whether this distinction even matters). I'll learn more about it in the next few days. Hopefully we can get a podcast together with someone from Reflectent.

What will Citrix do with Reflectent?

In the short term, Citrix will focus on re-branding the Reflectent products with Citrix logos. Reflectent had 31 employees based out of Boston, and for now they’ll stay in Boston and operate as Citrix’s “Management Systems Group.”

The Reflectent software compliments Citrix in both the Presentation Server (for Windows apps) and NetScaler (for web apps) product areas, so it’s unlikely that they’ll roll the Reflectent product directly into one of their existing offerings. (Not to mention the fact that Reflectent’s server product costs about $50k plus $50 per user, a pricing model that, while in-line with other APM products, is not directly compatible with Citrix’s other offerings).

That being said, Citrix has mentioned that they are working on building end-to-end user experience monitoring into future versions of Presentation Server (via the “Project Constellation” technologies), and certainly elements of Reflectent will play into that.

The bottom line though is that Reflectent will work across the board in the areas that Citrix is focused on, so this Management Systems Group may grow legs of its own within Citrix.

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Which clients will be supported? Is there going to be support for ThinClients or for instance Linux based clients? 
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Don't be silly....
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As long as theres no extra charge this sounds like a good buy by citrix
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I think it's foolish to think that Citrix would not charge for this.  This should add enough value to an existing customer to warrant an add-on type price (my guess is $50-$75 per ccu).  And don't forget there is a non-presentation server version so Citrix customer can monitor desktops and CPS servers with the same tool.
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How does this product compare to the likes of MOM2005? and is this the kind of technology that will appear in the next version of MOM?

Also I don't think my remote end users will be too keen on my "spying" on what processes they have running on their desktop.  If they have any client issues usually a reboot of their machine fixes most problems.
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http:
With this new release, Operations Manager will:
•Proactively manages business critical IT services including applications, the supporting infrastructure and hardware, and end user clients.


ORIGINAL: Guest

How does this product compare to the likes of MOM2005? and is this the kind of technology that will appear in the next version of MOM?

Also I don't think my remote end users will be too keen on my "spying" on what processes they have running on their desktop.  If they have any client issues usually a reboot of their machine fixes most problems.
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I'm confused on why people think this should be free?   This is a new product that is a pay product now.  Why should it be free now that Citrix owns it?  things cost money to make, money to pay employees and money to market so I think they should come with a price tag.  I really do.  Adding features to PS is one thing and I think IRIS should be a feature of PS but I don't feel a PM product should be free.   If you want free then use RM.  It is a nice solution for no additional cost.  
 
But that is just my two cents...  I get this a lot.  People want things for free so they can make money from them.  Seems a bit wack to me...
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>>“It’s really slow,” then you can counter with, “Yeah, but I see that you’re also downloading 27 movies right now!”<<
 
It's funny but this is almost the exact line the RTO salesman fed us at Briforum! How does Reflectent compare with RTO? At Briforum RTO demo'd someone using iTunes on the client and it showed how much band width iTunes was sucking up. They said nobody else could get this granular and that the others could only gather perfmon stats from the client. Is that true?
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Do we need yet another Citrix monitoring product? we already have alerting in the management consoles, we already have a Citrix mom pack and wmi provider and SNMP add-on for OPenview etc....
 
Why do we need yet another one? or will this product make the rest of what is currently available redundant? i personally would prefer one monitoring product that can display all events from the above plus end user monitoring.  I can't afford to hire yet another Citrix admin to look after another Citrix monitoring product. Just my 2cents.
 
 
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My .02 is that if you have a good end user monitoring tool, then all the other monitoring tools become fairly useless...

Shawn
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ORIGINAL: Guest

Why do we need yet another one? or will this product make the rest of what is currently available redundant? i personally would prefer one monitoring product that can display all events from the above plus end user monitoring.  I can't afford to hire yet another Citrix admin to look after another Citrix monitoring product. Just my 2cents.



 
I think the good news here is that EdgeSight has tools that monitor both desktops and CPS.  So you can monitor the server and the end point with the same tool.
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ORIGINAL: Guest

I think the good news here is that EdgeSight has tools that monitor both desktops and CPS.  So you can monitor the server and the end point with the same tool.


And if it can monitor the complete end-to-end metrics involved in a transaction of an application then sign me up.  If it's another solution that just looks at the Citrix server and the client (which is a good step in the right direction), then it's not so valuable and I expect that most people will stick with their traditional Load Runner and/or home grown tools for doing complete transactional timings, etc.  We will have to wait and see.  I personally haven't used EdgeSight so I can't comment on it's merits or shortcomings.

Shawn
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One more comment on this topic and I'm done.  Claiming absolutely zero knowledge on how Reflectant gathers their endpoint analysis data, I hope they (or now Citrix) understands that this data absolutely can not require a routed connection to be valuable.  If it doesn't traverse the ICA virtual channels or at a minimum a HTTP/HTTPS communication tunnel it's useless.

Ok, I feel better now.

Shawn
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You have a point, but consider this is the context of Citrix's current product offerings and the way that RM has (not) developed over that last few years.  
 
Lookin back to MetaFrame 1.8, and it was fair to say that RM was capable of meeting most peoples system monitoring requirements. Move on to today and the bar has been raised; all RM does is show just how badly Citrix needs to enhance it's system monitoring capabilities.  To maintain competitive advantage Citrix should be positioning this as RM 2.0 and integrating it with the suite for little or no extra cost.
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One adds (bundles) new features in a core product to get people to continue to pay for Subscription Advantage.  If Citrix doesn't add real new features to Presentation Server, the likes of Provision Networks and Ericom will be happy to relatively give their products away to steal Citrix customers. These guys don't have feaure sets that match PS4 punch for punch, but have some features that are hands down better than those in Citrix PS4, or that don't exist in PS4.

Lets say you can pay $350 per Citrix License + CAG Licenses + the cost of another Citrix Product to make sure their product functions properly, you're hitting $500 per user to securely deploy apps.

With an alternative product (pick one) you can get nearly the same feature set for $99, and purchase the best other add-ons money can buy (SSL Gateway Appliance & Monitoring App) and save a sh!tload of $$$.

Don't get me wrong, I use Citrix in my office, because we have specific requirements that PS4 does well, i.e. Bi-Directional Audio & Bandwidth Limiting Policies, but there are plenty of customers that don't need these, that would shoot their sales person if they knew they could have gotten a similar product for 1/3 the cost of what they shelled out for PS4.

Citrix better pack the kitchen sink and lawn mower in Presentation Server, and continue adding new features, or some licensed from best of breed vendors.

ORIGINAL: Guest

I'm confused on why people think this should be free?   This is a new product that is a pay product now.  Why should it be free now that Citrix owns it?  things cost money to make, money to pay employees and money to market so I think they should come with a price tag.  I really do.  Adding features to PS is one thing and I think IRIS should be a feature of PS but I don't feel a PM product should be free.   If you want free then use RM.  It is a nice solution for no additional cost.  

But that is just my two cents...  I get this a lot.  People want things for free so they can make money from them.  Seems a bit wack to me...
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I believe it uses specific ports to communicate with the backend server so it probably won't run over http or https.  Its possibly more aimed at lan users than remote users.  As with most monitoring tools the way the data is gathered and presented to the user be more crucial.  An easy to use and understand monitoring tool is worth its weight in gold so we'll have to see what this product is like once Citrix start to ship it.
 
ORIGINAL: Shawn Bass

One more comment on this topic and I'm done.  Claiming absolutely zero knowledge on how Reflectant gathers their endpoint analysis data, I hope they (or now Citrix) understands that this data absolutely can not require a routed connection to be valuable.  If it doesn't traverse the ICA virtual channels or at a minimum a HTTP/HTTPS communication tunnel it's useless.

Ok, I feel better now.

Shawn

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ORIGINAL: Guest

I believe it uses specific ports to communicate with the backend server so it probably won't run over http or https.  Its possibly more aimed at lan users than remote users.  As with most monitoring tools the way the data is gathered and presented to the user be more crucial.  An easy to use and understand monitoring tool is worth its weight in gold so we'll have to see what this product is like once Citrix start to ship it.



Maybe I'm alone here, but most of the times when I really need a third party tool to tell me what's happening from a client side perspective it's not something that I'm troubleshooting on the LAN.  The LAN is the least troublesome connection to diagnose and it's the least likely connection to have problems.  What I want is a tool that I can prove to a user exactly why their internet/wireless/WWAN, etc. connection is causing their degredation of performance.  I totally agree that having this tool available on a LAN side would be great, but I think if it's not useful for those more limited connectivity clients, then it will fall short of my expectations (and I'm sure others).

Shawn
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This is very exciting news indeed. I have used a number of these products, and Edgesight provides the most complete picture. It provides detailed metrics end to end and leverages Microsoft Reporting Services so one can build their own views. It is not really an application transaction monitoring tool, as somebody asked the question earlier, however it does provide web transaction details and provides a lot of application specific details and an API that applications can write to and central collection of application dump files, very useful in troublshooting events after the fact. The amount of detail that it produces is incredible, useful for historical trending and troublshooting. All sorts of metrics, system, network, application, Citrix specific etc are available so there's something for many types of consumers. There's a lot in there to digest, I am still learning, but am very excited that Citrix is moving into this space to make our live easier by making this space part of their management team.
 
I think this is a good for all, and I am sure it will evolve to be even better.
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I have been trying to use Reflectant for a while and I'm not impressed at all. There is a considerable performance hit on the client side with high disk usage caused by the FBserver element. The console itself just doesn't give any useful info for support purposes either. Why on earth it strips out most of the useful event logs before serving up the results is beyond me. Sure it gives you figures for CPU usage and stuff but the figures just don't seem real. It's as if some kind of formula is applied which averages out the stats or something? Whatever way its doing it it doesn't reflect what the end user is experiencing, thus missing the entire point.  I think the product may be useful for middle management to quickly produce metrics for the upper echelons of the corporate ladder but that's not to say the info will be at all accurate.   
 
It would have been nice to sing the praises of this product as the industry is crying out for proper client management tools. Alas this product missed the point and in my mind, Citrix have bought themselves a lemon.
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I ran across this article which shows why monitoring components is bogus:<A href="<a href="www.correlsense.com/.../%22%3eApplication" target="_blank">www.correlsense.com/.../a> Performance Management</A> 


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Here is the link, sorry:<a href="www.correlsense.com/.../%22%3eApplication" target="_blank">www.correlsense.com/.../p>


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