Citrix revises end of life dates for XenApp, but what does that really mean?

Back in January I wrote a blog article called "Citrix plans to end support for XenApp 6.0 in 2013."

Back in January I wrote a blog article called "Citrix plans to end support for XenApp 6.0 in 2013. What's that? You're still migrating to 6.0?" which received over 20 comments and over 15k views.  For some, it was a bit of an eye opening as they were not aware of Citrix's lifecycle retirement plans for XenApp.  For others who knew about the plans, it was an opportunity to voice their concern over early retirement of the XenApp add-on for a Windows Server product that still had plenty of life left in it.  I highly encourage you to read through that blog to get a better understanding of what was happening with XenApp product lifecycle.  The best part of this blog article is that Citrix did take notice and did post a response to my blog openly seeking feedback from customers.

Not long after that blog went live, I had several private conversations with people from Citrix who wanted to better understand what the concerns were from the community with respect to these end of life dates.  I tried to make it clear that the primary issue with the lifecycle is for larger enterprise organizations where a XenApp upgrade project might occupy anywhere from 6-18 months of effort and the frustration level that once that upgrade is complete you're immediately launched into another upgrade to move yet again.  Let's face it, there's a lot of frustration out there that isn't entirely Citrix's fault, but has more to do with the industry in general struggling to figure out the move to 64-bit Windows as well as dealing with security enhancements in Windows that are causing lots of problems for old, legacy crappy applications.  As someone who has spent many years working in large organizations I can bring out hundreds of horror stories of bad applications, but that's for another blog. 

Citrix Responds!

After having the private conversations with Citrix, I half expected it to fall upon deaf ears and never go anywhere.  To my surprise, the exact opposite happened and Citrix did actually take this into consideration and in May 2012 released a revised Product Lifecycle for XenApp on their website.  This revision to the product lifecycle was accompanied by a blog article by David McGeough named "XenApp Lifecycle Policy Extended" explaining the basics of the revised policy.  Given the revised dates involved, it may be a little difficult to understand where a Citrix product ends support vs. where a Microsoft server OS ends support and therefore it may be helpful to view all of this in an overlaid form.  Gabe Knuth put out a great blog article "Citrix XenApp and Windows Server support and End of Life timeline" that helps to visually understand where these overlaps occur.  

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet...

While I'm personally thrilled that Citrix reviewed their lifecycle policy and has extended their support phases to be more inline with Microsoft's policies, I think it's important to look at what these policies involved to see whether or not they match functionality.

Citrix End of Life

According to Citrix's lifecycle milestones definition website, End of Life is defined as "The date that signifies when security related hot fixes, technical support and product downloads will no longer be available. Technical support for other issues will be limited to information contained in the Citrix Knowledge Center and Support Forums. If the issues cannot be corrected through this method, then an upgrade path or migration to the latest version or product replacement is recommended. The EOL date will be a minimum of six months from the EOM date; however, Citrix reserves the right to change the timeframe at its sole discretion based on business needs or technical risk for customers."  Which basically means that you won't get any security hot fixes, nor will you get regular paid support. In order to get support on the product, you will need to enter an extended support contract with Citrix.  This means it will cost you a lot of money to get support on the product.

Citrix End of Extended Support

According to Citrix's lifecycle milestones definition for EOES website, End of Extended Support is defined as "This milestone signifies when a specific product release will no longer be covered under the Extended Support Program. The EOES milestone for a Citrix product version is intended to align with Microsoft's current End of Extended Support milestone for the corresponding server OS version. This should enable customers to plan their XenApp migration as part of the underlying OS migration planning. The Extended Support Program puts customers in control of their upgrade strategy by offering technical support and maintenance after the End of Maintenance (EOM) milestone. Refer to the Software Support Programs page for details on the Extended Support Program and other Technical Support programs applicable to this product."  Which basically means this is the complete end of any form of support for this product, whether under a special paid support contract or not.  The verbiage here seems to indicate that the Citrix EOES is aligned with Microsoft's end of support on the core server platform product, so let's look at that next.

Microsoft Mainstream Support

According to the Microsoft Support Lifecycle website, Mainstream Support entitles a customer to the following items:  Request to change product design and features, Security Updates, Other hot fixes (bug fixes), Complimentary Support (when included with product or license program), Paid Support (per incident or Premier/Essential Support).  Basically everything is up for grabs during the mainstream support lifecycle.

Microsoft Extended Support

According to the Microsoft Support Lifecycle website, Extended Support Phase entitles a customer to the following items:  Security Updates, Paid Support (per incident or Premier/Essential Support).  So the key differences between Mainstream Support and Extended Support is that in extended there is no longer any free support provided, there are no non-security related hot fixes offered and a customer cannot offer suggestions to change product design (duh!).  If there is any ambiguity about this, review this TechNet blog article "An explanation of the Extended Support phase for Business & Developer products"

Now that we've broken down each of these support phases, let's take an example of how this might apply to a product such as XenApp 6.5 (I won't pick on XenApp 6.0 as I realize everyone seems to want that one to die).

Citrix lists the End of Life for XenApp 6.5 as January 4th, 2016.  That seems like a nice end of life date and means we have another 3.5 years of working with XenApp 6.5 before it goes away.  However, come January 2016 we won't have any security hot fixes for XenApp 6.5 nor will we have any per incident paid support options.  You could certainly choose to purchase an Extended Support contract from Citrix, but that would be your only way to receive support on this product after that date.  XenApp 6.5 runs on Server 2008 R2.  From a Microsoft perspective, that product receives it's end of mainstream support on July 9, 2013 (so next year right around this time).  However, Microsoft provides Extended Support for Server 2008 R2 until July 10, 2018 (6 more years from right now).  What is the key difference between what Citrix is providing vs. what Microsoft is providing?  It's two things:  1) Security related hot fixes.  2) Per incident paid support.  If you're not a huge organization that can't afford a very expensive extended support contract it's nice to know that you can still get per incident paid support from Microsoft even if it costs you a few hundred dollars each time.

This doesn't necessarily mean that Citrix has to change their policy on this subject.  We all want Citrix to continue to innovate as fast as possible and move this technology forward.  I do think it's important for people to understand exactly what support they are able to receive on the product and how those support offerings are different between Microsoft and Citrix.  Microsoft has probably one of the best Tech Support groups in our industry bar none.  It would be extremely difficult for Citrix to compete with that.   However, you should be aware of what you receive with both parties in order to ensure you can support whatever platform you deploy within your organization and that you plan appropriately to move off the products in time to retain the support that you need.  Hopefully this article helped you better understand those positions.

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