When Citrix first introduced the MetaFrame product in 1998, it was available in one edition (just called “MetaFrame”). You could add extra bits of functionality here and there with separately-licensed add-on packs in an “a la carte” fashion.
With the introduction of MetaFrame XP in 2001, Citrix eliminated the modular add-on products and instead bundled them all into various “editions” of the products. Thus was born Citrix MetaFrame XPs (the basic server system), MetaFrame XPa (which added load balancing), and MetaFrame XPe (which added enterprise features such as Installation Management, Resource Management, and Network Management).
At the time, Citrix claimed that they bundled the products together into prepackaged versions because customers demanded a simpler ordering process with fewer SKUs. While this was probably true, it unfortunately meant that if you wanted just one of the “enterprise” add-on features you would have to buy the whole enterprise package—even if it included features that you didn’t want.
Of course this is not unique to Citrix and Citrix certainly can’t be blamed for this practice. After all, this practice is common elsewhere in the software industry (i.e. Microsoft) as well as other industries. (Think of the cable TV and automotive industries. Want the Discovery channel? Sure, for $17.95 a month you can have it along with 25 other channels you’ll never watch. Want power seats in your car? Sure, for $895 you can get them along with the HomeLink wireless system. So what if you don’t have a garage?)
The bottom line here is that I’m not complaining about the fact that Citrix bundles all the options together in the “e” version of MetaFrame. However, I would like to point out that MetaFrame XPe has become the de facto standard for large deployments, and I’ve been to several customer sites where they don’t use a single “e”-based function, even though they paid for the “e” version of MetaFrame.
Do you need MetaFrame XPe, or will MetaFrame XPa do? If you’re using MetaFrame Presentation Server 3.0, do you need the enterprise edition, or will the advanced edition do? To answer this, let’s look at the exact differences between the two editions.
In MetaFrame XP, the “e” version has the following functionality that’s not found in the “a” version: (This information also applies to the “enterprise” edition of MetaFrame Presentation Server 3.0 as compared to the “advanced” edition of MPS 3.0.)
- Resource Management
- Installation Management
- Network Management
- Web Interface Extensions
- WMI Providers
- ICA Session Performance Monitor Counters
Let’s take a look at each of these features one-by-one. Again, I’m not trying to suggest that there’s no value in the “e” version of MetaFrame. In fact, most people who buy the “e” version probably do so because they specifically need one of these features. However, if you read through this list and you find that for one reason or another you don’t need these features, then by all means save your money and buy the “a” version of MetaFrame instead.
The resource management capability of MetaFrame XPe is probably the biggest reason that people choose to buy the “e” version of MetaFrame. Resource management does three things:
- It monitors your servers to ensure they’re functioning as you want them to.
- It records a “snapshot” of each servers’ performance metrics every 15 seconds, allowing you to “turn back the clock” for troubleshooting purposes.
- It allows your servers to “roll up” critical data into a central database that summarizes system activity for as far back as you want to keep it. (Most people use this to track user logons, application usage, etc.)
The resource management component of MetaFrame XPe is a decent product, although most people feel it is inferior to the resource management product that shipped with MetaFrame 1.8 back in the 1990s. That old version of resource management was actually written by a company called “Lakeside Software” and OEM licensed to Citrix for use in their MetaFrame product.
Fortunately for us, Lakeside Software has spent the last five years improving upon that product (called “Systrack”). If you don’t want to shell out the cash for the “e” version of MetaFrame, you can buy the “a” version and then use some of the money you saved to buy the Terminal Server edition of Systrack from Lakeside Software. It’s only $500 per MetaFrame / Terminal Server no matter how many users connect to that server.
Citrix’s automated software distribution product is called Installation Management. Fundamentally, it’s not too different than any other software distribution product on the market (such as SMS, ZENworks, Unicenter, etc.) One of the nice things about Citrix’s Installation Management is that it integrates with the MetaFrame Management Console for “one click” application deployment and publishing. However, in terms of features, it pales in comparison to the other “real” software distribution packages.
Do you need Installation Management? That depends on a myriad of different factors, the biggest being whether or not you’re already using some kind of software distribution package in house. If you already have SMS or ZENworks then there’s no real reason to introduce another software distribution package into your environment.
The network management component of the “e” version of MetaFrame lets your servers communicate their status and be managed via SNMP. This is not very popular in the real world although if your environment is completely managed via SNMP then this is a very good reason to spend the money here.
Web Interface Extension
Formally called “Enterprise Services for NFuse,” the Web Interface Extension is a component that allows you to create a single MetaFrame Web Interface portal for multiple server farms from multiple domains. (The “multiple domains” part is the key here, since Web Interface can connect to multiple farms out of the box.)
Again, I don’t know anyone who uses this in the real world, so it’s unlikely this specific feature would drive you towards the enterprise edition of MetaFrame.
Somewhere around the release of the FR-3 version of MetaFrame XP, Citrix enabled its entire subsystem to be able to communicate via WMI. However, in order for this to work, a MetaFrame server also must be running the “e” version of MetaFrame.
While the WMI providers are not necessarily a big deal in and of themselves, they do enable one critical bit of functionality—the Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) management pack. The MetaFrame MOM pack requires MetaFrame’s WMI interface, which means that it requires the “e” version of MetaFrame.
ICA Session Performance Monitor Counters
One often overlooked function of the “e” version of MetaFrame is the ICA session Performance Monitor object. This allows you to use Perfmon to track individuals intricacies of a particular ICA session, such as latency or a particular virtual channel’s bytes sent and received.
While tremendously useful as a troubleshooting and server tuning tool, these performance monitor objects are not typically used in the day-to-day operation of a server farm.
Zone Preference and Failover (MPS 3.0 only)
One of the great new features of MetaFrame Presentation Server 3.0 is zone preference and failover. I wrote at length about this feature in an article I wrote last week, so I’m not going to detail it again here. However, it’s a major new feature and could single-handedly be the reason that people buy the “e” version of MetaFrame Presentation Server 3.0.
So which edition of MetaFrame is right for you? That all depends on what features you need and how many users you have. (Too few users and the saving will be too small to justify. Too many users and you’ll have to go to a larger corporate licensing agreement with Citrix which only covers the “e” version anyway.)
As of today, the difference in street prices between the “a” version and “e” version of MetaFrame XP is about $55 per concurrent user. An organization of 500 users is paying over $27,000 for the “e” features (on top of the “a” features), and an organization with 2000 users is paying over $100,000 for the “e” features.