Oh wow! Citrix Access Essentials is actually cool now!

In 2005, Citrix released a small-business version of Presentation Server called “Access Essentials,” or “CAE.” CAE was basically an all-in-one box server-based computing solution for environments with up to 75 users.

In 2005, Citrix released a small-business version of Presentation Server called “Access Essentials,” or “CAE.” CAE was basically an all-in-one box server-based computing solution for environments with up to 75 users. It had some cool wizard-driven interfaces for getting everything set up.

For my part, I pretty much completely ignored CAE. In fact I’m not sure that I’ve ever written about it apart from passing mentions. I think looking back, I ignored CAE for several reasons, including:

  • There’s not really too much to write about. (The first paragraph of this article pretty much sums it all up.)
  • I don’t typically focus on small business. This is not an intention bias of mine; it’s just that I don’t have too much experience there.
  • CAE is a colossally stupid name. What’s wrong with “Citrix Presentation Server, Small Business Edition?”
  • CAE was limited to single-server environments, so if “access” or whatever is as important as Citrix makes it out to be, then you can’t use CAE if you want any kind of redundancy.
  • The people who buy CAE are not typically the people who read what I write.

I could go on I guess... I’m not trying to justify why I’ve ignored CAE, but instead to provide some context as to why it hasn’t been interesting to me thus far. At some point in the last few years, Citrix released CAE v1.5, but I can’t actually tell you a single new feature it had—I just simply don’t know. Then in May 2007, Citrix released Access Essentials 2.0. Again I more-or-less completely ignored this.

My views on CAE changed when I visited Citrix iForum in Edinburgh, Scotland last month. Upon checking in, I was told that Vicky Reddington desperately wanted to see me. “Cool!” I thought. I hadn’t talked to Vicky in a year—maybe two. She was one of the earliest Citrix EU employees who actually “got” what we were doing. While most people in the company were upset that we were writing our honest opinions about Citrix products, Vicky pulled me aside and thanked me for the work I was doing and told me that Citrix really needed to be kept in check every so often.

She then proceeded to tell me about some cool messaging that Citrix was doing with hp in Europe and asked if I thought it was interesting enough to write about. It seemed kind of cool, and I honestly thought it’d be worthy of an article or two, but when I got back home and thought about it, I just couldn’t get excited enough about the concept to put an article together.

(On a side note, that’s really what drives the content that I write for this site. If I think it’s interesting, I’ll write about it. If not, I don’t. And that’s where the community comes in. I get lots of emails from people saying, “Why do you continually ignore xxx product?” My response is always, “If you want to see information about that product or thought on this site, then by all means, write an article yourself and send it over.” That offer extends to everyone reading this right now. If you have something you want to share, email it to me: brian@brianmadden.com.)

Anyway, my point was that the last time I talked to Vicky was two years ago, when I said, “sure I’ll write about that,” when of course I never did. So when I checked into iForum and heard that she really wanted to see me, I was afraid that she’d ask about that.

The next day I sat down with her at iForum. She sat across the table, smiled, leaned in, and asked point-blank why I have been ignoring CAE. Apparently she’d changed positions within Citrix, and whatever it is she’s doing now, she’s very passionate about CAE.

I leaned back in my chair, took a sip of Coke, closed my eyes and exhaled, saying, “Vicky, there is nothing at all about CAE that is even remotely interesting.”

“That’s where you’re wrong!” she exclaimed, somehow managing more enthusiasm than a minute earlier. “Have you seen v2? We have multiple servers--complete with 100% automatic and transparent failover! We have role-based server configuration! We have simple and automatic status emails to admins! We have an option to buy only the Citrix CALs if you want to upgrade from pure TS!”

“Okay, you have my attention.”

And she kept it for the next 45 minutes as we discussed what CAE had become today. Here’s a synopsis of what I learned about Citrix Access Essentials 2.0:

  • Like previous versions, CAE v2 is limited to 75 users. However, you can build as many Citrix servers as you need to support whatever application mix and usage scenario you have for those users. In the event that you want to grow larger than that, there is an upgrade path from CAE to Citrix Presentation Server. (This is a licensing upgrade path--you’ll have to rebuild your server environment based on real CPS when you upgrade.)
  • In the vein of multi-server support, you can use a wizard to configure the various CAE roles on each server, so you can easily configure one to be an application server, one to be a secure gateway, etc.
  • An easy-to-use email-based alerting system sends status and problem messages to admins. This could be to an engineer at a consulting partner who sets up the server, since many CAE customers will not have a real IT staff per se.
  • Since multi-server introduces some additional complexities, Citrix has built a new automatic failover system where the second server can grab the IP address and everything from the first server. This could let the system stay up and running in a completely transparent way, and then of course the email alert could be sent out to let an engineer know that the first server requires some attention.
  • On the licensing front, CAE v2 is still licensed based on named users, and the USD$249 CAL includes the MS Terminal Services CAL and a year of Subscription Advantage from Citrix. If you then upgrade to “real” Presentation Server, you can keep the Microsoft TS CALs to apply to your new environment. Further, if you already own TS CALs, you can buy a cheaper CAE CAL that does not include the Microsoft CALs.

All things considered, Citrix Access Essentials 2.0 is actually a decent little product. It still suffers from a stupid meaningless name, but at least the product is worthwhile now. So, Vicky, Citrix, and everyone out there, let it be known that I like Citrix Access Essentials! In fact for environments with less than 75 users, it seems to be substantially cooler and easier to use than the full Citrix Presentation Server.

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I think as you did at first, i found Access Essentials to somewhat of a half-hearted product, i had the pleasure of implementing a few of them in v1 and i liked the product... for what it was ..  a simple way to get some Citrix Features at a decent price.

What i think i V2 is a different thing, this is truly becoming a product that can fill the gab between the Terminal Services, which i believe Microsoft themselves focus on 'simple implementations', and the Presentation Server product from Citrix. With the integration to CAG and also to a 'DMZ Server' in the new version2 it has also solved some of the issues regarding security which was a problem in v1.

In short i think this product is actually becoming a good alternative for small implementations with the same users working on the system all day and from home. Giving good functionality at a cheaper named-user-licensing.

I was happy when i learned that Citrix changed their stand and now offer an upgrade path.. when this first started out the wording was pretty much 'if you want to upgrade to PS, throw out your licenses to CAE and purchase new PS Licenses.

 /LamerSmurf

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I must agree with you on the name... its pretty silly, but it sounds like it has the makings of a really neat little product!
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I agree as well, why not just call it Citrix for Small Business, that way it's clear what the product is and who its for.
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So here's a thought... What about those not-so-small companies that want to try out Presentation Server for an initial group of users (the early adopters with the most pressing need for an access solution)? Especially companies that have hesitated to buy CPS because of the up-front cost of services and training. As long as that first group of users is no greater than 75, Citrix Access Essentials would be an easy way to get started, with less up-front cost for admin training (it is all done via eLearning) and implementation services. OK, once you decide to move up to Presentation Server "proper", you'd have to reimplement and invest in the necessary services for a full CPS implementation. But since the initial implementation with Access Essentials is so simple, you wouldn't have wasted much effort. Meanwhile, you'd get to experience how application delivery via CPS works, and you'd be up and running in days instead of weeks. Might be a good way for a reseller to get in the door with some new customers and plant the seeds that will germinate into a full-blown CPS implementation later on...
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very useful feedback...

 75 users is not small in some environments I have worked in...a great way to introduce Citrix, it...appears !

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Where you say "Citrix has built a new automatic failover system where the second server can grab the IP address and everything from the first server. This could let the system stay up and running in a completely transparent way" - how transparent would this be? Surely if the first server fails, and the role gets transferred over, the users' sessions will be ended? If not - how does this work?
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For those looking for a review of Citrix Access Essentials 2.0, please have a look my review of the product at http://www.vcit.ca/wordpress/2007/11/09/citrix-access-essentials-review/

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It seems that Microsoft has enough product to satisfy this market.  What is CAE offering that is unique to justify spending additional money on it?
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