The other part of yesterday’s Citrix / Microsoft announcement was that you’ll soon be able to manage XenApp environments via Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager.
Remember that Systems Center is the name for a whole family of products. Citrix XenApp has always had support for System Center “Operations Manager,” which meant that you could view the health of your Citrix servers and get inventories and metrics and stuff. Yesterday’s announcement was about Systems Center “Configuration Manager,”—the product that used to be called SMS—which is used for remotely installing and deploying software to servers and desktops.
System Center Configuration Manager was originally only able to deploy software that was bundled up into packages that could be installed in an unattended way, although at some point in the mid-2000s Softricity made a version of their “SoftGrid” app virtualization product that also worked with SMS / System Center Configuration Manager, meaning you could use it to “install” apps remotely or to deploy SoftGrid virtual apps.
Since Softricity is the product that Microsoft bought and renamed to App-V, App-V has always been an option for System Center Configuration Manager apps.
The logical result of this is that since App-V and Citrix XenApp Streaming compete, then it would make sense that you should have the choice, with System Center Configuration Manager, as to whether you want to deploy an App-V package or a Citrix streaming package.
Of course we can take that one step further too. Everyone reading this knows that when users need access to applications, you need to focus on the “use case” to figure out what method you should use to deliver that application. In some cases server-based computing makes sense, which means you deliver the app as a published app via Citrix XenApp. In other cases, running the app locally makes sense, which means you stream the app via Citrix streaming or Microsoft App-V. Of course some apps aren’t compatible with those two streaming environments, so for those apps you’d need to package and deliver them via System Center Configuration Manager.
You can see how confusing this can be!
Yesterday’s announcement is about a future (first half of next year) ability to see Citrix XenApp servers from within the System Center Configuration Manager console. This means that you’ll be able to deliver Citrix XenApp hosted (ICA) apps, XenApp streamed, App-V streamed, and locally-installed apps all through the same management console and with the same product. This is especially cool because you’ll be able to pick which technology is appropriate based on a common rule set and evaluation engine.
This is a pretty big deal and very cool!
There’s another aspect to this which is somewhat minor, but interesting nonetheless. Right now, Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager can only deploy software to “managed” clients. (This means clients that are domain-joined and that have the System Center agent running.) But a big part of Citrix’s business has been around delivering apps to unmanaged clients (primarily through their ICA published apps, although XenApp streaming works with unmanaged clients too). So this means that one of the “bonus” benefits of this deal is that System Center Configuration Manager will be able to deliver apps to unmanaged clients.
The bottom line is that Microsoft is putting a lot of effort into System Center, and it’s going to be a huge part of IT infrastructures in the next few years. Citrix to getting in at this level makes a lot of sense, and hopefully they’ll be fully integrated over the next few years when System Center really takes off.