What I want to see at Citrix Synergy 2018

More on XenApp and XenDesktop Service; a better identity message; more on unified endpoint management; and pricing and packaging for Citrix Analytics.

Citrix Synergy 2018 starts two weeks from tomorrow. There’s no denying that the last twelve months have brought more rough patches for Citrix, with a CEO upset and a massive round of layoffs. However, despite past predictions, Citrix is moving on into 2018.

Beyond this acknowledgement, though, I’m not going to dwell on the turmoil. Instead, today’s article is about the product news, strategy, and messaging that I want to hear at Synergy.

XenApp and XenDesktop Service and Essentials

Ever since Citrix first talked about a cloud-based management plane for XenApp and XenDesktop all the way back in 2014, we believed that it was the future of these products. But as Jo Harder wrote last week, adoption of XenApp and XenDesktop Service, as well as the Essentials line, is still very low. (This data comes from a survey run by eG Innovations and DABCC; we’ll also get another look in a few weeks when the VDI Like a Pro survey data is published.)

As Jo outlined, there are plenty of reasons to either go ahead or to wait on XenApp and XenDesktop management from the cloud. But in the meantime, Citrix customers are getting bombarded with pitches from the likes of AWS, VMware, Frame, Workspot (who Citrix is suing), and others. In addition, there are still complaints that XenApp and XenDesktop Service are too expensive, just like when it first came out. So what will Synergy bring?

Last year, Citrix spent so much time in the keynote discussing security that they forgot to connect with their core audience. (We assumed that this was an overture to potential acquisition suiters.) Let’s hope that this year is different—it would be great to have some back-to-basics talk about the future of desktop virtualization, and why customers should be move on to Citrix Cloud.

(On a related note, one of Gabe’s articles reminded me that Citrix still needs to address RDmi, too.)

A better identity message

Last year at Synergy, when we first saw the Workspace Experience (aka Storefront++), I liked that they were talking so much about web and SaaS apps, identity, and SSO, but I believed they needed to provide a lot more clarity on the topic.

Here’s their plan, as I understand it: Citrix is delivering some basic identity capabilities—most recently, they announced SSO for web apps via NetScaler Gateway Service. But overall, they’re not planning to compete with the likes of Azure AD, Okta, Ping, or other major identity as a service providers—Workspace Experience is BYO ID.

Either way, they need to talk about this more. Identity management, conditional access, and similar topics are absolutely huge in EUC right now, and Citrix isn’t doing a good job of being part of the conversation and making their strategy clear. I want to see blog posts and sessions along the lines of “How to integrate Workspace Experience with your IDaaS” and “How to do conditional access.”

Speaking of Workspace Experience, Pete Downing recently wrote that it’s coming along, but there’s still work to be done to bring feature parity between the cloud and on-premises versions.

XenMobile and unified endpoint management

Another trend du jour is unified endpoint management and Windows 10 Modern Management. Here, Citrix has been on top of things. They started a series of blog posts on this, and not long ago I was briefed on recent and planned updates.

XenMobile has supported Windows 10 MDM for a while, but now they have a traditional management agent for Windows 10, too. It can take care of tasks like Win32 app management, running scripts, managing GPOs and machine policies, and so on. It can work alongside SCCM, and Citrix is planning some back-end integration, so they’re on the co-management train, too. (This is big news!) On the Mac side, XenMobile now has a traditional macOS agent, as well.

In other XenMobile news, the integration with the Intune Graph API is now available, and you can read this useful white paper (PDF) about all the different ways to combine MDX, Intune MAM, and MDM.

Lastly, I learned that Citrix is now de-emphasizing the on-premises version of XenMobile. It will still get a few updates per year, and customers can still buy licenses, but new features will only come based on customer and market demand. Most everybody is interested in XenMobile Service these days, which is of course getting all the frequent updates you would expect from a cloud-based EMM.

Regarding XenMobile at Synergy, my questions are less about specific product features, and mostly just about how much time they’ll spend on it.

Citrix Analytics

We wrote about Citrix Analytics several times since last Synergy, so by now the concept should be familiar—it has visibility into your whole Citrix environment, and it uses machine learning to identity risky users and events. The big questions are what the final product will look like, how useful it will be if you’re not all-in on Citrix, and the pricing and packaging.

Citrix was touting the analytics service at RSA, and around the event I had a chance to talk to Citrix to learn more. Citrix now has a getting started guide available (PDF), and it lists all of the risk indicators that Citrix Analytics will initially surface, as well as the data sources. Obviously, you need to have a tenant in Citrix Cloud, but then you can plug in ShareFile Service, XenMobile Service, XenDesktop and XenApp (both the Citrix Cloud Service offerings and on-premises versions (via an agent you install in one of your delivery controllers)), and NetScaler Management and Analytics Service as well as additional on-premises NetScalers.

Citrix Analytics will ship with the security features we’ve been hearing about, but additional “Performance” and “Operations” dashboards are coming later, too. You can look at NetScaler Management and Analytics Service to get an idea of what these will do.

So what about extensibility and mixed environments? Stan Black, Citrix’s chief information and security officer, told me in a briefing that Citrix Analytics will have an API. This API will pull data in from other sources, for example from an identity management service; or export data to other security products that, previously, may have just seen Citrix as a block box. Overall, Stan gave me a much more collaborative vision of Citrix Analytics than we’ve seen previously. Citrix product managers told me they are looking at integrations along the lines of the Microsoft Intelligent Security Graph API and Cisco.

General availability is planned for sometime this quarter. What’s still not announced—though likely to come at Synergy—is pricing and packaging. I don’t mean to be flippant, but the more I think about it, I think Citrix Analytics should just be enabled automatically for any Citrix Cloud tenant. As mentioned, there are complaints that XenApp and XenDesktop Service are too expensive already, and customers aren’t exactly flocking to them yet. And this just feels like the type of functionality that should come with modern cloud services. For comparison, VMware’s similar product, Workspace One Intelligence, is included in the higher Workspace One bundles. This could be a great value-add to get customers to switch up to XenApp and XenDesktop Service.

Final notes

Back at Summit, we heard rumors of new product names and adjustments to SKUs, so be prepared! There’s only one keynote this year (there were two last year) so there’s going to be a lot to fit in. Hopefully Citrix will have a pitch that lands well with their core customers.

Anyway, I’m excited to head to the show, learn about the next phase of Citrix’s strategy, and connect with industry friends. See you in Anaheim!

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Citrix cloud is a disaster. I see no reason to move to it. It's expensive and makes things harder. AWS Workspaces is much easier for getting things like developer desktops up and running quickly or basic desktops. They also listen to us carefully and have been responding to requests. I've seen previews of Horizon Cloud, it's marginally better than Citrix, but AWS Workspaces is way ahead in getting the basics right.

Citrix Cloud is complex as they try to smash Sharefile, Netscaler and XenApp/Desktop into a single cloud offering. It will just take us too long to deal with and we don't value all the pieces of Citrix Cloud. AWS Workspaces does what we need well for some users, and we can buy what we need. We are seeing the same complexity with VMware as they try to call everything Workspace One. Who is using Citrix Cloud or Workspace One in production? How hard was it? How long it take? We looked at both and they there are just too many unknowns to risk it for us. Curious to hear others experiences. That's why we went with AWS Workspaces that helps us address about 30% of our use cases as part of our move to the cloud strategy. The rest we are still stuck on Citrix with, and may just move to Horizon unless we go all cloud.

We also looked at Frame but users hated the browser experience, so we found it too limiting to bother with. We haven't looked at Workspot, but probably will now to understand more since they must be hurting Citrix and may work well for our other use cases.

It also worries us that Citrix is so weak that they are now suing everybody. They have now sued Egnyte, AVI Networks and now Workspot in like the past six months. It's laughable to us. Our CIO sees this as a huge weakness and acts of a dying desperate company. He has asked us to move off Citrix as a company. We've had years of frustration with them and we see no light at the end of the tunnel.

Despite all this, what really bugs us is the inability of Microsoft to address this. RDmi is just more bits and bites that will take years to pull together, so not help in sight. They have no VDI offering, Citrix does not work in Azure. Microsoft keeps telling us to move to Azure, but why should we? Amazon is better at the desktop in the cloud than Microsoft. Our dev teams are building new apps in Amazon using their other services. So should we just move the remaining desktops into Amazon as we move to the cloud? Are we getting too locked into Amazon who will only screw us on price down the road? Perhaps we should move more desktop to Azure to keep the balance, but then we have desktops serving apps from multiple clouds and don't know what the user experience will be like.  What are others doing or thinking?


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We just went to Workspot after working with Frame for the past couple of years. Ultimately we let the users decide what platform made more sense for the way they worked and out of the 10 person committee that evaluated both products all 10 individuals picked Workspot. Overall very happy with experience and as I company very easy to work with on all aspects from setup to implementation.
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Do WS do random pools? If so, what is their profile solution? Does any version of RDP work with it?  That seems to be their only protocol.
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Yes WS does random pool, and profile solution is set by the administrator. We use the Workspot client but if you could in theory use your own version of RDP.
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Just one question: how many users and companies are on citrix cloud XA/XD? Not on Sharefile but the apps/desktops cloud? Class dismissed.
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The two players in the cloud desktops market that we have successfully tested with are AWS Workspaces (the big guy) and Workspot on Azure. The remainder solutions (including Citrix Xen-blah) are unable to work at scale.
It is a bit sad to see that legacy VDI players have not been successful at transitioning from on-prem to cloud.
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I'm shocked at all this negativity towards Citrix.  First off, every company worth their salt should sue on patent infringements.  You don't think VMWare, Microsoft or anyone else doesn't?  Maybe they don't go public with it, but I guarantee you they do or else Wallstreet would have their buttocks on a plate.  By the same token I guess artists shouldn't sue either for infringement of their work.  Really?  

In regards to AWS vs Citrix vs Azure vs Horizon, they all have their use cases.  30 desktops in the cloud, Citrix isn't right for you most likely, neither is Horizon.  They literally have a use case for everyone.  Want your desktops in the cloud?  Yep.  Want them on prem close to apps and data (that's what I'm doing), Yep.  Want to manage some on prem and some on Azure or AWS, sure we can do that too.  Want to keep PVS on site, sure go ahead.  Citrix moving the control plane to the cloud as SaaS is frickin brilliant.  I don't want to upgrade XD/XA, HA SQL, HA Netscaler, etc, etc.  I just want it done for me and I'll pay a premium for it.  Cloud is always more expensive, everyone knows that.  You don't go to Cloud for economics, rule#1  

I'll manage my business apps and desktops wherever I want them to reside, here, there anywhere.  Not sure why you think Citrix doesn't work in Azure, it's literally their #1 go to for cloud, but if you want AWS, go for it.  Citrix also works with every hypervisor for those that want to keep resources on site, another huge win.  Who does VMWare work with for Horizon??   Times up, no one!  If anyone wants to lock you in, look towards them.  I like the flexibility from Citrix, their user experience is second to none.  Go ahead and POC Horizon and you'll be running back to XA/XD quick.  Sure they check off alot of boxes, but the functionality isn't 1:1, trust me, I know.  Most shops running Horizon have 1 or 2 things going for them.  #1 - They want 1 throat to choke.  #2 - They got Horizon for free or extremely discounted when they mentioned Citrix to their rep.  

Horizon is a good 2 years behind Citrix in user experience.  Are the protocol wars over?  Eh, getting close, but over, no.  I know of a major university moving from Horizon to Citrix for their 3D engineering needs.  

Workspot seems very cool and techy, but honestly I think it's pretty basic for end users.  Seems more of like an RDP on steroids.  Sure it can scale on Azure instantly, but so can everyone else, so where's the advantage.  Going greenfield, the choice is clear to go cloud first for any provider you want as long as you can swallow the bill at the end of the month.  

I've been doing VDI for about 10 years now, but only in the past 2 years has the option of cloud been a possibility for any of these players.  If you've been in this game for 20 years like me (I'm 42), we all built large exchange farms to handle our email and then when O365 hit the market everyone said the same thing, it's costly, I can do it cheaper, too many restrictions, blah blah blah.  Look at the landscape now.  If you're not on O365 people look at you weird and think you need to get your head checked.  Who wants to deal with Exchange?  I don't care when they upgrade me or whatever, I just want it to work and I pay a premium for that.  That's how I feel about Citrix cloud (or Horizon cloud if I was a fan of that - full disclosure I run vSphere onprem for my vm's and Citrix VDA's).

In regards to vSphere.  if I could afford the $225K per year for 4 nodes of ESX, vSAN and NSX on AWS I would do it, but that isn't going to fly with my boss.  I want out of the hardware game / software upgrade cycle.  I just want to manage my servers / apps.  I could care less about the latest Intel chips, nvme, idrac features, firmware upgrades, etc, etc, etc.  
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I wouldn't say Workspot is basic, we run high end machines and use Revit, Civil 3D and Bentley OpenRoads designer as well as other high demanding software applications.  Workspot is our goto platform currently and we recently elected to setup a new office entirely in Workspot and couldn't be happier with the results we are currently getting. We have tried most of the other platforms on the market and what sold us on Workspot wasn't just the speed but how easy it was to work with them and get our system setup and running the way we expected it to perform.
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Given your "experience" in VDI, I am very surprised that you think the Public Cloud is more expensive. Have you given any thought to the soft savings from reduced complexity, better UX (because users can be located closer to the ubiquitous public cloud data centers), lower IT personnel requirements, no HW refresh cycles? Just the increase in user productivity pays for the cloud solutions.

Citrix is trying to port over (more like force fitting) their on-prem solution architecture to the public cloud. Guess how that works at scale? Perhaps seeing is believing.

Users who have tried ALL of these solutions are better positioned to fully understand the differences in performance.
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I should have clarified.  The hard costs (cash) are always more, but I completely agree, the soft costs far exceed the markup to MS, Citrix, AWS, etc, etc.  
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That you have spent 20 years doing the same client-server mainframe-terminal stuff, is probably a good indication why you are not in tune with modern IT environments.

Your post reminds me of the old Novell Netware arguments (it's two years ahead, it's not that much more expensive, it's got xxx feature, some random University uses it for a niche use case). 

Here's the reality: YouTube streams 4k video. VDI bandwidth isn't a thing anymore. The magic Citrix protocol isn't worth the money they ask for.
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Hi Brian,
Please consider doing a review of a retro-RDP app called TSPlus.net. I find that there are many small mom&pop shops with no internal IT staff who still need the old, basic-Citrix functionality without the licensing or complexity headaches.
Thanks!
WLolli
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Correction -- that is TSPlus.co for the website!
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Citrix major flaw was to forget their dependency on Microsoft.  After all, Citrix is just a service that runs on top of Windows, lol.  To that point, maybe it was not such a great idea to end of life XenApp 6.5 which was tied to the Windows 2008 R2 server platform while the next generation Microsoft offering was such a dud.  I mean, Window 8.x was pretty much a dud right? Despite what Microsoft marketing wants you to think, their desktop OS and server OS are not all that different.  If organizations would not move from Windows 7 to Windows 8, why would you move published applications from Windows 2008 R2/Citrix XenApp 6.5 to Windows 2012 R2/Citrix XenApp 7.x? Duh!
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