Citrix tunes XenApp for Windows Server R2
App-V virtual embrace
Citrix has unveiled XenApp 6 after re-architecting the product from the ground up to take full advantage of Microsoft's Windows Server 2008 R2.
While Citrix Systems is busy mixing and matching its various application, server, and PC virtualization products, XenApp - formerly known as Presentation Server and the software that allows for application streaming from central servers - is still the key product that drives sales and profits at the company.
Microsoft no doubt approves of XenApp's new-found support for Windows Server 2008 R2, which debuted last fall with a Hyper-V hypervisor that's better equipped to compete against Citrix' XenServer and VMware's ESX Server. That said, XenApp 6 has been modified so it can assume control of centralized and virtualized applications that use Microsoft's App-V alternative to XenApp.
This is ever the way with coopetition. And if Microsoft ever cuts Citrix off in such a way that it cannot continue to make products that leech off the Windows stack, you can bet that some hotshot law firm will be getting a call and a very juicy case about one millisecond later.
According to Alicia Rey, director of product marketing for the XenApp line at Citrix, by completely re-writing the XenApp code and optimizing it for Windows Server 2008 R2, the company is able to boost the scalability of a Windows box by around 15 per cent. (That's a like-for-like comparison, pitting the XenApp 5 announced last year against XenApp 6, with both running on the same physical server and both running Windows Server 2008 R2). Citrix says that it has validated a server farm running the Windows Server 2008 R2 and XenApp 6 combo supporting up to 150,000 concurrent users.
The updated XenApp 6 also can leverage Active Directory's group policy manager, which makes it easier for system admins to manage groups of users who are given access to streaming applications. XenApp 6 also has a new single management console, called AppCenter, that replaces a number of different consoles that have been used up until now to manage Presentation Server and XenApp as well as the applications they stream.
The AppCenter interface has been made to resemble Microsoft's own System Center management tools as much as possible, with similar drag-and-drop control of sessions, servers, users, and other aspects of a XenApp setup. The version 6 update also has new role-based installation wizards, which makes it easier for admins to set up application users, and cuts the time to do so in half.
While XenApp does the pitching for streamed applications, the Citrix client for doing the catching is called Receiver, and with this update, Receiver can now play on more client devices. Specifically, XenApp 6's implementation of Receiver can support Apple Mac OS X clients and smartphones running Google's Android variant of Linux. Citrix is only support Mac OS X clients based on Intel processors, however, which means 10.5 and 10.6 (in either 32-bit or 64-bit mode).
Smartphones and eventually smartbooks running Android can be at the 1.5, 1.6, or 2.0 level and use the latest Receiver to access hosted and streamed applications running back on Windows Server 2008 R2. Receiver already supported Windows XP, Vista, and 7 clients as well as Windows Server 2003 and 2008 servers acting as clients, and it could run on any Linux client or server with the 2.6.18 or higher kernel and the glibc 2.3.4 or higher C library. Receiver was also able to run on Apple iPhones at the 2.2.1 or 3.0 level and current versions of Windows Mobile used on other smartphones.
Now with added HDX
XenApp 6 also has a bunch of new HDX features, which is Citrixpeak for doing clever things on the server side so video and audio streaming from the servers back to the clients feels local even though it is not. HDX also allows for USB peripherals to plug into local clients and interact with hosted Windows instances and streamed applications. XenApp 5 allowed for USB-attached flash and disk drives to be linked to XenApp sessions, and with XenApp 6, cameras (including Webcams), microphones, headsets, point-of-sale peripherals, and other USC devices can plug into the client in real time and be seen by XenApp.
The software also has new codecs that use 90 per cent less bandwidth than those in XenApp 5, and CD quality audio as well as hooks into Microsoft Office Communicator as well as VOIP softphones such as Skype. Windows 7 clients have smartcard support too.
Citrix is once again touting its Dazzle interface for streaming applications down to end users, which is part of the XenApp stack. Dazzle presents users with an interface that looks like an online store, and they subscribe to applications rather than simply have a zillion apps pushed at them by system administrators. The news with this release is that in addition to being able to allow subscriptions to applications packaged up for XenApp, XenApp 6 has plug-ins that allow for applications that were formatted for Microsoft's own App-V application virtualization and streaming software to be served up by Dazzle.
But that is not the end of it. XenApp 6 itself allows for App-V applications to be published from XenApp and has a plug-in so App-V applications can be managed from XenApp and be streamed down to the Receiver client. In other words, Citrix just made App-V irrelevant. Microsoft is not, as far as Rey knows, building any capability into App-V so it can host XenApp applications and stream them down to its own App-V client.
XenApp 6 will be available for download on March 24. The Advanced Edition, which is the entry product, costs $350 per concurrent user. Enterprise Edition allows for greater scalability and is aimed at larger installations, and it costs $450 per concurrent user. Platinum Edition, which has all the bells and whistles, costs $600 per concurrent user.
Last October, Citrix started pouring all the goodies from XenApp into its XenDesktop 4 virtual desktop infrastructure package, turning it into something of a Swiss army knife of virtualization. None of that means Citrix is going to kill off XenApp any time soon, and Rey says that Citrix intends to continue to offer XenApp as a standalone product and make enhancements to it.
The reason is simple: the vast majority of Presentation Server and XenApp customers pay for maintenance. Depending on the quarter, services attach rates for these lines ranges from the high 80 per cent to low 90 per cent range, and you don't mess with that. You do everything you can to protect it.
For customers who want to go all out on desktop virtualization, XenApp 6 is now being rolled into XenDesktop 4, which is priced based on named users or devices, not on concurrent users. XenDesktop costs between $95 to $350 per device or user, with the price changing based on the feature set.
One last thing: Upgrades. Because of the substantial differences between XenApp 5 and 6, upgrades are not simply a matter of doing downloads and getting a cup of coffee. Customers who are on Subscription Advantage support contracts with Citrix will be able to get the XenApp code (or the updates to XenDesktop 4), but they have to plan for their upgrades.
The XenApp 6 software will run only on Windows Server 2008 R2, with XenApp 5 supported on Windows Server 2003 and the first release of Windows Server 2008. Citrix will encourage customers to go with the former combo, of course, and that might mean Windows upgrades concurrent with XenApp upgrades at many shops. To help make the transitions easier, Citrix has several hundred customers who have been testing out some migration tools since last December for moving to the new XenApp 6. These tools will be available in the second quarter. The tools will also help upgrade from prior Presentation Server and XenApp releases, not just do the XenApp 5 to XenApp 6 hop. ®