XenApp, XenDesktop out of spotlight, but not out of mind at Citrix Synergy

Citrix provides more assurances about the future of XenApp, and also announces some lower key, but very significant enhancements to both XenApp and XenDesktop.


Calvin Hsu, VP of Product Marketing, Citrix Desktops and Apps

ORLANDO – At Citrix Synergy 2015, XenApp and XenDesktop, two of Citrix’s core products, gave way to showier products like Citrix Cloud Workspace – even though these products are, of course, big parts of that cloud solution. While XenApp and XenDesktop did not make headturning news however, some fairly important enhancements were announced. The company also clearly made it a high priority to reassure customers about the future of XenApp.

Citrix CEO Mark Templeton’s first point of emphasis in his opening day keynote was to reassure customers about XenApp’s future, indicating the vendor is still doing some damage control from the late 2013 7.1 releases, when they indicated that XenApp and XenDesktop would be part of a single platform, that the XenApp functionality would become part of XenDesktop, and that the XenApp brand would disappear. Response was generally negative, and Citrix soon reversed the decision. Customer feedback, however, continued to express concern, to the point where over a year after XenApp was ‘brought back,’ Templeton felt compelled to address the issue head-on.

“Over the last couple years, we have left some questions in your minds about XenApp,” he told his audience. “The answer is very simple. We love XenApp because you love XenApp.”

XenApp had also been fading from Citrix public prominence somewhat, acknowledged Calvin Hsu, VP of Product Marketing, Citrix Desktops and Apps. “Customers hadn’t been hearing a lot about XenApp at Synergy. It has been several years of mostly talking about XenDesktop, since the peak of the hype around VDI around 2011.”

Hsu said that while in the recent past, XenApp and XenDesktop has seen changes which were life-altering for customers involving the new architectures and significant migrations, the changes this year are much less dramatic.

“There are significant things but not life-altering ones for customers,” he said. “While bringing these technologies into the Workspace Cloud is a lot of the story, the rest is a focus on our customers and our install base, giving them more adoptable technologies in the short term.”

When Templeton announced in his keynote that the lifecycle of XenApp 6.5 had been extended for a year, until 2017, there was significant applause from customers in the audience, something Hsu said came as absolutely no surprise.

“Some of our customers have migrated since the 7.x platform was introduced but a lot – we estimate 70 per cent – are still on 6.5. The major change to the architecture discourages migration, despite the strength of the new architecture. In addition, migrations aren’t really driven by Citrix end of life policies. They are driven by applications, and in this case, Microsoft end of life policies drive Citrix migrations. XenApp 6.5 is on Server 2008 R2, which is still going strong. Until Microsoft is ready to end-life 2008 R2, there’s no real urgency to move.” While Hsu thinks this is likely within the next couple of years, he expects relatively little migration until then. It seems likely as well, that in the absence of any move by Microsoft, the 6.5 lifecycle may well be extended again next year.

A new feature pack was announced for XenApp 6.5, which Hsu termed extremely significant, and whose major enhancements include a new Receiver, Citrix StoreFront 3.0, and new customization capabilities.

“These are all standalone features that don’t require changing the product,” he said. “They are important, but easily adoptable.”

The new Citrix Receiver works with the new Citrix StoreFront 3.0, which is on the other side of Receiver, to unite IT services delivered by XenApp, XenDesktop, and XenMobile.

“StoreFront is very significant for customers because it lets them run multiple versions of XenApp and Desktop side by side, and this eases the migration onto XenDesktop,” Hsu said. It supports versions 5 and up on XenApp and 5.6 and up on XenDesktop.

“The new Receiver is a single point of service for you to get to all the apps you want to publish,” Hsu added. “It provides one touch access to all your mobile workspace, with HDX and MDX unified into one architecture, one pane of glass. We have made it dynamic so mobile and desktop get what they want, and it can be fully customized. We think this is part of the strategy of giving a great experience.

“The other part that’s really exciting here is that this is the first and only unified client for Windows and mobile app delivery – for anybody,” Hsu said. “VMware AirWatch is still not integrated with Horizon. We are ahead of them, and I’m not aware of anyone else with both the Windows and mobile capabilities.”

The customization capability here is also important, Hsu said.

“The new Receiver has a very different way of managing its interface that allows a company to brand it for their users and enabled it to be similar across all types of devices,” he said “Previously we referred to it as the ‘Green Bubble Background’ – the one and only look for Receiver. It is now customizable, so an organization can put in their own branding.”

Another Feature Pack was also announced for XenApp and XenDesktop 7.6, which features a SmartAuditor session recording.

“It allows an admin to set a policy, a DVR for a virtual session, so you can record what you do with applications,” Hsu said.

Citrix also announced the integration of Framehawk technologies into HDX Windows Receiver, complementary technologies that let Citrix HDX app delivery ensure a good user experience regardless of network conditions.

“Framehawk has the ability to be extremely resilient to high resiliency, high loss networks, such as global broadband with tons of bandwidth that get dropouts because some packets don’t make it to end points,” Hsu said. “If you are watching a video, you get buffering and the video gets choppy, and that’s frustrating, but on an app, it brings it to a complete halt, which is worse. Framehawk will keep pushing the frames so it keeps the app working.”

If, on the other hand, you have low bandwidth or a less powerful device, you can flip back to HDX, which is better optimized for those conditions, taking advantage of the complementary nature of the Framehawk and HDX Thinwire technologies, Hsu said.

Finally, a new graphics stack for HDX was announced, to provide an improved experience across a wide range of devices. Citrix says that it will allow handling of 20 per cent more users per server, consumer 30 per cent less bandwidth, and allow the use of very low end devices like Chromebooks.