Citrix – Where did it go wrong?

Coincidence or not, a funny thing happened last night, two days before I leave for one of the Citrix CTP meetings at HQ. I had a dream and when I woke up this morning I knew I had to put it to words in a blog post. So here you have it.

It is all about Citrix. What it was and where it is now. To understand this post we must take a step back and I have to tell you a bit of my story. One that has been tied to Citrix in ways many people are not even aware of, dating all the way back to when all they had was an OS/2 based product.

Also having an understanding about someone’s background does help quite a bit when they write about something. So here we go.

I did a bit of everything. Technical support on both sides of the fence, meaning manufacturers and resellers. Also did lots of development, a long time ago. Sure as it was really a long time ago it was all Pascal, Clipper, DBase, etc based. Tried to stay up to date on the subject (one of the reasons I even took the Big Nerd Ranch iOS class for a full week – highly recommended) but with many other things on my plate, development is more of a hobby these days.

Then when time came, I had to grow a business. Had to compete with Citrix (yes, early 2000s) and Provision Networks. And here I must say we did extremely well. Library of Congress, John Deere, Time Warner Cable, Jet Propulsion Labs, all our customers.

We were the first company that realized many companies (Citrix was a great example) were selling products that had a ton of functionality but at the same time, tons of customers were buying these and using only a handful of features the products had. So we broke it down into modules. People could now buy what they needed and not what the manufacturer wanted you to buy. That is why we grew. And grew fast.

Long story short, Terminal-Services.NET is today what you have on Parallels RAS. Yes, that Parallels. The one you probably have on your Mac, running Parallels Desktop.

Remember Citrix Project Iris? Session Recording as you know today. We beat Citrix on its own game, releasing the first ICA/RDP session recorder BEFORE Citrix had its own.

So I learned all the way from developing and testing, to growing a company, to selling a company and to starting over. Keeping an eye on the market, its trends, what was available and staying relevant (meaning staying in business when you are as small as we were as a company).

That is why I do believe I am qualified to comment on Citrix. More than most, as not many in the industry coded, created products and started/sold companies. Some are techies only; others come from a CXO background only, with no hands-on creating products or even using them. Not the case here. Whatever product you know in this industry, I used it. I tested it. And deployed for real at real customers. You get it what I mean, I am certain.

Now, Citrix. What went wrong?

I think several things contributed to that and I will explain some of these.

  • Too much forward thinking. Hey I get it. Looking ahead is needed. You try to predict where the industry is going. Where customers will be next. All great. I had to do that for my own companies. Problem is, when you focus too much on what is ahead you forget to look at your rearview mirror. Citrix did a lot of that. Like almost mandated all employees to break their rearview mirrors. The list is quite big, with some acquisitions you never heard of and some you heard and thought, “WTF?”. To name a few, ByteMobile, Podio, OctoBlu, etc. By not looking at the rearview mirror you do not see where your competitors are. You do not see what is going on today. You lose focus. You lose market share. Some may even start to think you are lost. Customers come out of keynotes thinking ‘When the hell will I ever use that?’. People need to see products and solutions they can use today. Or in six months. Not in six decades.
  • Bad Apples. Listen, everyone may get a bad apple one day. That is part of like. But when you get a lot of bad people at top management positions, what happens next? They flood the company with their buddies. If someone is dumb and their circle is full of dumb asses, chances are all their buddies are dumb asses too. That means the company is now flooded with dumb asses. It happened at Citrix. And it took its toll. Not saying there is no way to turn it around. Sure there is. But they will have to shake it up quite a lot and bring new blood to the company, exactly what you are seeing now. Also keep in mind I am not saying everyone there was like that. Far from it. Many GREAT people there. Problem is, if a lot of people at the top are like that, the great ones under will never be able to make a difference. It is like fighting an uphill battle with an army that is 100x smaller. Sure, sometimes miracles happen. Not the case here. No miracles at Citrix.
  • The hype-surfers. You know that type of guy that is always surfing the hype waves? The ones that all the sudden are only talking about the current buzzword in the industry? This usually happens on marketing-driven companies. Companies where at the core are full of marketing people but lack the hardcore techies. The guys that understand technology. And also lack the hands-on people, that understand the technology but are dealing with real world customers and problems on a daily basis. Citrix was full of hype-surfers for years. Just look at what happened when VDI became the hotcake. They thought it was a great idea to kill XenApp, their bread and butter. The product that brought the bacon home. I do not need to remind you or the whole industry about what that did for Citrix. Or where VDI stands today, compared to what many people said it would be back in 2010-2012.
  • The Channel. When you start to screw around with your own channel partners, do not expect great things to come out of that. Many partners are loyal but at the end of the day they have bills to pay. They need great products and customers. If now you are stealing customers from your own partners, you do not have a partner anymore. No more loyalty. Many will think, ‘screw you’. Happened at Citrix. How do you think VMware and many others gained market share? Sponsored tweets or facebook pages? Nope. Thank many of the Citrix partners for that. After being back stabbed they opened the door to the devil. Not saying VMware is the devil. Far from that. But it was (and it is) a great competitor, one that was eager to get more traction, more market share. So they did it.

The problems are much more than what I wrote here. And I am still baffled to see many things still wrong at Citrix, not at the technology level. I mean in lack of vision, of cohesion. Not knowing how products should integrate, on what to deliver next. Even worse, not seeing exactly what customers and the industry as a whole are after.

That said, there is hope. The company still has some pretty good people. Bright engineers. And more than that, they seem to realize the company as a whole screwed up and they are ready to listen. Time will tell if that is the case or not and we will be able to clearly see that, probably in 6-12 months.

Until then, let’s all pray for the best.

And Citrix, if you need help, you know where to find me.

CR

 

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Citrix vs. Cloud Platforms. Yawn.

Ok after reading Gabe’s article and then Brian’s take on it, instead of replying I decided to write a whole post about it. That is why you are reading this.

First of all I want to resume Brian’s post for you. I think he should start working for Gartner as he is becoming the master of failed predictions (perfect fit if you want to work for Gartner – not sure if you know this but Gartner has a lot of mediums and Gypsies on staff and is responsible for buying 83% of all crystal balls made in America) and his latest post kind of falls into the same category.

The main idea on both posts is if VMware or another player releases seamless windows apps in their cloud offerings Citrix is fucked.

Here is the deal why IMHO that is not the case and even Brian seems to contradict himself on the post he wrote.

1. The cloud. Oh the cloud. Amazes me to see most CIOs seem to have learned nothing from the whole Snowden/NSA episode. If all corporate systems and intellectual property now lives in the cloud, you just made NSA much happier. The same way Snowden put up their arse, gathering all that information and sharing with the public, don’t you think it would be possible for a Snowden Jr, to get confidential corporate data and give the finger to the NSA and go living in China or Russia with all that info ready to be sold overseas? Do we really think a pharmaceutical company with crazy drugs being developed will consider doing anything in the cloud? Or Lockheed Martin, Bombardier, making Area 51 flying shit , etc? The list of corporations in the Fortune 500 that would be MASSIVELY affected by something like this happening is simply huge. So going to the cloud just makes NSA life easier. Bring the cloud onsite and at least you have a little bit more control and chances to guarantee NSA is kept out of the door.

2. Ok I mentioned bringing the cloud onsite and Brian does mention that, meaning a common platform is there for on-premise and off-premise deployments. But on the same article he also states “Microsoft has started talking about how future versions of Windows Server will be more like “mini on-premises instances of Azure.””. That means this does NOT exist today and only Jesus knows exactly when it will see the light of the day (Nadella or Nutella as I prefer, does not know the answer for that, trust me). So as of today and for at least 3-5 years this is not happening mainstream. Also keep in mind if Windows Server 2016 does have all this shit built-in and working 100% (what is never the case with anything Microsoft releases – for God’s sake they cannot even get RDS to work 100%) companies will still have to go through the exercise of testing and validating such platform what in itself takes years for many Fortune 500 companies. These guys cannot simply change platforms overnight. The FDA would shutdown ANY pharmaceutical attempting to do that overnight. Simple as that. So the reality here is this is still YEARS away.

3. Given point #2, that means a solution, to be called a SOLUTION, and not a HAE (Half Ass Effort) has to support BOTH on-premises and off-premises TODAY. So if someone (i.e. VMware) releases something that only works off-premises, in a cloud platform, we have a problem. What do I do with my on-premises stuff? Ignore it? Choose another vendor to deal with the on-premises scenario only? That is a fucking nightmare. Now dealing with two products and two vendors so I can address my on/off-premises needs. Keep in mind this would still be the case if someone releases a platform that can indeed deal with both scenarios flawlessly within the next year. Why? Because you will still need to test and validate such platform BEFORE going full production with it (point #2). Simple. Common sense here people.

Resuming: as of today and for at least the next two to three years things will still look very similar to what they are today and if you do want to be a leader down the road you must have a platform that deals with the IT landscape of TODAY and with the IT landscape of TOMORROW. Sorry to say but VMware is nowhere near it, in terms of addressing SBC/VDI on-premises and off-premises.

Now if you do not need to test or validate anything, do believe ‘cloudfying’ your whole IT infrastructure is a great idea, and the NSA does not exist, Brian is indeed into something with his article.

CR

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RDS 2012 and Remote Control. A workaround is found…

As most of you know, when Microsoft shipped its best RDS build to date (Windows Server 2012), it had to screw up something. It is part of the Microsoft culture. Deliver something good but make sure you screw up something.

I am ok with the screwing up part but I would appreciate people telling me in advance I am going to get screwed. The only person that can indeed screw me with such short notice is my wife AFAIK.

As Microsoft does not fall into the “My Wife” category they should have told us Remote Control was going to be removed from Windows Server 2012. Nope, they did not say anything even to us the RDS MVP Gods.

So after the Remote Control fiasco I decided to find a way to get at least some sort of half ass solution for the problem Microsoft created. Thanks to a great session this week here in Seattle during the MVP Summit delivered by the Multipoint Server guys, I realized we could come up with something.

Before you attempt to reproduce what was done I must clarify a couple things

  1. I am no licensing monkey. I know nothing about how the Ghetto Remote Control (as I coined it) is supposed to be licensed. Plus I do not care.
  2. It is almost certainly unsupported and if you call Microsoft and tell you are doing that, you are on your own. And you may get in shit as well. And if you tell Microsoft you read that here on my blog make sure you understand you are going to hell.
  3. I am not supposed to be liable for your actions. Again this is a Ghetto hack and unsupported. So you break it, you fix it. Not me.

All that said, here you have what I tested and know it works. Oh if you do not know what MultiPoint Server 2012 is, Google is your friend.

What do you need:
– MultiPoint Server 2012. If you have MSDN/TechNet, it is there. I have tested with Premium but given what we are doing I would assume the regular one will do the trick. I may be wrong though.

How to do it:

  1. Ideally create a VM somewhere and give it 2vCPUs and 2GB RAM (more if you want it to work faster). Boot off the ISO you downloaded from TechNet/MSDN. It is just a regular Windows install really.
  2. Once the server is installed, go to one of your RDS Session Hosts servers and browse to \\your_multipoint_server\C$. Under Program Files\Windows Multipoint Server you should see a Connector folder.
  3. Copy the whole folder locally anywhere on the RDS Session Host box and run the WmsConnector.exe file as Administrator.
  4. Just follow the wizard that is really simple. This will install the MultiPoint Server connector on your RDS Session Host. This has to be done to all RDS Servers.
  5. Once you are done, logon to your MultiPoint Server and launch the MultiPoint Manager. You should see the following screen.

    MultiPoint Manager 2012
    MultiPoint Manager 2012
  6. On the right hand side corner you have the “Add or remove personal computers”. Click on it. On the screen that will follow you should see all the RDS servers you have where the connector was installed. If you do not see them (i.e. they are on a different subnet) simply enter the IP address where it says “Personal Computer name”  and click “Manually Add”. If you see them, well then simply click on the “Add >>” button.

  7. Once you did that with all RDS servers they should show up under “Managed Personal Computers”  as you see on the screenshot above (where you can see my server named iqb-2k12rds and with a “Connected” status.

You are done.

So now, how do I remote control users? Still on the MultiPoint server, simply launch the MultiPoint Dashboard. The following window will show up:

MultiPoint Dashboard

Right there you will see all the users connected to the RDS Session Host servers (admins are NOT shown). Simply click one of the users (you can actually see a “live” view of the session) and on the ribbon at the top click on “Take Control” (or right-click the session and select it on the menu that will appear). The user should get a message and once he approves you are now remote controlling the user.

It is worth mentioning that a chat window shows up on the user session so you can actually chat with the user. Yes, a feature from the 90s delivered to you by Microsoft 22 years later. Well better late than never.

But wait, things get better. Another cool feature is delivered with the “Project” button. You can “send” your screen to all your users what is useful during April Fool’s day. Seriously this opens up a lot of cool scenarios, especially when thinking about training.

Want to limit which sites all your RDS users can visit with one click? Yep it is there under “Web Limiting” and its “Configure” button. Add the sites you want to allow/block and click “Start”. Simple eh?

Before you bitch about this solution, let me remind you again:

  1. I am fully aware this is half-ass and it may have a cost associated with it. As I said the licensing monkeys may know what that means in dollars. I do not.
  2. I told you before this is Ghetto style IT solution a.k.a. typical half-ass IT delivered stuff.
  3. And unsupported.

Even with all the above I still think GRC (Ghetto Remote Control) is better than what Microsoft delivered with Windows Server 2012 RDS.

I will keep digging deeper to see what else I find on MultiPoint Server that we can use to make RDS 2012 better… So back to work.

CR

 

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VMWare and Citrix: please stop the BS.

Now that VMWorld is over, first of all I must thank God and Jesus Christ it is indeed over. The amount of crap I have seen posted on Twitter thanks to VMWorld was simply amazing. Of course it was not all terrible stuff. There were some nice things to be seen like the vSphere client on the iPad. Seriously, great stuff.

Also, I must, one more time, say that I have nothing against VMWare (or Teradici for that matter – some see me as the Anti-Christ for all PCoverIP related things, what I am certainly not). I still think they have some GREAT products and some GREAT technologies and more than that, I do run my company on top of their server virtualization platform for the simple fact I still think it is the best one out there as of today.

My gripe with both VMWare and Teradici is very simple. They distort certain definitions to make their products and/or technologies look good in all scenarios and as any smart person knows, especially on IT, there is no silver bullet. So there is no solution that can work perfectly in all scenarios. As I work mostly with Remote Display protocols of course that is what I am most interested about any VDI solution out there and how these perform on our new, always connected, world (remember, the WAN is the new LAN). And in this particular area Teradici and VMWare are usually full of bull (FoB). What I really dislike.

Back to the topic, Citrix as well is at fault here, not really helping the industry by throwing more shit at the fan. I do like them (and also give them shit when deserved – just read my posts about my XenDesktop issues in the past and also about the Citrix Receiver for the iPad/iPhone – gimmicky and for many customers I have, useless) and do like a lot of people that work there but I do think this week, Harry’s post was really not needed and simply stirred the shitty pot a little bit more. The same goes for Simon Crosby and his terrible YouTube video. People in this kind of position should be more classy when posting. Even when throwing shit at the fan (what can indeed be done in a classy, polite way).

Sure VMWare is no angel either. The abstract for that session they had at VMWorld (the one I posted a picture on Twitter, PA9449, was simply low. I mean very low). I have no clue what their marketing shitheads were thinking about posting things like ‘how to set RFP/POC traps for Microsoft and Citrix that will make it impossible for them to win the deal’. If they were in Canada I would definitely sue their asses big time.

The bottom line is this: both companies are wasting useful resources and time just bullshitting each other. Instead of getting together and coming up with something the whole community can benefit from (like a common framework for load/performance testing of their VDI platforms, preferably using third party tools like Login VSI, WANEmu and so on) and discuss the issues, again, with the community, so we all learn what is great and not so great with their products and technologies. One more time, please stop the BS.

I am certain not only myself but several other people are indeed getting tired of this crap. So please do something to stop this.

And for everyone else, please no fanboyism either. Be grown up enough to admit VMWare View is not perfect and in certain scenarios it may be crap and make no sense whatsoever. Same goes for XenDesktop. Each one has its own merits, benefits and drawbacks. And we all know that.

No more bull please.

CR

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Citrix Receiver for iPad. My review.

So I had a chance to finally get this thing working with our CAGs using two factor authentication with SecurID. Note at this stage the tests were performed on an environment where XenDesktop is NOT used and there is no ‘full desktop’ access to the XenApp backend. It is all done to published applications.

As it is today, on iOS 3.2.2 (as Apple did not release iOS 4 for the iPad), the Citrix Receiver, in this PARTICULAR environment, is lackluster. And I will explain why.

When using published apps the first problem is there is no easy way to switch between apps you are running. When you do it, the app you were on gets disconnected. So if you switch to it again, the connection needs to be reestablished.

The second major PITA is session sharing. If I logon to the web interface and use a regular PC with the Win32 XenApp Plugin and I launch two published apps like Outlook and Windows Explorer, these two run within the same exact session. Not with the Citrix Receiver. When I connect to the EXACT SAME environment, using the SAME credentials, each application runs on a separate session. Major PITA.
A simple idea to fix this crap is to have a Win32 app that grabs your credentials and retrieves from the farm which apps you have published to you that are installed on the server you are and then creates a dashboard with the application names and icons. Then by policy the admin could set something on the farm where if the Citrix Receiver is used, the ‘dashboard’ app shows up as a published app. So the user decides if he wants to launch each app individually or simply launch this ‘launching pad’ where he can see all his apps/icons. This would guarantee session sharing working AND at the same time eliminate the need to go back to the ‘Workspace’ to launch other apps, while still preserving the fact there is no full desktop access. Simple and elegant.

Printing: where the hell is printing? Gentlemen at Citrix, this is not rocket science. You can easily implement a solution that once the Citrix Receiver is detected (for mobile devices) a PDF type printer is autocreated and users then print to PDF files. At the end of the session (or at anytime if you want to) users can then choose to ‘transfer’ (over an ICA virtual channel) these PDF pages to the device and then retrieve these using whatever tool their device uses to sync stuff (HTC Sync, iTunes, etc). Simple as that. The fact there is no printing whatsoever is a show stopper for many places I have been discussing a possible Citrix Receiver + iPad implementation.

Mouse: this also baffles me, giving how simple this is and how easily it could be implemented (I assume the SDK allows that but who am I to question the Apple SDK Gods at Citrix?). If I use the VGA out on the iPad, why Citrix does not show on the iPad screen a picture of a ‘Magic Trackpad’ so the screen can be used as a trackpad? Mirroring the screen and making us click on it is plain simple dumb. Not to mention the lack of visual feedback on where my finger is on the screen when I am moving around.

Of course if you are using a full desktop or XenDesktop you will not see the published apps issue and if you also carry an iPhone you can use that as a trackpad with visual feedback on the screen (a pointer shows up on the screen). Still does not work perfectly but it is much better than clicking on the screen.

I also found some weird issues with the Apple Bluetooth keyboard like having to click on the keyboard icon on the receiver all the time to get it to work, even though it was paired and working on other apps (like Mail). Is it that hard to detect the keyboard is paired, on and use it as the default?

The bottom line for me is, the Citrix Receiver for the iPad does work and does allow me to connect to my apps but the experience is still subpar. Things get better, as mentioned, if you do XenDesktop or full desktops on XenApp but still, with no printing, not being able to use the screen as a trackpad and with no ‘visual feedback’ – a.k.a pointer or show where my finger is, experience is still half assed.

Hopefully Chris and Gus will read this and start fixing what is wrong before releasing a new Receiver WITHOUT these features.

CR

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Is VMWare View really easier?

Sorry Brian and Gabe but I must disagree about this. In the past two weeks we have been working on getting our demo environment up and running (so you can all see what exactly packet loss does with VDI/SBC) and we will be showing it live at Synergy to interested parties, in our suite at the Marriot.

As I still think overcommitment when properly used is a powerful feature to have and the fact that XenServer 5.6 is in beta, we setup our virtualization backend with VMWare ESXi and I still must say I really like it. I did not have much exposure to XenServer and Hyper-V so I cannot comment how they compare to ESXi but again, for what we need ESXi does the job beautifully and it is indeed pretty straight forward to get going.

So back to the VDI part, we asked one of our technical guys to setup XenDesktop and VMWare View, based on the ‘instructions’ I gave him (basically download the ISOs and follow the guides) and off he went.

As I do have my own XenDesktop environment at home (on ESXi as you remember from the saga I reported here) I was very familiar with it and do remember having no issues installing it and more than that, being extremely easy and simple to do. Keep in mind this is the free 10-user version so there is no Provisioning Server, etc.

Today I sat down with Matt (our techie) to go through the environment and to wrap it up by setting up a 2008 R2 RDS SH with XenApp 6. As we have been exchanging emails to get VMWare View going, I knew it was not being that breeze Gabe/Brian mentioned. So after checking what we had to go through, I have no idea why they mentioned VMWare View being ‘easier’ to setup. IMHO (and in Matt’s opinion as well) XenDesktop 4 is much, we mean, MUCH easier to setup. VMWare View is confusing to say the least, even for someone very used to a single ESXi server environment.

How are they affected by packet loss? Well that is what I am working on right now. The same way Ruben wrote the ‘VDI Storage Deep Impact’  I am working on getting the real facts on how latency/loss affect ICA, RDP and PCoIP. No marketing BS, just straight facts. As soon as the whitepaper is ready it will be posted here for sure.

Resuming this post: we found XenDesktop 4 much easier to setup for SMALL ENVIRONMENTS (what means Provisioning Services/View Composer are NOT in use, that you do not have a VMWare Guru/Employee sitting on your side, etc). Does it mean Brian/Gabe are wrong and we are right? No. It means you should take any comments, from anyone, Brian and myself included, with a grain of salt. Do not trust us gentlemen. 🙂 Go try them for yourself and let us know what you think.

As you can see I do like VMWare and do think they have a great virtualization platform (main reason to have ESX/ESXi all over the companies I manage/own/work for) but View is far from being a breeze to setup.

CR

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Windows Server 2008 R2 TS. What have they done?

As you know Windows Server 2008 R2 has been around for some time now but as several of our customers are still on 2003 or 2008, I did not have a change to get deep into it.

Of course most of the new features (i.e. two-way audio, virtual IP addressing, etc) I had a chance to play a long time ago and even presented about 2008 R2 at BriForum.

Now as I am working on updating the guide I wrote (“Terminal Services A to Z”, available here), I had to go through all the stuff Microsoft blessed us with on 2008 R2: RDS Web Access, RDS Session Broker, RDS Gateway and so on. What did I find?

If I had to define in a single word, the experience of setting up a load balanced solution with a web interface and a gateway using only 2008 R2, that would be the word: frustration.

To understand the reason for that, you may need a little bit more information and history about me. Back in the days when Citrix was the only solution, with Provision Networks still in its infancy, I envisioned and designed a solution that was not only modular but dead simple to setup and use. This idea, or dream,  turned into real products that many here will remember: WTSPortal, WTSGateway Pro and so on. People all over the world used our solutions and everyone seemed to agree at the time that we did it in such a way that we had pretty much NO support calls whatsoever. It simply worked and worked in a way that even your grandma could set it up and manage it. The Library of Congress used our products. So did the Jet Propulsion Lab and NASA. Warner. Disney. Hilton and so on. All these people trusted a three men shop.

So years ago (2003/2004) we had all that sorted out: RDP over HTTPS, Published Applications, Resource Based Load Balancing and so on and no kidding, it would not take you more than 30 minutes to get all going.

Simple and elegant design. More than that, I would say, smart design.

Today after going through all the stuff required to get RDS Web Access, RDS Gateway and RDS Session Broker up and running I am simply baffled. Stunned. This is for sure the epitome of bad design. I am still banging my head in the wall just thinking about how the setup of all this makes no sense and more than that, what a steep learning curve this will be for anyone that is now on Windows Server 2003 TS.

In laymen terms, Microsoft simply made it difficult and hard. Add to that a bad design to start with and you have a solution that, even though it works at the end, is simply stupid. To put in perspective how bad it is, it makes Citrix and its 12,000 consoles look great.

What amazes me the most is Microsoft had YEARS to watch what others did and learn with their mistakes and then come up with something clean. Smart. Unfortunately that was not the case. Not even Jesus Christ can set this thing up without reading AND reading AND without banging his head somewhere. And trust me, at one point he will call his dad for help.

The weird part is I know most of the developers or the people involved with RDS in Redmond and they are indeed good, smart and hard working people. This creates a paradox in my mind. How such great resources could create such a piece of junk. Junkware.

Again, I am not debating if the solution at the end works. It does. I am discussing how easy it is to setup, how smart the design is and so on. And in that respect, they simply failed to deliver. I am telling you that based on 15+ years of experience doing nothing else other than TS/RDS/Citrix deployments and starting companies focused on TS/RDS development. I may look stupid indeed but I know some shit about these things.

Simplicity and clean design are key elements on any good piece of software, what someone in Redmond seems to disagree.

Light up a candle, hold hands and pray for changes in Windows Server 2010 RDS. They are needed.

CR

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Citrix and the iPad

No matter how much I try not to write about the iPad, there are several crazy things I have been reading lately about the Jesus Tablet and many have the word Citrix cruising along.

For some people, for unknown reasons, the iPad is seen as the tablet God himself handed out to Moses, or Steve Jobs for that matter. The solution for all our problems and the device that will bring VDI to the masses.

Bullcrap.

And I will explain why and complain about Citrix later.

Screen. It is awesome to see a bigger screen in a device that can be potentially used as some sort of thin client. There are a couple issues there. The resolution is fixed at 1024×768 and some apps, in this day and age, refuse to work on less than higher resolutions. Two options: you either keep moving around the screen (painful) or you scale the resolution down to match the native display one (what technically is bad and if you know anything about video you know the reasons why). So, yes, better than the iPhone but still not that incredible. But I could live with that.

Keyboard. Here is where the big problems start. The on-screen keyboard may be great for a quick ‘checking my email’ thing but to use that to reply to long emails or to write a document, that is just unbearable. Fanboys will say go and get an external keyboard! Yes, great idea. Now I need to carry a freaking iPad PLUS a keyboard. Awesome.

Mouse. No word so far if a bluetooth one is supported. As of today, based on what we know, no support. Even if it is added at a later date, great, another device to carry with the iPad and the keyboard above.

Ports. Where are the USB ports so I can plug headsets, webcams, scanners, etc (remember, this is the Moses’s tablet that will bring VDI to the masses as per God’s predictions)? Yes, there are none but for sure you will be able to get a cable that costs $40 that will give you USB ports. Yay, another thing to carry with the keyboard, the mouse and the iPad itself.

Local OS. Sure the iPhone OS was revolutionary. For a phone. For a tablet, are you kidding me you are putting an OS that cannot even multitask on that? Not to mention that several things that make XenDesktop a decent thing, are NOT supported as the local OS cannot do shit about them. Examples? What about Flash redirection? Oh, did I mention that 9.7″ screen cannot even run Flash movies or access Flash websites? Not that I love Flash(it). But the reality is a huge percentage of the web relies on that (Citrix included – have you tried Citrix.com/tv on your iPhone/iPad? Yes, it does not work).

As I mentioned to Chris Fleck, who called me a Nay-Sayer on his blog, sure I can see certain vertical markets using it for several reasons. One is healthcare, where for doctors, using a Win32 app that has an interface designed for touch input, it would be perfect. Small, light, relatively cheap and able to run their Win32 apps that require no flash, no decent video performance and no physical keyboard/mouse. It could be the same case for insurance companies (although the lack of a camera is potentially a big show stopper), warehouses and so on.

The thing is all the above use cases mentioned above are NOT the ones that will bring VDI to the masses. So how can such device do that as several people in the industry are bragging now I have no crazy idea.

As a final note, what really pisses me off is to see Citrix spending all this time twittering/blogging/working on the iPhone/iPad receivers while IGNORING the bugs still there on BOTH Win32 and OS X clients, MUCH bigger markets when compared to all the iCrap stuff above (at least I think that is the case; correct me if I am wrong).

So Citrix, before you keep promoting all these savior, God sent devices, please fix what we, the lower class citizens, use every single day: the Windows and Mac OS X clients. Once you get that going, go nuts with your iPad plans to take over the VDI world.

Riding the ‘what is cool/on the spot’ wave for marketing purposes is not cool. VMWare at least is not doing that.

CR

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Patchworking and VDI.

I actually started writing this post a couple weeks ago but got sidetracked with other things and it just sat here on this blog with a title. So after reading Brian’s posts on why use and not use VDI, I decided to finalize this post. So here we go.

 A word on the title of this post, Patchworking, if you have no idea what it means (take a look at the formal definition on Wikipedia), is putting together small pieces of different fabrics into a larger design. Awesome stuff. For quilts and bed sheets.

Not for IT.

I remember another thread at Brian’s website where I posted a comment exactly about this issue that IMHO plagues VDI as of today. In order to get it working properly you need to rely on pieces (solutions) from several different vendors and that is where the problem begins. You may end up with a solution that runs Citrix XenDesktop that requires Windows Server 2003/2008 for its components, all these running on top of VMWare vSphere running on top of HP Blades connected to a Brocade SAN, all that tied into ILIO, vScaler and vDeDupe from Atlantis Computing. Sounds great and reliable, doesn’t it?

I see this type of solution as a house of cards. As soon as the first one falls, you are in for a great ride. Downhill. Spiraling. Imagine calling Microsoft to report an issue you are having with your virtualized Windows 7 that is using a virtual profile solution from RTOSoft (you can buy me a beer later Kevin) and that the actual VM image is based on a master clone and deltas handled by another product from vendor VDI-MILFs. I am almost certain Microsoft will hang up on your face. Right there at the spot.

Not to put you down on your VDI thoughts; in a way this is what happened in the TS/Citrix world 10 years ago. Remember the experience of calling vendor A and telling them you had their masterpieshit installed on Citrix? They would tell you nice things along the lines of ‘go screw yourself ok?’.

The point is, it took TS/Citrix almost a DECADE for God’s sake to become something we can consider ‘stable’. Note I am not using the words ‘rock solid’. TS and Citrix were not and probably will never be 100% reliable (or 95% for that matter). Remember people, we are talking Microsoft and Citrix here. Using Microsoft, Citrix and rock solid stability on the same phrase creates a paradox. Always keep that in mind.

So why would this be different with VDI? Brian thinks (I hope by now, he realizes his prophecy about VDI will fail) 2010 is the year VDI will take off and become the #1 priority for all IT departments. TS/Citrix took 10+ damn years to get to what it is today. Why VDI will be able to become an easy to deploy, cheap and stable solution in 2 years is beyond my comprehension. Call me dumb, stupid or anything else similar but I fail to see this happening now.

Will it get there? Sure it will. In 2010? No. More like 2020. 🙂

And as Jeroen nailed with his comment on the ‘Why use VDI’ thread, deploying the whole thing is complex to start with, even when using a single vendor (i.e. Citrix all the way or Microsoft all the way). After you start you realize several components are not there so you need to start sewing together all these pieces from other vendors. Now you got your patchwork.

I am not saying there is no place for VDI and that you guys all are nuts. No. I am just saying, like I have been doing with the whole UIA (User Installed Apps)/BYOPS (yes, I coined the term Bring Your Own Piece of Shit), that there are several hurdles and issues not only to get VDI going but to support it and many people in the industry, inebriated by the chance of putting their hands/making a career on a new, exciting technology, are simply not mentioning and/or ignoring them.

Not the case at this end. I see both sides of the coin. One is pretty and shiny. The other one…

So before you try to convince your boss to spend ten times more on a VDI solution (when compared to a real desktop one or to a 10+ year old mature solution like TS) just because you do need iTunes to run in a hosted environment and figured out it does not work on TS, hold on your horses. There is more to VDI than most vendors are willing to tell you.

You will thank me later.

CR

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My take on Citrix Streaming.

Sorry Joe. You tried. Hard. But I am not convinced Citrix Streaming is “the” best solution out there and I will explain why. Note that I will not even get into the technical limitations (i.e. virtualizing services). Does it mean I do not like it or that it does not work? Nope. Certain things I like and it does work. But…

First of all, some background information here. I have been doing application virtualization for several years now, way before Microsoft acquired Softricity and I was directly involved with the first large scale deployment of such thing within the Canadian Government and later on, bringing such technology to several other places in Canada. And as most of my techie friends (the Microsoft MVPs, the Citrix CTPs, etc) as we are early adopters of anything (yes, at least 10 people I know reformatted their PCs back in the 90s to load Microsoft Bob) this means we usually have to do everything and in this case that meant installing all the backend infrastructure, clients AND actually creating the packages for the virtualized applications. Add to that I used pretty much all of them over the years (SoftGrid/App-V, Thinstall, Altiris SVS, VirtualShite, etc), Citrix being the exception here.

After using the latest and greatest offering from Citrix, I am happy to see it works BUT in a nutshell, it is one of the biggest PAIN IN THE ARSE application I have ever used. Why?

1. Creating the application packages. In many places, once I leave, the application people will be the ones responsible for creating these as they were the ones packaging regular applications using products like Wise Installer, InstallShield and so on. So they are used to see certain things and they expect a certain behavior on all these apps. They see the ‘packager’ on any virtualization solution (i.e. Citrix Profiler, Microsoft App-V Sequencer, etc) as what the name implies, a packager. In all these tools when I install application A to C:AppA, I can open My Computer and under the C: drive I will see the AppA folder. Not with the Citrix Profiler. I understand why not, the logic behind that decision and so on. And I still think this is a major PITA. If all the tools these guys are used to, work in a certain way, all the competitors one’s work in a certain way, WHY REINVENT THE WHEEL? No idea.

2. Package deployment. As of today once you finish ‘profiling’ the app, the Citrix Profiler asks you for the share where you want to save it. Once you did it, anyone with access to that share will be able to launch the app, unless you then assign NTFS/Sharing permissions to the folder where you saved the app. Once that is done you need to use another tool to ‘publish’ that app to the users. So you need to select THE SAME GROUPS/USERS AGAIN (the ones you assigned NTFS/Sharing permissions). Why is this bad? Well in many (and I mean MANY) companies groups may have names like ‘Finance – Applications – Microsoft Project’, ‘Finance – Applications – Microsoft Publisher’, etc. So it would be very easy for the person assigning the permissions to the folder to select the ‘Finance – Applications – Microsoft Project’ group and later, when doing the publishing, selecting ‘Finance – Applications – Microsoft Publisher’ as the names may look very similar. What will be the end result? Users will not be able to launch the app. How to fix this? Very simple. The Citrix Profiler could ask if the person saving would like the tool to try assigning permissions to the folder and would allow that person to select the group they want to allow access to the app. Once selected, the tool could set the permissions and store that information on the .rad file so when the application is published, it would already know to which group it must be published and would not ask for that again. End result? The app works for the right group AND you cut down one step in the whole process. The more you can automate, the less human errors may be introduced. Keep that in mind Citrix.

3. I wonder if the guys behind the Citrix Profiler know that environment variables and things like PATH exist for a reason and are actually still used in the year 2009. And yes, you guessed it. The Profiler does NOT seem to capture changes on them. Why? AskJoeNord.com?

4. Why, again, WHY the tool cannot simply disappear, let me do whatever I want to install my app (creating shortcuts by hand, copying files using Explorer, etc) and then capture what I did is another great question. I would say in the same league of ‘Is the Yeti Canadian or American?’ and ‘Where do they keep the Aliens captured in Roswell?’. One of these mystical unanswered questions.

I could keep going on with this list but I will stop here as I am still in Ft. Lauderdale and Joe and his Citrix buddies know where I am staying…

And before Joe leaves a comment saying ‘Oh the tool may not have rights to do that, the person doing it may not have rights, the machine may not be on the domain, bla bla bla’, he knows there are workarounds and solutions for all these cases. So why are these still not there today? Not sure. The only thing I am sure is I will give Joe hell until all this is fixed. 🙂

Seriously I do think this is a typical case where Citrix completely skipped ‘Usability Testing’ and actually ‘Testing’. How come a 5.2 release of anything still ignores PATH being changed? AskJoeNord.com.

On a positive note, the tool, once you get used to it (I mean, once you are forced to accept certain things), works and works pretty well. And with almost no backend requirements what I think is cool.

So Citrix, keep this one thing in mind. The next time, before releasing something like that, give me a shout. I will test it for you.

CR

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