Time to Upgrade to XenDesktop and XenApp 7.5?
Part 1: XenApp
In this two-part series, I will be discussing the options necessary in making a decision to upgrade XenDesktop and XenApp 7.5. In this first part, we’ll discuss the features and benefits of XenApp.
A few of my clients have asked whether they should upgrade to the latest versions of XenApp and XenDesktop. In fact, this is a quandary that comes up every time there is a new release of a product. Every environment is different; therefore there is no one-size-fits-all answer. What works for one client does not always work for another. So, we need to look at some of the factors that go into this decision. Since both products serve different purposes, I am going to discuss each product separately. If you are looking to upgrade your XenApp environment or your XenDesktop environment separate from the other, you are not required to upgrade both of them at the same time. Let’s look at XenApp today. I’ll try to touch on what seem to be the major factors I have dealt with. Please feel free to post any questions you might have below.
At the time of this article, the latest version number for both XenApp and XenDesktop is 7.5. In version 7.0, both technologies were included under the XenDesktop title and were both integrated into one console. XenApp was referred to as ‘XenDesktop App Edition’. XenApp has been given its own licensing from XenDesktop again due to a number of factors, but they are still both integrated into the same console. XenDesktop still integrates XenApp as a feature in the licensing. The reverse is not true though. If you purchase XenApp only licenses, you do not get XenDesktop included. For the sake of simplicity, I am just going to refer to it as XenApp even if I am referring to version 7.0.
So, what are some of the major decision points for XenApp?
Upgrade or migration
Can you do an in-place upgrade or do you have to build a new farm and migrate to it? If you have XenApp 7.0 or 7.1, you can perform an in-place upgrade to XenApp 7.5. If you have XenApp 6.5 or lower, you will need to migrate to a new environment. There are some tools to help with this, but it is still a migration.
- Is an in-place upgrade possible for you?
- Do you have the resources (time, hardware, software, licenses, money, etc…) to perform a migration?
What operating systems are supported by each version? XenApp 7.x is only available for Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2012. Both are only 64-bit. XenApp 6.5 and lower support Windows Server 2008 R2 and earlier (including both 64-bit and 32-bit versions).
- Software compatibility – will my software operate on Windows 2008 R2 and/or Server 2012? If not, I will need separate environments to host updated software and legacy software. If you have software that needs to run on Server 2012, then you must utilize XenApp 7.x.
- Do I have licensing for the newer operating systems? Just because you have licenses for Server 2003 and 2008, does not mean you have licenses for Server 2012.
- Do I have the expertise on the newer operating system? Windows Server 2012 has a significantly different interface from previous server operating systems. Applications and utilities are not where they used to be and are likely to be configured in a completely new fashion. Remote Desktop Services is significantly different.
XenApp 7.x utilizes the latest Citrix architecture called FlexCast Management Architecture (FMA). XenApp 6.5 and lower utilize Independent Management Architecture (IMA).
- FMA enhances security and resource utilization/performance. Pair that with the greater performance of Remote Desktop Services on the latest 64-bit operating systems and you are going to get better utilization of your resources.
- IMA is a more mature product. IMA has had the major kinks knocked out of it over time. FMA is still relatively new and is still getting some major issues resolved.
- FMA does not offer all the features we are used to from IMA. Features we are used to with IMA either do not exist in FMA, are still in development, or require new methods to perform the same task. For instance, SmartAuditor is gone and you will need an alternative. Shadowing is gone, but MS Remote Assistance is utilized instead. Single farm, multi-site support is relatively non-existent. Session pre-launch and session lingering are still in development for FMA.
- FMA does not use a local host cache. If the database goes off-line, then so does the XenApp farm. Existing connections will still operate, but there will be no new connections. This means that XenApp HA (High Availability) is now dependent on the HA features you incorporated into your SQL server farm. If HA of your SQL farm is not where you need it, then that also plays into your upgrade decision.
Other factors that may affect your decision:
- Do you have the technical knowledge on the latest version of XenApp or will you need help? XenApp 7.x is very different from previous versions of XenApp in implementation, configuration, and administration.
- Is there a corporate policy/requirement forcing you to upgrade/migrate?
- Web Interface support has been reinstated for XenApp 7.x, so that can still be utilized if StoreFront is not an option. This is significant for many reasons. One important reason is that StoreFront requires a NetScaler for secure external connections. If you do not have a NetScaler configuration in your environment, you will need another solution for external access besides StoreFront.
As you can see, this is one of those times when an upgrade decision isn’t that simple. Can the same be said for XenDesktop 7.5? I’ll let you know what I think in part 2 of this post. As always, please post any questions you might have below. Thanks!
Craig R. Kalty (CCIA, CCEE, CCA, MCITP:EA, MCITP:SA, VCP)
Sr. Network Consultant
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