Secure Remote Access

Custom Systems and Citrix Make Mobile Access Secure and Simple

Isn’t mobility great? It makes it possible for employees to work anywhere, on any device, and be more productive than anyone could have ever imagined. But it’s not always so great for your business when it comes to making that access both secure and easy.

Increasingly, security concerns are putting companies between a rock and a hard place – having to choose whether to limit mobile access to company data on corporate or personal devices (which makes it harder for people to work at maximum productivity) or to give employees free rein to use their own devices (which makes it harder to secure sensitive data).

And don’t get employees started on the usability challenges that mobility can create. It’s hard to achieve the productivity that mobility offers when they have to use different interfaces and credentials for different devices – and even then might not be able to access all the corporate resources they need.

Fortunately, Custom Systems provides app and desktop virtualization solutions powered by Citrix that eliminate these challenges. By virtualizing apps and desktops, employees can work remotely, stay productive, and easily use the devices they prefer – from company laptops to personal tablets or smartphones – for mobile access over any type of network connection. They also receive the same consistent experience across all devices. And you can rest assured that business-critical information is safe because secure access to both data and apps is built in.

To learn more about all the benefits of app and desktop virtualization solutions from Custom Systems and Citrix, visit where you can access a library of resources including whitepapers and videos. Or give us a call.

David Bubb

David Bubb, Sales Director

©Custom Systems Corporation 2016

Are Cloud Offerings Good for SMB?

The title for this blog came about from a number of our SMB clients asking two questions:

  1. What exactly are cloud services?

  2. Should we be looking into them?

Here is a general answer to the first question: Cloud services are on demand solutions made available to users through an Internet connection from a Cloud provider.  For instance, Office 365 provides an e-mail solution (and more) from Microsoft that users can access anywhere they have Internet access from almost any device.  I can even get to Office 365 from a certain gaming console.  In the early days of cloud computing, cloud referred to services that came through the Internet from a third-party.  However, today we have private in-house clouds as well.

As for the second question; yes, you should be looking into Cloud solutions.  Every year, IT has a buzz-word that rises to the top of the list.  In the ancient past of a few years ago, ‘client/server computing’ was the major buzz-word.  More recently, ‘virtualization’.  Though virtualization is still a major buzz-word today, ‘Cloud Computing’ is now on the top of the list.  There is a reason these buzz-words rise to the top of the list, they are a rising, viable trend for IT solutions.  Cloud may not be for everyone, but there is not a single administrator who should not be looking to see how cloud services can help their organization.  Funny, I said the same thing about virtualization not too long ago.

So, why should your organization we be looking at cloud services?  Here are some major reasons:

  • Lower IT costs without the risk. If you host a service in house, you need the hardware resources to house it, the expertise to build and maintain it, and the resources to operate it.  Most of the time, cloud services are a subscription based service.  When first looked at, the monthly cost of those subscriptions may be substantial.  However, you have to compare it to what it would cost you to have the services in-house.  Add up the cost of the server, the environment to protect the server (power and air conditioning), installation, maintenance, backup, and upgrades.  You get all of that from the cloud without you having to deal or worry about it.  The cloud service has the security and the disaster recovery resources already which means lower risk to you.
  • New methods of collaboration. Sharing ideas, files, and data can be done almost anywhere, anytime, and on any client.
  • As stated above, being able to do things almost anywhere, on any client, at any time.

Most SMB do not have a large IT staff with a wide variety of technology skill sets.  They usually have the one or two people who have to be a jack-of-all-trades.  I have seen places where this person is the head of accounting.  They have a CPA, not a BS in Information Technology.  With cloud solutions, the need for in-house expertise on a product is practically eliminated.  The burden on the ‘IT’ people is lifted and day-to-day IT tasks are reduced.

Here are few examples of cloud offerings and what they give you (some items depend on the subscription level):

  • Office 365 gives you hosted Exchange e-mail services, the latest version of MS Office for multiple devices, shared information and files, hosted storage, and more.
  • Trend Micro Worry Free Business give you cloud administered antivirus. The AV client still resides on each device, but the administration is in the cloud.  This way, you do not need to install AV administration services on a local server.  You can also get to the console from anywhere to perform tasks.
  • Carbonite offers highly compliant backup solutions to the cloud. You don’t need the storage or administration hosted in-house.
  • Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services make it possible to put any server, even your entire server infrastructure in the cloud.

There are many more cloud offerings than these.  It is most definitely worth looking at cloud services whether you are a small or large company.

Do you have any questions about the cloud and your business? Custom Systems can help! Feel free to post any questions or comments below or reach me directly by email.





Craig R. Kalty (CCIA, CCEE, CCA, MCITP:EA, MCITP:SA, VCP)| Sr. Network Consultant



©2015 Custom Systems Corporation

Time to upgrade to XenDesktop?

Part 2: XenDesktop

 citrix-logo-webAs stated in Part 1; a few of my clients have been wondering whether they should upgrade XenApp and XenDesktop.  Every environment is different; therefore there is no one-size-fits-all answer.  What works for one client does not always work for another.  We need to look at some of the factors that go into this decision.  Since both products have different purposes, I am going to discuss each product separately.  You are not required to upgrade both your XenApp environment and your XenDesktop environment at the same time.  We are going to focus on XenDesktop for this article (See my previous blog for XenApp).  With so much to cover, I’ll cover some of the major issues I’ve dealt with. Please feel free to post questions below, for issues I may not have time to mention.

At the time of this article, XenDesktop 7.5 is the latest version.  When you purchase XenDesktop licenses, XenApp utilization is included as part of the XenDesktop license.  In part 1, I was hesitant about upgrading to XenApp 7.5.  That is not the case for XenDesktop 7.5.  To upgrade to XenApp most likely required a change in architecture (from IMA to FMA).  For XenDesktop, the FMA architecture has been utilized for a while.  So, unless you are upgrading from a really old version, you will stay within the same architecture.  If you are on a really old version of XenDesktop, time to perform a migration.

Deciding factors for XenDesktop:

  • 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 a version of XenDesktop lower than 5.x or you are on Express edition, then you will need to perform a migration.  There are migration tools for XenDesktop 4, but anything lower and you are in essence building a new implementation.  If you are on version 5.x or higher, then Citrix eDocs tells you to do an in-place upgrade if you want to keep your original farm configuration.  You can have an older XenDesktop and a XenDesktop 7.5 farm in operation at the same time, but they are separate.  Components of versions below 7.0 will not recognize the 7.x components.  And XenDesktop 5.x settings cannot be imported into XenDesktop 7.5.  They must be brought in by upgrading the delivery controller and VDAs.
  • Architecture: As mentioned previously, there is no drastic change in architecture unless you are on a version of XenDesktop prior to version 5.
  • Complexity: Complexity has been decreased in many features.  In the past, larger XenDesktop farms required Provisioning Services (PVS) for a number of reasons.  PVS is can be complex to implement and administer.  In XenDesktop 7.5 Machine Creation Services (MCS) has been improved to the point that the gap in performance between PVS and MCS is not significant.  PVS may now only be needed for large enterprise farms.  The significances of this are that without PVS, we remove a demanding architectural piece, MCS is easier to administer than PVS, and we conserve server resources.

o   As stated in Part 1, do you have the technical knowledge on the latest version of XenDesktop or will you need help?  The difference in XenDesktop 7.5 to older versions depends on how old your previous version is.  The older your previous version, the greater the difference in the latest version.  If you are going from 7.0 or 7.1, then the differences are mostly in feature set.  Anything older and significant differences are involved.

o   Features: The HDX feature set in XenDesktop 7.5 has been improved.  For example, greater client resource and peripheral utilization.  Better storage resource usage and storage support.  Platinum licensing includes AppDNA and XenMobile utilization.  Web Interface support has been reintroduced for XenDesktop 7.5, 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.

I could go on with more detail, but it all comes back to the basic question: Should you upgrade your XenDesktop environment to XenDesktop 7.5?  The answer actually depends on your environment, corporate policy, and resource availability.  If the needs and abilities are there, then go right ahead.  XenDesktop 7.5 is an improvement over previous versions.

What have you decided – is it time to upgrade?






Sr. Network Consultant




© 2014 Custom Systems Corporation

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.

XenApp CitrixA 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.

Deciding factors:

  • Is an in-place upgrade possible for you?
  • Do you have the resources (time, hardware, software, licenses, money, etc…) to perform a migration?

Operating System

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).

Deciding factors:

  • 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).

Deciding factors:

  • 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!




Sr. Network Consultant




© 2014 Custom Systems Corporation

A Message to Recent IT Graduates

recent graduates - Visha AngelovaI received a phone call recently from a student at CalTech.  He was doing a phone survey as part of a project for one of his classes.  The questions involved projected company growth, (are you hiring or firing) and what kind of direction the company is going in.  He asked about Virtualization and ERP database systems, and whether or not we use them.  Most of the questions were to be expected, but one in particular caught my attention:  he asked for a few examples of how a ‘noobie’ can find a job in the IT world today.  This got me thinking.  I’ve been working in the IT industry for about 16 years, and I have held a few different jobs.  It took me a few years to find what I really wanted to be doing.  To quote David Byrne, “Well, how did I get here?”

When I graduated, it was at the very beginning of the Dot Com boom.  At that time, finding an IT job wasn’t hard.  Finding the job you wanted to do, took some patience and hard work.  Even though the job market is quite a bit different today, some of the advice I received back then is just as good today.

Attitude is everything.

Arrive at least five minutes before your boss.  Stay at work until five minutes after they leave.

Put your time in.  No one starts exactly where they want, and it takes awhile to get to where you want to be.
Pay attention.  Help and advice will come to you, sometimes from places you didn’t expect.

Get rid of the ear/nose/eye piercings.  Your buddy the chemist might find a job with a ring in his nose, but not you.  Tattoos are okay, just wear long sleeves.

Buy a suit.  Hold off on upgrading your iPhone, and instead put your graduation money into something that will make you more money.  Wearing a nice suit to your job interview says a lot about you.

Cut your hair.  Justin Bieber is a criminal, and so is his stupid haircut.

Learn how to network with people you know.  Facebook can be your friend here, but your Uncle Frank knows a guy who knows a guy who can help you find a job too.  Give him a call.

You will most likely NOT get the job you want when you first start out.  Find the guy that does the job you want to be doing, and shadow him.  Try to convince him to mentor you, whether he wants to or not.  Your mentor may never like you, but he will respect you and show you everything he knows.

Whatever job you get, do your best at it.  Work hard, put a lot of effort in, and your boss will notice.  Before long, you will have the job you always wanted.



Chase Reitter
Network Consultant


Citrix XenApp is Back! Actually, It Never Left.

XenAppCitrix has announced and is gearing up for two significant releases: XenDesktop 7.5 and XenApp 7.5.

This announcement was met with a few different reactions like:

          • Great! Citrix is bringing XenApp back!
          • Wait! What happened to XenApp version 7.0?
          • Bringing XenApp back? You mean it was gone?!?

XenApp 6.5 with Feature Pack 2 was the last release of XenApp. When XenDesktop 7.0 was released, there was a bit of confusion over the fate of XenApp. Some thought that XenApp had just not been updated and XenDesktop 7.0 was just a release for XenDesktop with new features and support for Server 2012. Which then brought then brought on the question of when will XenApp get a release for Server 2012? The reality was that XenApp never disappeared; it was merged under the umbrella of XenDesktop 7’s release.

Citrix has been working to unify the XenApp/XenDesktop product lines for some time. A feature of the unification was to bring about a single control panel for the different Xen products and their features. Previously, the number of control panels for different products and features was becoming a big issue with Citrix customers. XenDesktop 7 solved that issue and more. XenApp was rolled up into the XenDesktop 7.0 release. It was referred to as XenDesktop App edition, but it was really just another name for XenApp. It even had Server 2012 support built in. In fact, it has to be the easiest installation for the desktop and application virtualization line (XenApp / Metaframe / Winframe) ever. Admittedly the installation is easy, but proper configuration required more effort and was a little more difficult. The point is, XenApp’s capabilities never went away.

The release of XenDesktop 7.5 will also coincide with the re-release of XenApp 7.5 as a standalone product. This is due in part to the ongoing confusion from XenDesktop 7.0, new marketing decisions and previous licensing issues. The important thing about this release is a number of features that were missing when XenApp was part of XenDesktop 7.0 will be available again. This release will also feature upgrade paths for XenApp 6.5 and XenDesktop 7 installations. Tighter integration with other products including the new mobility line of products will be available as well. Look for the release of XenApp 7.5 soon.



Sr. Network Consultant
© 2014 Custom Systems Corporation

Microsoft Hyper-V vs. Citrix Xen Server

For a few years now, here at Custom Systems we’ve had an ongoing debate between two different Virtualization camps: Microsoft Hyper-V Server and Citrix Xen Server.  Today I am going to take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Hyper-VIf you’ve read my blog posts before, you can probably guess which camp I’m in.  I’ve been a big fan of using Microsoft Hyper-V as a Virtualization host for a few years, and here’s why:  For starters, the host server is a true Windows Server environment, (excluding Core version).  I’m used to using Windows Servers, and I am very familiar with them.  I know how to install hardware drivers, software updates, etc.  I can install my Backup Software on the host, and make changes to my Virtual Servers from the Hyper-V host console.  When setup properly, I can have a new Virtual Server up and running in a few minutes.

Citrix Xen ServerCitrix Xen Server, by that comparison, is not as easy to manage.  Granted the install process is MUCH faster, but to properly manage your Xen’s Virtual Servers, you need to install the Xen Center Console on a Windows PC or server.  In some environments, that isn’t practical.

Now for the advantages of Xen Server:  There is almost no overhead.  The Xen Server Host can fit on a small RAID 1 partition, needs very little RAM, and doesn’t need to be managed as often as a Windows Host Server.  This allows you to dedicate all of those fast hard drives and RAM to your Virtual Servers, instead getting taken up by a Windows Host Server.  Plus if you use Xen Server as your host server, that’s one less Microsoft Server license you will need.  You can save that license for one of your VM’s.  Also, exporting or migrating a VM with Xen Server is easy and painless.  I wish I could say the same about Microsoft Hyper-V.  (Maybe in the next release?)

Just a few “Gotcha’s”

I have run into a few situations where a third party vendor would not support using their software or hardware on a Xen Server.  At the beginning of the sales process, we will meet with you to discuss your needs and to determine which Virtualization solution is right for you!

AZS-4Chase Reitter
Network Consultant




© Copyright 2014 Custom Systems Corporation

Things To Do With An Old Server

This Old Server

Today, we’re going to discuss things you can do with your old server hardware.  With everything going Virtual or Hosted now, sometimes you’re left with an old server that you don’t know what to do with.  Besides the obvious, (boat anchor, paper weight, etc.) we can still put that ol’ reliable server to good use.  Let’s assume that the warranty on your old server is out-of-date, and you have already moved all of your production services to either new supported hardware, or to a hosted service like Office 365.  As an example, our in-house Exchange Email server was migrated to Office 365 several months ago, and a SQL service we were providing has also been moved off-site.  That leaves us with two perfectly good (although old and no longer covered by manufacture warranty) servers.  One of these servers has plenty of disk space, but not a lot of memory.  The other has lots of memory, but not a lot of disk space.  This gave me an idea:  Use an iSCSI connection between the two servers, and setup a development environment.

Making the Old New Again

Internet Small Computer System Interface (iSCSI) has been around and in use for about a decade, but vast improvements have been made with Windows Server 2012.  Before today, you had to use either the Microsoft iSCSI add-ons, 3rd party tools, and they were more difficult to manage.  Now you can use the iSCSI tools right from the Windows Server 2012 management console.  But not only are design and setup easier; With higher performance network equipment, iSCSI connections are more reliable, and much faster than they used to be.  But you don’t need to go out and buy fiber optic cards.  Gigabit Ethernet cards can be found in just about any server built in the last five years, and are easy to find.  While I’d like to go out and buy fiber optic cards, this is only for development purposes, and I set a goal in the beginning of this experiment to only use equipment that I already had.  Both of my test servers have dual gigabit cards (two ports each), and will be plenty fast enough.

We have ways of Making You Talk

There are two simple ways to setup your physical iSCSI connection: Use a switch that supports VLANS, or just use an 8wire cross-over cable.  Many Cisco routers include a cross-over cable, so I have a few.  Just make sure that they are 8wire – many cross-over cables only have 4 wires to simply cross the transmit and receive signals – but these can only handle 100mb – and we’re going for the full gigabit here.

After installing Windows 2012 on both servers, I assign a static IP address to both primary NIC cards that resides on my primary subnet (192.168.1.x).  This is for server management purposes, and to connect to the rest of my network.  Then I assign a static IP to the secondary NIC cards that do NOT reside on my primary network, for example 10.0.0.x.  This will keep the iSCSI traffic off of my primary network equipment, and make the traffic between the two iSCSI servers MUCH faster.

Next, I use the Windows 2012 Server tools to setup my primary iSCSI management server (DEVHOST1) and my secondary iSCSI storage server (STORAGE1).  From the Windows Server 2012 management tools,   we assign all of the available disk space on STORAGE1 as a LUN to store our Virtual hard drives, which will be managed by the DEVHOST1 server.

Here’s what it looks like:

old server 1

By keeping the iSCSI network traffic on its own subnet, either on a separate switch or by using a cross-over cable, we improve the performance of both.

I can now install Microsoft Hyper-V on the DEVHOST1 server.  I can then build Virtual Servers with their large files located on the STORAGE1/LUN1 server.

This setup was for a Development environment.  I will be using it to test an Exchange 2013 server and a test SQL 2014 server.  In a production environment, I would be using new and supported hardware.

Custom Systems offers a wide range of new and supported solutions for your production storage and network performance needs.  To find out more, contact us today!


old server 3             old server 2



AZS-4Chase Reitter
Network Consultant




© Copyright 2014 Custom Systems Corporation