Citrix Monitoring: When Is or Isn’t Director Enough?

With each new release, Citrix has some improvements to its monitoring tool, Director. The latest release of XenApp/XenDesktop version 7.13 is no exception. But at what point is Citrix Director sufficient versus third-party monitoring tools?

Of course, the full feature set of Director is available only with a Platinum edition subscription. As such, determining whether Enterprise plus a third-party monitoring tool or Platinum with Director is the best option is both a business and a technical decision. Of course, Platinum does provide other benefits, with Director being one of the key features.

Director

The new features introduced in each version of Director have generally been small and incremental. For example, the latest enhancements included with version 7.13 focus on identifying idle sessions and VDAs, as well as identifying the user session protocol in use.

While the initial release of Director with XenDesktop 7.0 had minimal capabilities, it has indeed come a long way. Citrix has designated a product manager focused on Director; as such, there is a long-term commitment to improving the feature set.

To give you some history, Citrix has gone full circle with its monitoring tools by OEMing from Lakeside Software (remember the old Resource Manager?), acquiring Reflectent Software (which later became EdgeSight), and then internally developing Director as part of XenDesktop 7.x. In its day, Resource Manager was a good tool. I especially liked that I could see which processes were taking more than 5% of system resources, including those that were “hugging” a processor. Further, it had a mechanism for walking through the state of the Citrix server in five-second increments.

EdgeSight was also a fairly good tool in its day, but it required too much patience to get it working correctly. EdgeSight was overly complex and buggy, so many administrators became frustrated and elected not to use it. For example, domain admin rights were required unless group settings were modified in the registry of each server. However, if one persevered, it was possible to get some useful data from it.

And then came Director, an easy-to-use monitoring tool that presents data about the user sessions and VDAs. One significant item is that it integrates with NetScaler Gateway by means of HDX Insight in order to provide detailed user experience data. So far as collecting data regarding the XenApp/XenDesktop environment goes, it’s quite useful, but the reality is that there are a multitude of other components beyond NetScaler Gateway that compose the complete virtualization solution.

Third-Party Monitoring Tools

The key use case for a third-party monitoring tool is the integration of numerous components from Citrix as well as other vendors. For example, many Citrix virtualization environments reside on VMware for the hypervisor. Director won’t show issues that occur when a VMware host has a NIC issue, whereas third-party tools provide the integration of various vendor products.

While the Comtrade management packs for System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) released in early 2016 do provide a view of the Citrix environment that can be incorporated into the complete set of data center components, usage and adoption has been minimal. There is an additional cost to purchase management packs for other components; Citrix only provides the Citrix-related management packs as a Platinum feature. In addition to many enterprises not fully utilizing SCOM, accessibility to the Citrix data by the Citrix admins just doesn’t happen.

From the standpoint of third-party monitoring tools, eG Innovations and ControlUp have a major share of the market. Vendors such as Lakeside Software, Goliath, Liquidware Labs, and others also provide solutions for monitoring Citrix environments. These robust third-party solutions enable administrators to look at the impact of Citrix and non-Citrix components and quickly present the real underlying issue(s), rather than hunting and pecking through the administrative interfaces of individual components.

Of course, where an organization has already purchased Platinum licensing, reviewing the full functionality of Director should be the first step. If NetScaler Gateway/HDX Insight functionality isn’t already integrated into Director, the few extra steps necessary to do so should be undertaken. Ease of use and output should be assessed from the standpoint of all technical users, ranging from help desk to administration, as well as management and reporting. If it is deemed that more is necessary, the next step should be a technical and business analysis of third-party monitoring tools.

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Jo Harder
Jo Harder has been involved with virtualization for over 18 years, long before virtualization was the norm. After holding several sales and marketing positions, she started down the path of bits and bytes while at AT&T/Lucent Technologies. She then moved onto Citrix in 1999, where she became a Senior Architect. Her 11-year tenure included a combination of Citrix Consulting and Technical Readiness roles. After leaving Citrix, Jo provided consulting services for various clients for the next year. In her current role at a hosting provider, she is focused on cloud-based solutions for financial industry clients. In February 2015, she was awarded Citrix Technology Professional. Jo's diverse background of sales, marketing, management, and architectural/technical expertise brings a unique perspective to Virtualization Practice. She welcomes input from vendors, industry contacts, and end users and can be reached at joharder@virtualizationpractice.com.

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