Last week, Citrix quietly released XenApp – XenDesktop v7.7. Typically, Citrix ensures there are some major announcements around new releases. However, since its annual Citrix Summit conference starts next week, the hoopla arrives in January for this late-December release.
The XenApp – XenDesktop 7.7 release includes several new features that will be warmly welcomed by the technical community and will serve to set XenApp – XenDesktop apart from VMware Horizon and other competitive products.
The most important aspect of the new XenApp – XenDesktop 7.7 release centers around the reintroduction of Zones. Typically, a Zone is a geographical region or perhaps another major city. This functionality is important particularly for enterprises that have major operations on multiple continents. Having users connect to a XenApp or XenDesktop site halfway around the world often means encountering issues associated with the network, legal requirements, language, and more.
Remember Zones from XenApp 6.5? Well, they’re back, sort of. In the XenApp 6.5 days, you could set up a replicated database in each of the Zones. However, in the v7.7 release, that’s not the case, because there is still reliance on the Site database at the primary location. In addition, StoreFront must be present within each subsequent Zone. Citrix has clearly stated it is taking a multiphase approach to Zones, and that improvements can be expected in the future.
It may be easy to confuse Zones with Sites, but they’re quite different. Site (v7.x) equates to Farm (v6.5), and in both cases, a Zone is a subset. Especially for those who are not native English speakers, it will be important to clearly differentiate between Zone and Site.
Another nice feature of XenApp – XenDesktop 7.7 is the database setup. Rather than setting up the Site database and then splitting off the Configuration Logging and Monitoring data later, three distinct databases can be created during installation. This makes it much easier for administrators who are not deeply familiar with databases to set up the environment properly from the beginning. Previously, administrators may have set up the Site database with intentions of splitting off the Configuration Logging and Monitoring data at a later time but never quite found the time to do it. Keeping Site, Configuration Logging, and Monitoring data together can create unexpected issues with database size, backup plans, and general maintenance.
Director has had some welcome improvements for monitoring XenApp – XenDesktop environments, but Director still falls short in many ways. For those who were well acquainted with EdgeSight and worked past its quirkiness, EdgeSight was a fairly good monitoring tool, but Director still doesn’t offer the same level of detail. Director is, however, able to provide greater drilldown capabilities, it has a database that doesn’t frequently encounter issues, and it is certainly easier on the eyes.
Within Director are some long-overdue enhancements that administrators will likely find helpful. Most notably, operating system usage by Site and Delivery Group can be viewed. Proactive alerts and notifications can now be configured, a basic feature that should have been incorporated within Director from the beginning. Likewise, single sign-on via Windows authentication is now possible, but that should have been built into the tool long ago.
Some additional straightforward features include application limits, multiple notifications before restarts, new/additional platform support, and new PowerShell capabilities. Further, the FrameHawk functionality that was released in fragments in the XenApp/XenDesktop 7.6 feature packs is now solidly built into v7.7.
Another key release item was Provisioning Services 7.7. Not only does this dispel the myth that Provisioning Services is being discontinued, but Windows 10 support is finally available as part of PVS. In addition, features such as streamlining provisioning of vGPU-enabled XenDesktop machines, FIPS support, and extending the licensing grace period shows a clear investment in Provisioning Services technology.
The HDX RealTime Optimization Pack 2.0 was released in conjunction with XenApp – XenDesktop 7.7, and it improves functionality for Skype for Business. Instead of a hybrid user interface, it has a new native interface that provides enhanced calling features. With more and more enterprises adopting Skype for Business as a core business tool, these functionality improvements will be most welcome.
While XenApp – XenDesktop 7.6 largely provided feature parity with XenApp 6.5, this v7.7 release starts to set a new standard for application and desktop virtualization. All in all, XenApp – XenDesktop 7.7 is a robust release that adds value to existing Citrix implementations—including XenApp 6.x environments that were on the fence about adopting the newer version or possibly were considering a competitive application and desktop virtualization solution—as well as serving to attract some enterprises that are using other solutions.