Management Tools: A Weak Spot for Citrix XenDesktop

Forrester recently completed an in-depth study entitled The Forrester Wave™: Server-Hosted Virtual Desktops (VDI), Q3 2015, which offers a complete analysis of significant providers in this space, including Citrix, Dell, Microsoft, and VMware. Overall, Citrix XenDesktop was rated high in most categories; however, one area, management tools, showed a significant deficit.

The complete report is available through the Citrix web site. The report is well written and provides an excellent comparison of multiple VDI vendors across many areas, although the value of low-tier VDI vendors such as LISTEQ, Nimboxx, and Oracle is negligible. Ericom Connect, for example, would have been more valuable than those three vendors combined.

The report shows Citrix as the market leader, with VMware holding a close second and Microsoft and Dell firmly entrenched in the contender space. Had Ericom Connect been included in this report, it likely would have shared the contender category with Microsoft and Dell.  As an analyst in this space with significant exposure to the prevalent VDI providers, I largely agree with the results of the Forrester report.

In particular, Citrix was rated low on its management console. The primary management console, Studio, lacks some intuitiveness, especially for new administrators. For example, when a VDA (virtual desktop appliance, or more simply stated, a virtualized node) shows as unregistered, it can be a frustrating process to track down the reason and repair it. In some cases, the registration issue automagically fixes itself after a few minutes. When it doesn’t, error messages would go a long way toward addressing resolution of this infuriating issue.

For those who have worked with Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop over the years, the organization and presentation of the management console has always been a deficit and source of frustration. As the report stated, Citrix “finally has a single management console for the whole VDI stack.” Especially for those who remember the painful days of the XenApp 4.5/5.0 Access Management Console and Advanced Configuration Console (there was nothing advanced about it!), consolidation took far too many years to accomplish.

Even though Studio is finally consolidated, other MMC consoles, such as StoreFront, must be accessed for specific configurations. Further, an administrator still must access other consoles, such as Director, in order to keep a pulse on the environment.

Director is a mediocre tool for monitoring Citrix environments. As history, Citrix purchased Reflectent in 2006, and that monitoring product became known as EdgeSight. Even though EdgeSight had a lot of quirks (a lot!), it was a fairly good monitoring tool for XenApp environments if a significant amount of time was spent learning to work through the quirks. Citrix attempted to add XenDesktop functionality, but it just wasn’t scalable and effective. EdgeSight did not carry forth into the XenApp/XenDesktop 7.x era, but instead, Director became the new monitoring tool.

Even though Director claimed to be powered by EdgeSight, the tagline was deceiving, as it was a complete rebuild for many reasons. XenApp/XenDesktop 7.x incorporated new underlying technologies and services that were like apples and oranges compared to the old EdgeSight. While the original EdgeSight morphed from a XenApp tool to support XenDesktop, Director was a tool focused on XenDesktop that morphed to support XenApp. Of course, monitoring basic user session information, ICA traffic, and the like is inherent to both tools.

Because XenApp/XenDesktop 7.x is more complex, the expectations from customers is that a deeper view of the environment is required. Picture the disappointment of a new Citrix XenApp or XenDesktop customer who has shelled out significant budget for licenses, hardware, consulting, and more, when the administrator sees that only a limited amount of pertinent information is presented within Director.

Good, bad, or otherwise, this deficit creates the need for third-party monitoring and performance tools. Multiple vendors have stepped up to the plate in this area: some great, some good, and some not even good. If a third-party tool is warranted, due diligence is definitely necessary on the part of the Citrix administrator in order to ensure that the output from the selected tool truly focuses on Citrix-specific criteria; some vendors only provide basic server monitoring and some razzle-dazzle around pings.

While the management console is one of the few areas where Citrix scored low, this should be a relatively easy issue to fix. However, over the years, the management console has never been a stellar aspect of the XenApp or XenDesktop, so it seems unlikely that significant resources will be dedicated to improve the  interface—and more importantly, intuitiveness and functionalitythat administrators see every day.

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