News: Return of the XenApp

News of Citrix’s “return” to XenApp peppered the blogosphere yesterday, after various people had been hinting at it for a few weeks. According to Citrix, it is “back by popular demand” and will be available in March 2014.

But is it really “back by popular demand”? Certainly many people were sad to see XenApp become folded into XenDesktop, effectively, and many of them saw this as a cynical ploy to force them into buying XenDesktop licenses instead. But there was always “XenDesktop App Edition,” which felt a bit like XenApp and VM Hosted Apps combined. So is XenApp 7.5 simply a rebrand of XenDesktop App Edition? One thing’s for certain—by returning to the XenApp name, XA is now possibly the longest-lasting Citrix technology name ever.

The outcry about the death of XenApp clearly wasn’t comparable to Microsoft’s decision to axe the much-loved Start Menu, mainly because a lot of enterprises still saw XenApp 6.5 FP2 on the horizon and figured that with the end of operational life (EOL) date being in 2016, there was still plenty of mileage left in it. Don’t forget, a lot of systems out there are still running older, unsupported versions of the product that came to be known as XenApp, so unless a lot of techies directed their concerns straight to Citrix and didn’t bother to vent their fury online, the “popular demand” tagline could simply be a marketing ploy.

As XenApp 7.5 will be based on the new Flexcast Management Architecture (FMA) and not the old, long-toothed Independent Management Architecture (IMA), just like XenDesktop 7, it is possible that Citrix may have used this “return” to tempt people into making the jump to FMA. Diehard Citrix admins who are used to having zone data collectors (ZDCs), local host caches (LHCs), and all the other IMA fun have certainly been reticent to entertain FMA, in my experience. It also could be the case that Citrix is intending to use XenApp 7.5 as an interim step to assist migration from XenApp to XenDesktop, but given that the world seems to be in the process of becoming much less desktop-focused, I think the former reason may be more likely.

XenApp 7.5 will be a separate SKU (stock keeping unit), like the old XenApp, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it is a re-release of XenApp 6.5. Let’s not forget that there were some features missing in XenDesktop 7 App Edition that were available in XenApp 6.5—think Oracle support, Session Pre-Launch and Linger, Smart Auditor, Health Monitoring, etc. Although 7.5 is closer to 6.5, it has still not completely bridged the gap.

The real boost for XenApp 7.5 is in new features such as hybrid cloud provisioning, which moves Citrix closer to VMware and Amazon in the cloudy arena. It will have out-of-the-box support for connections to major cloud providers, including Citrix’s own CloudPlatform. And there’s more good news: Web Interface is back! StoreFront has suffered from the same reluctant uptake as FMA, so bringing back the Web Interface feature may be something that admins feel is worth daring the FMA route. Also, AppDNA is now fully integrated into the product, which is also good news. AppDNA’s being separately licensed has meant many have avoided it as a tool for gauging application compatibility, so the integration into the higher licensing schemes (Platinum, more than likely) is quite welcome for those who find themselves dealing with incompatible line of business (LOB) apps midway through implementations.

There’s no indication of where Citrix’s acquisition of Framehawk may factor in to the XenApp 7.5 capabilities or of how much it may integrate (if at all) with the likes of XenMobile—although a discount on XenMobile is offered for Platinum license holders. Certainly, the way it has been announced—in a relatively low-key fashion, away from Synergy, which is the normal conduit for new releases—has left most of us wondering exactly what we are going to get from this latest iteration of Citrix’s XenApp product.

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