Post Excalibur remarks

When I finished ‘Part two’ on Excalibur my Blog got viewed over 700 times in just the first three days, although that may not sound like a lot to some of you, to me it’s huge! I also received multiple kind and friendly messages complementing me on my writing and encouraging me to keep up the good work… unbelievable!  A big thank you to everybody! One reader left a comment mentioning that although he liked Excalibur and the idea of XenApp and XenDesktop as combined products, he also found that it was primarily XenDesktop being referenced, steeling XenApp’s thunder, so to speak.

I have to be honest, I really like the product, its features and possibilities but he has a good point! When I walked through the application publishing wizard of Excalibur I thought about some of the options and features available in XenApp 6.5 most of which can’t be found In Excalibur, not yet anyway. I didn’t gave it to much thought at the time, I just figured that the RTM release would bring them all back. But… what if it doesn’t?! One of my colleagues, Bader El Khalfi also wrote a Blog on the matter, you’ll find it here: itclassroom.com I’ll try and compare both products and summarize what’s missing in the Excalibur Tech Preview when it comes to the XenApp integration. Thank you David :-)

XenApp Server Roles

Ok, so I first installed all the prerequisites and then continued with SQL Express, XenApp, the License Server, the whole shebang! I quickly set up my test Farm, ran discovery and went directly back to the installation media to check out the other XenApp Server Roles available, see below. Let’s compare the two and see how Excalibur holds up.

XenApp Roles overview

First the Common Roles:

  • License Server – Still available
  • XenApp – Duh! Integrated in Excalibur
  • Receiver Storefront – No longer available, better known as StoreFront
  • Merchandising Server -Still there as a separate install, not included on media

Other Roles:

  • SmartAuditor – No longer available
  • Web Interface – Replaced by StoreFront
  • Single Sign On – Still there as part of StoreFront
  • Power and Capacity Management – No longer available
  • Provisioning Services – Still there as a separate product
  • EdgeSight  – Replaced by HDX EdgeSight, also leveraged by Director

For me the replacement of Web Interface by StoreFront is a good thing, although it is a nice product ForeFront is just more robust and I like its modularity. One interface connects you to all your internal recourses including AppController and provides you with Single Sign-on along the way. It includes most of Web Interface’s code and also still generateds ICA configuration files. I can’t say much about Power and Capacity Management, I never really used it, the same goes for SmartAuditor however I can imagine that it could come in handy from time to time. Merchandising Server is still a great add-on.

EdgeSight has been redesigned and is now integrated into the new FlexCast 2.0 console, it currently goes by the name: HDX EdgeSight, big difference right? Have a look here: blogs.citrix.com/2012/10/17/rising-to-meet-user-expectations-with-project-avalon to find out a bit more on its capabilities and coexistence with Director.

The Citrix Administration tools are installed as part of XenApp, I won’t go over them separatly since the XenApp setup will be replaced by Delivery Agent installations. Shadowing is no longer available, the ICA listener is still configurable through RDS and partly by policies, Speedscreen, SSL and client printing will be handled by the Delivery Controllers mostly through policies as well and next to that I’m pretty sure that we’ve seen the last of the XenApp migration manager.

App Center vs Studio

Before I continue, I know this is still ‘just’ the Tech Preview and a lot can and probably will change, I just thought it might be a nice idea to summarize some of its short comings when it comes to application publishing (read: XenApp) Let’s start by comparing App Center and Studio on some basic functionality and go from there. I’ll list some, not all, of XenApp’s features and options followed by what Excalibur has to offer in reply, if any.

AppCenter overview

General Farm information… Although much alike, XenApp does display just a bit more. Within Studio you need to switch between multiple pages like, Search, Machine Catalogs, Delivery Groups etc. Where XenApp shows you all the information in just one or two locations by simply highlighting your Farm or a specific Server. But that’s just me being picky.

IMA… We all know by now that IMA has been replaced by XenDesktop’s FMA, it has several advantages, perhaps a few disadvantages as well, time will tell.

Hotfix Management… Can’t find any in Studio.

Application folders… Not possible in Studio (use Tags instead) this may not seem like a big deal but have a look at the Studio Applications pane and imagine having 50+ or even more applications in there. The same goes for servers as well, no separation possible accept for the Machine Catalogs themselves. It can really help you manage your Farm / Site more efficiently.

Load Balance Policies… Nope, not in Excalibur, I can’t imagine we’ve seen the last of those. And since they replaced the Zone Preference Policies there’s not much left.

Load Evaluators… Are still there they just work a bit differently, manageable through policies.

Servers… Right clicking a server in XenApp gives you multiple useful options like, Logon Control, Connect to Server, Remove from Farm etc… Excalibur does offer similar options but not all and again you’ll have to navigate to different pages.

Worker Groups… Are gone as well together with the Load Balance Policies. You could state that the Machine Catalog / Delivery Group combo are the new Worker Groups (policies get applied at Delivery Group level) although there is no way to Load Balance, prioritize or Failover using Delivery Groups or Catalogs for that matter.

Zones… No more Zone separation and goodbye Data Collectors. This is now the responsibility of the Delivery Controllers. There can be multiple within a Site so no worries there, there’s just no way of separating them. It’s now one big Zone, always! FMA should scale way beyond IMA, so let’s wait and find out.

Shadowing… Here’s were Director comes in. Shadowing as we no it is gone. Director takes over and makes use of Microsoft’s Remote Assistence to get the job done.

ICA… Don’t worry it’s still there, just a small change. Once the client device receives an ICA configuration file from StoreFront, after all the authentication and enumeration has taken place, it will set up an direct connection (if it’s internal) to the desktop or server specified. This connection, formerly know as an ICA connection, is now called an HDX connection which is due to new options available when it comes to delivering applications and enhancing the overall user experience.

Application specific

When publishing applications there are also a few options missing compared to XenApp. Sure, some things never change, name, location, shortcut etc… But what about the Application type? Is it accessed from a server, streamed if possible, streamed to server or streamed to client or is it installed locally? It could also just be content or a published server (hosted) desktop. Most of these options are not there. The rest is pretty much the same. XenApp 6.5 also introduced some cool new features like, Lingering and Pre-Launch. They used to be configurable through user policies under Session Limits… also, not there.

Application publish

Conclusion

That’s about it as far as I’m concerned, I’m sure I might have overlooked a few, especially when it comes to policies, there are a lot :-) or perhaps my perception on things could be off, just let me know. Besides that I’m pretty sure we’ll see some of the above features back in one of the later Excalibur (XD7) releases. I still think it’s a big step forward when it comes to ease of management and the infrastructure improvements that have been made, just some lose ends for now, that’s all.

Bas van Kaam ©

Reference materials used: Excalibur Tech Preview and XenApp 6.5 evaluation software

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5 thoughts on “Post Excalibur remarks

  1. Paul

    I think it’s unusable for XenApp as is given the components they removed to force it to market faster. Maybe in a small environment it would be ok but in a real enterprise it is a management nightmare.

    Reply
    1. Bas van kaam Post author

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for your reply.

      Uhm… Yes and no. If they leave it this way as far as the XenApp integration goes then a definite yes for me as well, there’s too much detail missing. If the final product will have some, if not all, of the XenApp functionality back in it then I’m not so sure. If you look at some of the architectual changes they’ve made… a big step forward. I’m sure we’ll see a whole other product in a few months time. I think it’s also a matter of getting used to new interfaces etc… If you are not that familiar with XenDesktop for example and spent the past 4 years or more behind your AppCenter console then it could take some time to accept change, don’t you agree?

      Regards,

      Bas.

      Reply
    2. Bas van Kaam Post author

      Hi again Paul, what do you think? Having a look at the XenDesktop 7 feature matrix, does it live up to your expectations? Or is it still too early to judge?

      Regards,

      Bas.

      Reply
  2. Bas van Kaam Post author

    Hi Santosh,

    That’s correct. In Excalibur we use Machine Catalogs in combination with Delivery Groups, have another look at the Project Avalon… Excalibur! Part two, it’s explained in detail. Machine Catalogs hold the physical or virtual machines which we than add to a Delivery Group also containing the users who have access. Be aware that there are two different kinds of Delivery Groups, one for desktop publishing and one for application publishing. With application publishing we need to add an existing Delivery Group or create a new one during the application publishing process. Also, when publishing applications users aren’t part of the Delivery Group, they are added to the application as part of the publishing process as well. When publishing desktops you add users to the Delivery Group also holding the earlier created Machine Catalog with the machines I know, it’s confusing.

    Just remember this order: create a site, Machine Catalogs holding the machines, Delivery Groups holding the Machine Catalogs. If it’s a Desktop Delivery Group then it also holds the users who need to get access, if it is an application Delivery Group then it is added or created when publishing the application and it doesn’t hold any users. Users are then added as part of the application publishing process. Hope it helps.

    Regards,

    Bas.

    Reply

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