Monthly Archives: December 2009

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Looking Back on 2009

As each year draws to a close, it just seems natural to look back and reflect on how the last 12 months have gone. You’re probably doing it, and so are we.

It’s been a difficult year for everyone, but most of us have made it through by doing what we always do in difficult times: tighten the belt a notch or two, make hard choices, and focus on business fundamentals.

First and foremost, we’d like to thank our customers. Without your continued loyalty, we wouldn’t be here. We’ve tried very hard to bring value to your businesses as well - and we trust that if we have fallen short in some area, you’ll let us know. Constructive feedback is how we all get better at what we do.

2009 also saw considerable evolution in our Web presence, and our involvement in social media as another way to communicate with our customers. This blog you’re reading launched in October, and so far, we’re very pleased with the reception it has received. Earlier this year, we launched our Facebook Fan Page, and linked it to our Twitter feed. Social media has proven to be a great way to get breaking news - like critical security alerts - into your hands quickly.

We’ve also taken advantage of the not-quite-so-frantically-busy times to further our education, look at some new technologies, and come up with some ideas that we’re pretty excited about and will be sharing with you over the next few months. We welcomed the release of Hyper-V R2, and believe that it will be a great addition to our virtualization “toolbox.” We’ve learned a lot about Microsoft’s System Center Data Protection Manager, and think that it can be a great alternative to tape-based backups for small- and medium-sized businesses. We’ve partnered with Sun Microsystems, whose Intel-based servers make great virtualization platforms and great DataCore SAN nodes - with more storage packed into a 2U rack-mount chassis than either Dell or HP can currently offer.

The people who get paid lots of money to look into crystal balls and make predictions are predicting modest growth in 2010, with IT spending rising 3.5% or so. It’s a safe bet that more and more servers will be virtualized, and that virtualization will continue to expand into smaller enterprises now that it has become recognized as a mainstream technology. It’s also a safe bet that more and more organizations are going to be investigating desktop virtualization as they think about how best to roll out Windows 7. We also believe that a lot of the organizations that are just getting into virtualization are going to look at the cost of VMware and decide that “free” is a pretty good price for Hyper-V or XenServer. And we’re betting that the Citrix story will ultimately win out in the desktop virtualization space.

Our commitment to you is that we will be there with you in the coming year, doing what we’ve always done - which is to look for ways to help you make your business better, whether it’s by taking routine maintenance concerns off of your hands so you can concentrate on building your business, or by looking for ways to use technology to help you reduce costs, boost productivity, and improve agility and reliability in your IT infrastructure.

So here’s wishing all of you a happy and prosperous 2010, and we hope we can help you make it so!

Citrix and Software Maintenance

Traditionally, Citrix has not offered “software maintenance” in the sense that most other software companies use the term. “Software maintenance” from most software vendors includes both ongoing upgrades and some level of telephone-based technical support. It also typically runs 20% - 25% per year of the cost of the software itself, depending on whether support is available 7 x 24, or only during business hours. Instead, Citrix offered something they dubbed “Subscription Advantage” (“SA”), which included upgrade protection, but no technical support. For technical support, they relied primarily on their channel partners (like Moose Logic) to deliver services and technical support to the end users. SA is also less expensive than other vendors’ software maintenance programs – typically running 11% - 13% (depending on the product) of the software list price.

For the most part, that has worked well for Citrix, the end users, and the channel partners. It’s no secret in our industry that nobody makes much money selling hardware and software. It is ultimately the revenue from architecting, installing, and supporting solutions built on the hardware and software that keeps the doors open and the lights on. Furthermore, on the rare occasion that we run into something that stumps us, we’ve got a direct pipeline into the Citrix support team…plus we get to bypass that first level where they ask you questions like whether your servers are plugged in and powered on. So when you engage with a competent Citrix channel partner, you get access to that partner’s technical expertise, which has been honed by lots of time spent in the real-world school of hard knocks, and you still get access to the Citrix technical support team standing behind that partner. The benefit to Citrix was that they didn’t have to staff up to handle the potential call volume from tens of thousands of customers.

The key word here is, of course, “competent.” We recognize that not all Citrix channel partners are created equal…and so does Citrix. Furthermore, there are some channel partners who simply specialize in license fulfillment, and really don’t have any capability to provide services. Finally, there are some end users who insist on being able to go directly to the manufacturer for support, and refuse to do business with manufacturers who won’t give them that ability.

To cover these situations, Citrix began offering separate, incident-based support agreements some time ago. These are pretty expensive: the entry point for XenApp support is a 25-incident plan for $7,500 that offers telephone support during business hours. If you want 7 x 24 support, you need to step up to a 50-incident plan that costs $25,000. If you want to buy one of these plans, you can buy them through your favorite Citrix channel partner, including us. The numbers aren’t so bad if you are a large organization with several hundred, or several thousand, XenApp licenses, but the fact is they just don’t fit a lot of customers who have only a few hundred (or fewer) licenses.

Recently, Citrix announced a real “software maintenance” option for XenApp, in the classic sense of the term. In addition to upgrade protection, it offers 7 x 24 telephone, Web, and email support. You get five annual incidents and one named contact for every 50 XenApp licenses you own. The cost is roughly 20% per year of the list price of the licenses. For example: if you own XenApp Enterprise Edition licenses that were not purchased through a volume license agreement, it costs you $50/year/license to simply renew Subscription Advantage. At your option, you can now pay $90/year/license and get both upgrade protection and 7 x 24 support. The MSRP of a XenApp Enterprise license is $450, so the math is pretty simple: just a tad over 11% for SA alone, 20% for full software maintenance.

Is this a good deal for you? (You know what I’m going to say, don’t you?) It depends. Are you happy with your Citrix channel partner? (Do you even work with a channel partner?) Is your Citrix infrastructure humming along with very few problems – as it should if it was built right in the first place – or do you need a lot of support to keep things running? How many XenApp licenses do you own? (Divide that number by 50, and that tells you how many incidents you’d get if you opted for software maintenance.) How does the cost compare with what you’d normally pay to your channel partner over the course of a year? How does it compare to the cost of buying a separate Citrix support agreement?

The 5-incidents-per-50-licenses formula can lead to some interesting trade-offs. For example, let’s say you own 190 XenApp Enterprise licenses. At $90/license, it would cost you $17,100 for software maintenance, and you’d get 15 incidents. If you simply renewed your SA (for $9,500) and bought a separate 25-incident plan for another $7,500, you would pay only $17,000 and end up with 25 incidents - although you would only have coverage during business hours. If you want 7 x 24 coverage, you’ve got to compare the software maintenance cost to the cost of a 50-incident, $25,000 plan, and software maintenance is going to be less expensive until you hit a crossover point at about 640 licenses. From there on up, software maintenance is going to be more expensive – but you’ll get more than 50 incidents.

If your eyes are starting to glaze over right now, I completely understand. You could, of course, build an Excel spreadsheet that calculated the costs of the various options for you when you entered the number of licenses you own (which is how I came up with the numbers in the preceding paragraph). Or, you can just go to the new Citrix on-line “Software Maintenance for XenApp Value Calculator.”

Software Maintenance Value Calculator

This tool lets you enter how many XenApp licenses you own, specify which version they are (Advanced/Enterprise/Platinum), specify whether or not you bought the licenses through a volume license agreement, and choose whether you want to compare the software maintenance cost with the cost of a 25-incident, business hours plan or a 50-incident, 7 x 24 plan. The tool will then present you with the relative costs of software maintenance vs. straight SA + the plan you picked for comparison.

At the present time, software maintenance is only available for XenApp Advanced, Enterprise, and Platinum editions. I suspect (based on nothing more than my own opinion) that, given the shift toward XenDesktop 4 as their flagship product, it won’t be long before we see something like this for XenDesktop.

Finally, please note that as of this moment in time, the on-line tool that we use to generate SA renewal quotes for you does not yet give us the option to generate a quote that includes software maintenance. That’s coming, but in the meantime, if your renewal date is coming up, and you want to explore the software maintenance option, please let us know so we can work with our Citrix contacts to get you a quote that includes it.

What is Virtualization? - Application Virtualization

To continue the discussion of “What is Virtualization?” that I started back on December 4, I bring you the next installment - Application Virtualization.

Application Virtualization is the isolation and separation of an application from its underlying Operating System (OS) as well as from other applications. The application is fooled into believing that it is working as normal, interacting with the OS and using those resources as if the application had been installed directly on the OS as normal.

Additionally, the application can be installed once within the datacenter and preserved as a “golden image” to be delivered out to the end users. This gives you one instance to manage, one instance to patch, one instance to maintain - all housed in one location. This will help cut IT application maintenance costs as well as help control licensing costs as it will be easier to track application utilization.

Since each virtualized application is isolated from other applications it becomes possible to deploy, on the same piece of hardware, applications that typically didn’t play nicely together in the past. This cuts down on the time needed to test application compatibility since each application resides inside its own “bubble” (much like teenagers).application silos

Traditionally, both desktop admins and admins who were in charge of Terminal Servers (and XenApp servers) spent hours and hours on application compatibility testing. When a new application was added to the official desktop or server image, or an existing application was upgraded, regression testing was necessary to insure that the new or upgraded application didn’t break some other application by, for example, overwriting a shared DLL file. By providing a method for virtualizing Registry entries and calls to particular folder locations, application isolation overcomes most of these headaches.

The real trick with application virtualization is the delivery method, since the delivery methods of these virtual applications is what separates the different vendor solutions in this field. The big three application virtualization solutions are Citrix XenApp, VMware ThinApp, and Microsoft Application Virtualization (a.k.a. “App-V”). These three vendors use either one method or a combination of delivery methods to get the applications to the end users.

Application Streaming: This refers to streaming the application over the network to the client PC on demand. The “secret sauce” here is in figuring out how to stream down just enough of the code to launch the application and allow the user to begin interacting with it. The rest of the code can be streamed down when the user attempts to use a feature that requires it, or it can be simply streamed down in the background until all of the application code is cached locally. An added benefit of streaming all of the code down is that it allows the application to continue to be used when the PC is not connected to the network. (E.g., you can unplug your laptop and take it on the road.)

The application streaming technology you use will determine the control and security of the application once it has been streamed to the end user device. For example, Citrix allows you to administratively set a “time to live” limit on how long apps will run in a disconnected state. If the PC isn’t reconnected to the network within that time limit, the app simply stops working - giving you some level of protection if a PC is lost or stolen. For another example, ThinApp allows you to make an application completely portable - you could carry the Office Suite with you on a USB stick, plug it into any PC, use it, and leave no trace behind when you unplugged the USB stick. (Note: Doing this with the Office Suite could result in a violation of the Office EULA!)

Another “secret sauce” ingredient is the ability to allow limited communication between applications, even though they’re running in their own isolation environments (the “bubble” referred to earlier). For example, your accounting application may need to call Excel to render the output of a particular report. Early versions of application isolation required these applications to be “packaged” together, i.e., installed into the same isolation environment - otherwise, the accounting app wouldn’t know that Excel was available, and you’d get an application error. The latest implementations allow enough inter-isolation communication to take place to avoid problems like this while still avoiding application compatibility conflicts.

Application Hosting: This method can take a couple of different forms. The first is to virtualize the presentation of a typical Windows application by installing the application on a Terminal Server (in most cases, a Terminal Server with Citrix XenApp installed on it), and connecting to that Terminal Server using some kind of remote communications protocol (e.g., Microsoft’s RDP, Citrix’s ICA, etc.). We’ve been doing this for years, and thousands of customers and millions of users access applications this way every day.

Most readers of this blog are probably familiar with the advantages of this deployment model: centralized deployment and management, tighter security, granular control over what can be saved and/or printed at the client location, etc.

Application Streaming can work with this kind of Application Hosting by allowing you to stream applications to your Terminal Servers rather than having to explicitly install them or build them into your official server image. Citrix XenApp customers have the rights to use the Citrix streaming technology to do this, and Microsoft recently announced that the new Server 2008 R2 Remote Desktop Services CAL (formerly called a Terminal Services CAL) will include the rights to use App-V to stream applications to Terminal Servers.

Web-based applications can also be legitimately called “hosted applications” - whether they’re hosted in your own corporate data center, or by some kind of application service provider (e.g., In this scenario, all that’s required on the client PC is a browser - at least in theory.

In fact, the browser then becomes an application that must be managed! For example, you may find that you require a specific version of Java to access a particular hosted Web application - and if the user has local admin rights to the PC, the possibility exists that s/he will inadvertently install something that breaks its compatibility with your critical Web application. Some Microsoft applications require the use of Internet Explorer (e.g., Microsoft CRM is not compatible with Firefox). Some applications may even require a specific browser version. (When IE7 was first released, it caused compatibility issues for users of Microsoft CRM v3.0.)

Also, as a general rule, a Web application will require a more powerful client PC as well as more bandwidth between the client and the Web server to yield a good user experience, compared to an RDP or ICA client device connecting to a Terminal Server.

There is, of course, the option of installing an application directly on a device either by physically visiting the machine with installation media in hand or by using some kind of central management system to push the bits onto the client’s hard drive. These options, however, do not fall under the definition of application virtualization that we’re using here.

The important thing to take away from application virtualization is that no matter how you approach it, it will save you money:

  • Hardware – being able to host multiple applications on a single piece of hardware without worrying about application incompatibility. This can virtually eliminate the “silos” of servers with different configurations in large XenApp environments that used to be necessary to isolate those problem apps that wouldn’t play nicely with any others.
  • Licensing costs – with all your applications being housed in the data center you will have a better understanding of how many instances of each application you are using and will be able to better track your licensing needs
  • Maintenance – being able to update or patch a single instance of the application rather than needing to physically update and patch each machine.
  • Management – less hardware to look after, less time spent with helping end users with application issues, less time spent in application regression testing

Hope this clears up that “what is application virtualization” question. However if you have more questions feel free to use the comments or contact me directly.

XenDesktop 4 Campus-Wide Licensing

Effective today (12/7/09), qualifying institutions can take advantage of Citrix’s new campus-wide licensing for XenDesktop 4. This is an annual license (meaning that you pay this every year) that is based on the concept of “Full Time Equivalents” (FTEs). For example, an FTE student is defined as either:

  • One student attending the educational institution on a full-time basis, or
  • Three students attending the educational institution on a part-time basis.

The suggested pricing is as follows:

  • XenDesktop Platinum - $29/year/FTE
  • XenDesktop Enterprise - $19/year/FTE
  • XenDesktop VDI - $9/year/FTE

There are several other things you need to know if you want to take advantage of the campus-wide pricing model:

  • For K-12 educational institutions, a “campus” may be defined as a single school, or as an entire school district. Either way, all FTE students must be licensed - either all FTE students attending that single school, or all FTE students in all schools within the district.
  • For higher educational institutions, a “campus” may defined as “a school or department, an individual location, or an entire multi-campus university.” For example, it could be the entire University of YourState, the University of YourState SpecificCity Campus, or just the University of YourState School of Engineering. Again, whichever definition you choose, you must license all FTE students that fall within that definition.
  • You are not required to license faculty and staff, but if you choose to do so, you must license 100% of them, “using the same FTE calculation as your Microsoft Campus or School Agreement.”
  • You must hold an active Microsoft Campus or School Agreement. The Citrix definition of “FTE” is deliberately designed to align with the definition Microsoft uses in these agreements.
  • To qualify for a campus-wide agreement, you must be:
    • “A school organized and operated exclusively for educational purposes, such as a correspondence school, junior college, college, university, scientific or technical institution, which is accredited by associations recognized by either the Department of Education and/or the local Education Authority, and that teaches students as its primary focus.” - or -
    • “The district, regional, or state administrative office of an entity described above, if the office is organized and operated exclusively for educational purposes.” - or -
    • “A hospital, healthcare organization, medical testing laboratory, non-profit museum or public library which is wholly owned by an entity described above. By way of example, the hospital or library of a university meeting the requirements would be part of the customer for purposes of this Agreement.” - or -
    • “Any administrative office or Board of Directors that controls, administers, or is controlled by or administered by an entity described above may also participate.”
  • There is a minimum purchase requirement of 1,000 licenses. You don’t necessarily have to have 1,000 students, you just have to buy 1,000 licenses.

You can find more information in this Citrix Community blog post by Sumit Dhawan.

What is Virtualization?

Virtualization can mean different things depending on who you ask so we are going to take a broad look at what virtualization is, the different forms it comes in, and why it is so popular.

This is going to be pretty basic stuff so if you are looking for more advanced material I promise we will have advanced stuff in future posts.

Virtualization has been getting a lot of buzz the last few years as it moved from being “bleeding edge” technology to becoming an industry standard. You may have even heard that there are lots of benefits to virtualizing your datacenter…but you may not be sure whether it’s for you, how it works, or even what it means.

There are several kinds of virtualization, including server virtualization, storage virtualization, application virtualization, network virtualization, and desktop virtualization. But when most folks talk about virtualization, they’re referring to server virtualization, so that’s what we will cover today.

So, what is server virtualization?  Simply put server virtualization is the technology that is designed to allow multiple (virtual) servers to reside on a single piece of (physical) hardware and share the resources of the physical server - while still maintaining separate operating environments, so that a problem that crops up in one virtual server won’t affect the operation of others that may be running on the same physical “host.” To help explain what this means I’m going to use the house and condo analogy.

Let’s say you’re a land developer and you build residential property. You cut your land into smaller plots and build one house per plot. As part of the land development, you need to bring in all the utilities from the main street to each and every plot. All of this development costs money.  To make matter worse you know that your city’s population is growing, you’re running out of land to build on, and you also need to control the spiraling costs of building materials. How do you cut cost and provide more homes for a growing population on a limited amount of land?

Figure 1 - Typical cul-de-sac USA

Perhaps instead of building single-family homes and having one resident per plot you start building condominiums that hold several residents each. Now the utilities that are brought in to the condo complex are shared by all the residents and yet no one ever sees the other residents’ bills. You’re making more efficient use of the land you have and not wasting time and money bringing in utilities to each individual house. Plus one yard is easier to take care of than ten yards.

Figure 2 - 1 & 2bd Condos Available Now!!

So how does this relate to server virtualization?

Each plot of land is a physical server, the structure you build on that plot is a server “workload” (i.e., Exchange, SQL, file server, print server, etc.), and the city is your data center. The utilities are things like power, cooling, and network connectivity. When there is only one workload per physical server, a lot of space and resources get wasted. It’s common to see only 10-15% (if that) processor utilization on physical servers which run only one operating system and one application.

With server virtualization we can now create several “virtual” servers on one physical piece of hardware - think of the hardware as little “server condos” if you like. Just as you can have one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom units in a single building, you can allocate differing amounts of processing and memory resources to the virtual servers depending on the requirements of each individual workload. Each virtual server can now share the physical resources of the host machine with the other virtual servers and never know that they are sharing. In fact, each virtual server “thinks” it’s running on its own dedicated hardware platform. By doing this you can now utilize 80-90% of the processing power of the hardware you own, and cut down on the total amount of power, cooling, and floor space you need in your data center.

For example (just pulling numbers out of the air), let’s say that you’ve been paying an average of $5K each for servers that would handle a single workload. If you need four of them, that’s $20K in hardware cost. But if you can buy one server for $8 - 10K to virtualize these 4 machines, that’s a significant reduction in hardware cost. And with fewer machines to plug in and keep cool, your savings can be up to 40% on power consumption alone. (Did you know that we’ve now reached the point where, over the service life of a typical new server, it’s going to cost you more to keep it cool than it cost you to buy it?)

Since the virtual servers are all located on one physical box you now have fewer pieces of hardware to maintain - allowing the IT staff to use their time more efficiently. You’ll save space in your data center. You’ll also cut down on the amount of waste (some of it hazardous) that must be recycled or disposed of when your hardware finally reaches its end-of-life.

You’ve also cut down time needed to bring a new server on line. In the past you would have had to acquire the hardware, assemble it, rack it, connect it to the network, install and patch the OS, install and configure the application, test it all, and finally put it into service. Now that the servers are virtual they can be created, configured, and put into production in a few hours as opposed to the weeks it used to take. In some cases, by using templates for commonly-needed workloads, it can take only minutes. This makes for a much more flexible and scalable environment.

So server virtualization can:

  • Cut hardware costs
  • Cut energy costs (for both power and cooling)
  • Cut system maintenance time and costs
  • Create a very scalable and flexible data center
  • Save space
  • Create a more environmentally friendly data center (a.k.a. “green computing”)

These are the main reasons that server virtualization has become an industry standard. According to folks like Gartner, we’ve now reached the point where the majority of new servers placed into service are being virtualized, and the majority of enterprises have made it a standard practice to virtualize all new servers unless there is a compelling reason why a server can’t or shouldn’t be virtualized. Virtualization also makes it easier to implement things like high availability, disaster recovery, and business continuity, but that’s a subject for a future post.