BriForum Recap: Storm Clouds Over Citrix, Microsoft Rising

It’s been a little over two weeks since BriForum 2015 ended out in Denver, and as usual, it was a blast, filled with knowledgeable speakers and engaged attendees covering the entire gamut of virtualization and server-based computing.  This year, I had the privilege of being a BriForum speaker, focusing my talk on the hidden benefits provided by Version 8 of the Remote Desktop Protocol available in Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows Server 2012 and later operating systems.

One of the larger trends I’m seeing, which was echoed by many speakers at BriForum – at least in the server-based computing segment – is how Citrix’s star is fading as a viable solution for mid-market companies.  It’s gotten so bad that key shareholders in Citrix (e.g. Elliot) have effectively forced Citrix to start the spin off of some of its assets and have forced out Mark Templeton as CEO.  There’s a lot to this story, and Gabe Knuth has summed it up much more comprehensively than I can, so read his post for all of the gory details.

What is getting less press, but in my mind is just as or more important, is the fact that Citrix has made critical internal personnel decisions over the past few years leading to offshoring of certain departments with rather poor results.  I noticed the fruit of these decisions years ago when I merely attempted to get XenDesktop/XenApp 6.5 up and running in a lab environment.  A quality software product should not require multiple patches to fix critical issues just to get a solution installed.  And I’m sure CIOs continue to question a.) the high costs of the software itself combined with b.) the high costs of bringing in consultants or other hired guns just to keep their stuff running.  For a smaller or mid-market company without an unlimited budget, this creates a huge incentive to divest themselves of Citrix, and look towards other solutions like VMWare’s Horizon product and “Citrix-lite” alternatives that run on top of RDS.

Which leads me to Microsoft.  Fueled by their expansion of Azure as a comprehensive cloud computing platform, they have been investing *significantly* in remote desktop technologies, especially the latest Remote Desktop Protocol versions.  Their most recent version of the Remote Desktop Protocol, RDP 8, features incredible improvements over previous versions, primarily in the adaptive graphics department AND in the use of UDP as a transport protocol to vastly increase data throughput and responsiveness over less than reliable links (4G, WiFi, Satellite, etc).  While not as bleeding edge as Citrix’s emerging Framehawk technologies in extremely high loss networks, it’s simply *good enough* for the vast majority of corporate networks and teleworking scenarios.  And as we’ve seen in the past, once Microsoft gets *good enough* in a certain market / technology area, they tend to dominate.  Remember Novell, anyone? :)

As for us, we’re charting our path alongside Microsoft.  While our software continues to support Citrix and other configurations running on top of RDS, woe be to vendors who are “Citrix only” in their design focus, as I think they’re going to be competing for an ever shrinking piece of the pie.  There will be a lot of money to be made over the coming years on migrating people AWAY from Citrix on to pure Remote Desktop Services, and we will be a proud part of that vendor ecosystem.

Automating Microsoft SPLA Reporting With SPL Tracker – Part 1

Automate SPLA ReportingSPLA reporting is an expanding and increasingly complicated need as cloud and subscription-based solutions become more prevalent in Microsoft Windows environments.

And Really, It Isn’t Just About SPLA Reporting

In addition to Microsoft’s Service Provider License Agreement (SPLA), there is the Citrix Service Provider licensing program as well. Those aren’t the only two examples where subscription-based license reporting is necessary – more and more software vendors that cater to the Managed Service Provider (MSP) community are also offering this form of licensing.

As a result, one of the monthly chores that can considerably complicate the life of an MSP is recurring, subscription-based license reporting.

While monthly subcription based licensing greatly reduces startup costs and large, capitalized expenses, the reporting requirements can be challenging. Every month, the MSP must provide a report to various licensing authorities based on the number of users who used, or more frequently, had the ability to use specific classes of software.

This gets very tedious and labor intensive for MSPs. Some will attempt to script a solution, others will do simple counts based on AD membership or equivalent. However, both of these approaches are problematic, and they do not reflect total costs or utilization rates over time.

SPL Tracker for SPLA Reporting and More . . .

Our new Service Provider Licensing Tracker (SPL Tracker) is a powerful and cost-saving solution for this specific challenge. Leveraging the software usage history and RDS/ICA usage history collected by our Remote Desktop Reporter tool, the SPL Tracker can analyze the difference between actual usage and ability to use certain classes of licenses.

Best of all, it only takes a few steps to configure, and once configured, can completely automate your SPLA reporting and similar MSP license reporting requirements.

 

Two classes of license types are shown in this screenshot from SPL Tracker, an SPLA reporting software.
SPL Tracker targets the increasing need for SPLA reporting. Above, two classes of license types are shown – Microsoft Office Users and Remote Desktop Users.

Step 1: Defining License Types

By default, two of the most common license classes are defined for you automatically in the software – Microsoft Office Users, and Remote Desktop Users.

Microsoft Office Users

This class represents all users who have accessed Office components (e.g. Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, etc) in your shared computing environment, based on Remote Desktop Reporter’s usage history.

Remote Desktop Users

Similarly, the Remote Desktop Users class represents all users who established an RDS or Citrix XenApp session in a given time period.

Additional Definitions / Classes

You can create additional definitions to track the usage of other applications – those that access SQL Server, for example. Simply create a new license type definition, select the processes that reflect the usage, and save it for later use.

Keep in mind that you can automatically omit disabled user accounts from reports. And, you can also prevent the SPL Tracker from marking newly on-boarded user accounts in a client’s Active Directory as inactive.

Upcoming Insights on SPLA Reporting and More . . .

In Part 2 of our Service Provider Licensing Tracker series, we will demonstrate how to correlate historical license usage with the Active Directory groups that control access to those license types.

Do you have questions about what you’ve read here? Respond below!

Tracking Citrix XenApp Concurrent Licensing

If you maintain Citrix XenApp server farms, you are no doubt keenly aware of challenges inherent in keeping tabs on concurrent licensing growth in an organization.  Except for the base level of XenApp Fundamentals, licensing is enforced by peak, distinct concurrent user connections to servers throughout the farm.

RDS Licensing

This is different than Microsoft Remote Desktop Services licensing.  RDS is licensed per user or per device.  Most modern organizations in the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) era opt for per user licensing, as most users will be connecting to RDS sessions from multiple devices such as tablets, phones, or desktops.

Citrix XenApp Licensing

In contrast, Citrix’s concurrent licensing model is based on the peak number of distinct users who establish XenApp sessions on any Citrix XenApp server in the farm at the same time.  So, you could have a scenario where you have 15 users who could potentially access XenApp services, but only have purchased 8 concurrent user licenses, as you figure that no more than 8 of those 15 will be connected to the farm at any one time.

In order to contain cost, but also see how usage is growing, it is very important to both keep routine track of how your concurrent licenses are being allocated, and if you’re starting to bump up against the maximum in your farm.

Reports to Help With Tracking

Reporting on Max Distinct Concurrent User Sessions Across a Citrix XenApp Farm
Screenshot from the RDPSoft report on max distinct concurrent user sessions across a Citrix XenApp farm.

All of this is why we’ve added a new report family in Remote Desktop Reporter 1.9.4 called “Max Distinct Concurrent User Sessions Across The Farm.” This report can help you track peak distinct concurrent users over various time intervals such as monthly, daily, or even hourly.

Schedule it on a recurring basis, and you’ll never have to worry about keeping tabs on your Citrix XenApp concurrent license usage ever again.

 

RDPSoft Announces Support for Citrix XenApp Reporting and Monitoring

RDPSoft is pleased to announce support for Citrix XenApp reporting and XenApp monitoring in Version 1.2 of its flagship product, Remote Desktop Reporter.

As many Citrix administrators already know, Citrix XenApp servers create ICA sessions on demand when users connect through Citrix client software, such as the Citrix Receiver. These sessions can run alongside traditional RDP sessions on the same Windows server, and are visible from both the Citrix administration tools and the Microsoft Terminal Services Manager.

As a result, RDPSoft’s Remote Desktop Reporter can poll, store, and report on both RDP and ICA sessions completely transparently. All key reports, such as the User Productivity and User Session Activity reports, function absolutely the same, regardless of the protocol used to establish the session. So whether or not you use Remote Desktop Services or XenApp to benefit your teleworkers, Remote Desktop Reporter can audit much of their activity.

Given that many Remote Desktop and Citrix monitoring tools are priced based on concurrent users, it’s important to note that Remote Desktop Reporter is priced instead on the number of servers and workstations monitored, starting at only $199 per monitored server with volume discounts.

Citrix XenApp users, feel free to weigh in above in the comments section regarding the types of XenApp specific reports you need the most. Thanks!

** Citrix, XenApp, and the Citrix Receiver are registered trademarks of Citrix Systems, Inc.