How Citrix Fits into Hybrid Cloud

How Citrix Fits into Hybrid Cloud

Citrix executive defines user-centric vision

Appearing on SiliconANGLE TV, Morgan Gerhart, senior director of products for Citrix’s cloud and networking business,  offered his thoughts on where Citrix fits in the emerging hybrid cloud environment.

“What we try to do at Citrix is make the deployment and configuration of our stack as transparent as possible regardless of whether it’s running on-premise or in AWS [Amazon Web Services] because IT professionals shouldn’t have to do things fundamentally different to invoke AWS,” Gerhart said. Citrix’s goal, Gerhart noted, is to make AWS look like a natural extension of its customers’ data centers rather than just another silo.

The interview took place at Amazon.com’s recent re:Invent summit and was reported in siliconANGLE by Maria Deutscher.

Citrix NetScaler is central to the company’s cloud strategy, “providing a common interface for managing demand that allows organizations to handle an application running on AWS no differently than if it were deployed on-premise,” Deutscher writes. Users can also also move NetScaler-backed workloads outside the data center with minimal tweaking.

“What’s driving us is the concept of the software-defined workplace, which is fundamentally built around the fact that when a user is accessing an application today, they’re going to be accessing that application from at least three devices over the course of the day,” Gerhard said. “Ultimately, it’s not a technology conversation, it’s a user-centric one.”

Five Perks of Virtualization

Virtualization is a broad term that describes the abstraction of resources (usually applications) into a single server, reducing operating costs and improving the utilization of computing resources and increasing IT team productivity. Below I outline my top five benefits of virtualization.

  1. Fewer physical servers. Hardware costs and their subsequent maintenance costs are greatly reduced when there is less physical hardware to maintain.
  2. Efficient data center utilization. When you consolidate the number of servers, you are effectively removing them from your data center, freeing up space in the data center that can now be used more efficiently.
  3. Maintain application integrity. Each application can be housed within its own virtual server, so updating or changing one application has no impact on other applications.
  4. Scalability. Once a standard virtual server is built, it can be easily duplicated. Duplicating an already built server significantly speeds up server deployment and makes your job faster and easier.
  5. Multiple operating systems, one hardware platform. Again, this makes your job faster and easier. You can deploy multiple operating systems on multiple clients, from your single hardware platform.

Next Steps

Citrix is my favorite virtualization tool. Explore Citrix certification by Unitek Education today, to realize the value for yourself. Speak with a Unitek Education representative about Citrix certification at 888-825-6273 or request more information here.

 

About Unitek Education

Unitek IT Education is the premier Authorized Citrix training center in the United States and has trained enterprise clients nationwide on Citrix installation, administration and security. Unitek Education’s cutting-edge training solutions have received accolades from many enterprise companies, including Citrix itself. Unitek Education has been honored with multiple Learning Partner of the Year and Learning Partner of the Quarter awards by Citrix Systems.

 

Unitek Education Citrix Training – Hands-On Training in a Virtual World

Students at Unitek Education learn on real servers

Students at Unitek Education learn on real servers

Unitek Education offers Citrix training that cannot be found anywhere else. You might be thinking, “Whats the difference between Unitek Education Citrix training and Citrix training anywhere else?” Unitek Education students learn on actual physical servers, where almost all other Citrix training providers administer courses in a virtual environment. Students who train in a virtual environment are directed to an online lab where they train on virtual servers. Unitek Education’s Citrix training program melds the efficiency of virtual training with the real-life experience of physical training on actual servers. Unitek Education students can get their hands dirty (or at least really familiar with), the same type of Windows 2008 R2 server they will be using when they return to work.

The downfalls of virtual training are many, and leave much to be desired. (Hence why Unitek Education utilizes physical hands-on-training!) Students don’t experience the “real thing” in a virtual environment, yet are expected to be “experts” on server assessment, design, deployment, and maintenance without having attacked the task hands-on. More importantly, the robotic and vapid nature of virtual training means that training is performed in a generic “paint-by-numbers” method. There is no personalization or unique attention given to students. Yet all students work on unique environments back at the office. Most virtual training boils down to:  “access the virtual lab, click on A,B,C, then click X,Y,Z, and ta-da! There is your generic Citrix configuration”. This kind of training isn’t training – it’s practically an expensive user manual.

As opposed to mucking around in a virtual lab, Unitek Education students use real, physical Windows 2008 R2 servers for their student machines. They are able to locally recreate the online environment, in order to combine what they learn in official labs, with a reconfigured physical build. The benefits of using physical servers are numerous. Students actually learn on the real thing, so they can directly apply their new knowledge in the workplace. The student and instructor can collaborate to create a server like the one the student uses in his or her work place, giving them tangible results to bring back to the office. And believe it or not, technology classes can be hindered by technology. In the event of an internet service outage, virtual training is generally shut down. When students are working on physical servers, the learning day is not interrupted in the event of an internet service outage.

Servers are hardware. So why do other training providers expect students to learn on software? It just doesn’t make sense. Unitek Education’s hands-on training, led by a Citrix certified expert, brings real results, because it utilizes the power and results of real training.

Next Steps

Explore Citrix certification by Unitek Education today, and experience the power of real training. Speak with a Unitek Education representative about Citrix certification at 888-825-6273 or request more information here.

About Unitek Education

Unitek IT Education is the premier Authorized Citrix training center in the United States and has trained enterprise clients nationwide on Citrix installation, administration and security. Unitek Education’s cutting-edge training solutions have received accolades from many enterprise companies. Unitek Education has been honored with multiple Learning Partner of the Year and Learning Partner of the Quarter awards by Citrix Systems.

Redundancy – Top 5 Single Points of Failure in Most Citrix Implementations

  1. WI/CSG
  2. XML
  3. STA
  4. TS licensing server
  5. License server and data store

When we talk to Citrix administrators and first ask about their Citrix implementation, they may tell us they have 2 or 3, 4 or 5 servers. With the exception of one machine running the Web Interface, the rest of the Citrix servers are assumed to be pretty much equal, serving apps.

But the truth is there are several components in the Citrix farm that are single points of failure, with varying levels of tolerance for disconnection. All the Citrix servers are therefore not equal. Some application servers going down may only create additional load on the rest of the servers. Other application servers may be involved in more unique and critical functions as well, such as XML server, or STA, for the Web Interface.

1. WI/CSG

If the WebInterface machine, which runs over IIS, goes down, there may be no other method of external access to the applications on the LAN. By default, the Citrix Web Interface is not fault tolerant. It takes only minutes to “create a site” when first configuring the Citrix servers, but by itself that site is a single point of failure.

The first thing that could be done is to create a second site on a second Web Interface machine. By itself this would not provide for a smooth failover; users would loose connectivity to the first site, then have to enter a different URL or IP address to get to the second site, before reconnecting to their ICA/CGP sessions.

Originally the only thing Citrix said we could do about failover was get a hardware load balancer, but eventually Microsoft Clustering was supported. The same is true of the Citrix Secure Gateway – the SSL software that comes with WebInterface for free, to secure the ICA data stream via SSL/TLS certificates.

2. XML

The Web Interface needs to talk to at least one “designated XML server” for each farm that it supplies credentials to. In the configuration utility for the site there is an option to add additional servers to a list of designated XML servers, and decide whether you want all the servers contacted on a regular basis, or, simply a main server and a list of backups. Either way, more than one – strategically chosen – Presentation server should be configured. The only requirement of the servers chosen is that they have the same port configured to be used for XML.

Even if there are two websites and two WebInterface machines, both using the same configuration with the same single XML server, though functional – and common – would be a single point of failure.

3. STA

If you’re using the WebInterface, you’re probably using the Citrix Secure Gateway software, or the Citrix Access Gateway hardware network appliance, to secure the ICA/CGP traffic via SSL over untrusted networks like the internet. Either way, your security box is using one of your Presentation Servers to both issue and authenticate “1-time-only tickets”, which are passed from the Web Interface to the client device and back to the Presentation Servers. It’s part of how the single-sign-on effect works within WebInterface, without exposing credentials to untrusted networks. Logistically, the same one server has to authenticate all the tickets that it issues.

And being a single DLL to do the job, it isn’t very hard, and Citrix tells us we’ll never need more than one for performance, but this is also a very dangerous single point of failure. That one Citrix server that happens to have been chosen as the STA – Secure Ticket Authority – goes down, and nobody can get in from outside.

Solving the single STA problem is about as easy as solving the single XML server problem; there is an option where the STA is configured to add more than one, and to allow the list to be used for “load balancing” or failover. This has to be done carefully, however, as multiple interfaces have to be configured with identical information, one interface telling the system where to make the certificates, and the other telling the system where to authenticate them. If these do not always match, that is also a big single point of failure. Without an STA, everyone using the Web Interface just gets a red error.

4. TS licensing server

Logging in successfully to the application server requires not only a Citrix License Server and a concurrent user Citrix License for the version of Citrix trying to be accessed, but also a Terminal Services CAL, which has to be stored on a Terminal Services Licensing Server. There is usually at least one TS Licensing server, possibly the Domain Controller, for the whole Citrix Farm.

There are two different methods of licensing available for TSCAL’s – per user and per seat. The per user licensing is preferable, because you are only on your honor, and if some disconnect occurs between the Citrix servers and the TS License server, there is no technical issue.

But per-seat licensing is another story. Being unable to get a TSCAL, after a set amount of time, can stop a user from getting in to a Citrix session, when the method of Terminal Services licensing on that Citrix server is set to per-seat. If this is the case, the TS Licensing server is another dangerous single point of failure.

5. License server and data store

These are actually two separate issues, but they have a lot in common; both are 30-day fault-tolerant single points of failure. Anyone good enough to check their Event Viewers on the Citrix Servers at least once a week will see the red “X” and the number of grace hours remaining until catastrophic failure, in there once an hour for the whole 30-day countdown.

The Citrix License server has to be up, and the license file has to be available, over port TCP 27000, by default, to all Citrix Presentation Servers. The license file has the case-sensitive name of the License server hard-coded and digitally signed, so if licensing is installed somewhere else and the farm is pointed to the new license server, there is still a 30-day countdown. Citrix can re-allocate the license for you on MyCitrix.com, but it only takes two reboots to rename a server in honor of the old license server, assuming that it’s not going to cause any other problems for other things hosted on the server to be renamed. Citrix supports the use of Microsoft Clustering for the Citrix License server.

The IMA data store is an older and more complicated story. Holding all the settings for all the published apps, policies, and servers in the farm, this heart of the Citrix implementation may reside in an Access database on any one of your Citrix Presentation Servers – by default, on the first one in the farm. Then again, and in most situations, the IMA Data Store resides on a separate SQL server, with the outside chance it is sitting on Oracle or DB2.

If it’s sitting on an external box, there are two single points of failure, by default, just in the case of Data Store disconnection – there’s the SQL server itself, of course, but then there’s the one server with the DSN file to that database server. By default, IMA configures the first server in the farm to connect to the data store, and the rest of the servers go through that first server, in what Citrix calls an “indirect” IMA connection. Our option, and a Citrix best practice, is to add DSN files manually to several other Citrix servers, in order to maintain connection to the Data Store under all circumstances.

Having the data store itself backed up goes back to the beginning of the article, the idea that, whether on Access or on SQL, and whether there are professional daily backups running or not, there should be a separate, “last known good” backup of the data store, on a flash drive, in the possession of the lead administrator or integrator, and a process in place to get back to that Data Store state in the event of Data Store failure.

CM, Citrix Training Instructor
Unitek Citrix Training

Top 5 Areas For Improvement In Most Citrix Implementations

Citrix Authorized Learning Partner1) Local Text Echo
2) Load evaluators
3) Roaming profiles
4) Data store backup and restore
5) Print drivers

1) Local Text Echo

When a user at a Citrix client device hits a character-keystroke, a lot has to happen before there is a corresponding character on the client device, by default. The keystroke gets put inside an ICA packet, and that inside a TCP/IP packet, which is sent over the wire to the Citrix server, where the keystroke is unpacked and used to update the session on the server. Then the updated bitmap-piece is placed inside an ICA packet – and this inside a TCP/IP packet, back over the wire to the client, where it finally appears on the screen, where it belongs, on the client device.

The problem is the user thinks something is wrong with the network, or the Citrix server, when they are able to notice the “latency” described. A simple fix that is available in every Citrix implementation, from standard to enterprise (or “Platinum”), is the “SpeedScreen Local Text Echo” feature.

SpeedScreen Local Text Echo makes the network seem faster, by going ahead and writing the character to the client device ahead of time, letting the whole ICA packet story happen in the background. When the actual bitmap-piece in an ICA packet from the server finally gets to the client, the user will have no idea, because they will have thought it had been there the whole time, ever since they fist typed it.

Turning this feature on is a few clicks at the server console. But before you go click these clicks, there’s a reason Citrix left this off by default.

There is a very similar feature, called “Mouse Click Feedback”, which is on by default. Citrix will place an hourglass on the client device immediately after the mouse is clicked, well before the actual hourglass arrives, to save the user from the mistake of clicking again – the number one action performed when a click does not lead to an hourglass immediately.

But the “Local Text Echo” feature is left off by default. It can be turned on per ICA client, per Citrix Presentation Server, per application on each server, or even per field in an application, and the server-specific settings can usually be successfully used after being replicated to the other servers in the farm, so in this way it can be set farm-wide.

The reason there is an option to set it on or off per “field within an application”, is because of the dilemma of password fields. If there is an application on the Citrix server, whose application logic has a password field rendered as asterisks, then the client device would be showing clear text passwords, temporarily, until the latent packet eventually arrived back from the server with asterisks.

So either “Local Text Echo” can just be turned on every server, or the password field-protected apps will have to be identified first, and only after careful testing and configuration, should you enable “Local Text Echo”, (using the SpeedScreen Latency Reduction Manager tool in the ICA toolbar on every Citrix server.)

Read more