A Breakdown on Citrix Cloud Digital Workspaces in Microsoft Azure

There’s no denying that I’ve been very busy sharing my knowledge on Citrix Cloud workspaces over the past three months. So for that reason, I thought I'd dedicate a final review article on this specific topic. Although Citrix keeps innovating on their Cloud platform, here's what makes this blog article never completely final... 

 

I’m ready for the digital transformation, so are you?

 

In today’s world, where Digital Transformation is a hot topic and companies are planning their upcoming Cloud strategies–some of the most relevant questions asked are, "which Cloud platform is the most stable and reliable one for my workload?" and "How much are the costs of running our entire workload in the Cloud / or just some small parts?" These are just some of the questions currently relevant at the time of this writing. I hear them a lot as a Senior Consultant in the Netherlands. I hope to give you a clear view of what possibilities you have on this topic. You'll find some of the answers in this article, or at the very least, it will hopefully put you in the right direction for new insights. 

Citrix delivers three types of Workspace Solutions (as of this writing) out of their own platform, named the Citrix Cloud. The names of the solutions are: XenApp and XenDesktop Essentials, which are delivered directly through the Azure Marketplace, and the XenApp and XenDesktop Service is being sold through partners. Read more about those solutions later on in this article.

 

"XenApp and XenDesktop Essentials are delivered from the Azure Cloud, but are operated from the Citrix Cloud! The following quote below describes how the Citrix Cloud and Microsoft Azure are collaborating and combining their strength to get to one powerful Digital Workspace solution!"

Most of the evolvements on the Citrix Cloud and Azure are the result of the increased partnership of Citrix and Microsoft, started in Q2-2016. With the message to gain their Cloud-First strategy to a higher level, to let businesses embrace the Digital Transformation. This already resulted in the replacement of Azure RemoteApp by Citrix XenApp Essentials in April 2017 and the possibility to use Windows 10 as VDI solutions in Azure! Therefore, with their new company Cloud-first strategy, we will see more of those releases in the near feature, but Cloud-First doesn’t mean Cloud Only for Citrix. Just expect most (or almost all) of the improvements also for the next on-premise 7.17 (and in the just-released 7.16 CU version) version and later on in the LTSR version...

The Citrix Cloud is, regarding the new Cloud-First strategy of Citrix, designed to manage multi-cloud environments. Customers can use it for Published apps, desktops can place their workloads on any public or hybrid cloud or on any on-premise virtualised environment. It’s all about simplicity and flexibility!  Furthermore, I’m also glad to see that companies aren’t aware of all the benefits of the Cloud, such as the flexibility to up- and downsize your environment – on-demand – to your own business needs. Without the need for buying your own physical servers. You're always ensured to have good user experience and performance. Only pay for the demand, how does that sound? That’s sounds good, right?

Hopefully you’ll answer the question at the beginning of this article with a – yes - after reading this article!

Did you know these facts? 

  • Citrix releases all the new features first to the Citrix Cloud, since they introduced the Cloud-First release strategy.
  • Citrix Cloud Services are now also available for use from Europe Datacenters.
  • The Citrix Cloud was formerly known by the name Citrix Workspace Cloud, which they changed on 05/18/2016.
  • Citrix bought Cloud.com back in 2011, which was one of the fundamental steps of the creation of Citrix Cloud.
  • Machine Creation Services (MCS) is the only supported imaging strategy in Microsoft Azure.
  • XenApp and XenDesktop outages and maintenance events are listed on the Citrix Cloud Service Health Dashboard at status.cloud.com – This page displays service status and incidents in real-time for all Citrix Cloud services.
  • Youre also able to deploy Azure IaaS resources through the Machine Catalog process in the Azure datacenter in Germany (PREVIEW).
  • NetScaler Gateway Service, or also known as NGaaS is included in the license. Just to provide external access to the Citrix Cloud platform.
  • You need an Enterprise Agreement in Azure for Windows 10 VDI’s.
  • The configuration steps in this article, for XenApp and XenDesktop Service, are almost the same steps as for XenDesktop Essentials.

Microsoft Azure Cloud 

With 100+ datacenter locations around the globe, 120,000 new customers joining each month and a member of the top three networks in the world – Microsoft Azure is by far the most reliable Public datacenter platform at this moment. You’re always aware to put your workloads in a safe and secure datacenter, and with more than one hundred datacenters, you’ll would never have a high latency connection to Citrix!

Note: Hot of the press news: Citrix Cloud now also supports Google Datacenter Platform and Oracle Cloud Marketplace. Curious about it? Just read this great article by Tony Sanchez on Citrix blogs: Ain’t Nothin’ but a G(oogle) Thang: Citrix on Google Cloud and article What’s New in XenApp, XenDesktop and XenServer in December 2017.

 

Cloud Workspace Feature Comparison

The Comparison sheet below shows all the most important differences in the three Workspace services, to make your decision much easier, based on the features, before you decide to migrate to the Cloud!

Note: As said in the beginning of this article, innovations are ongoing on the Citrix Cloud platform. This already resulted in Citrix Workspace for XenApp Essentials! Expect soon the same for the other solutions! Want to know more about Citrix Workspace? Just read this (a little old, bit still great) blog from George Kuruvilla: Citrix Workspace Service – Redefining The Way You Work. 

Compare the different Workspace management consoles 

Compare the management and configuration consoles of the three Citrix Cloud Workspace services, just to get a clear view on how it looks when it comes to the installation and configuration.

Note: The XenDesktop Essentials console is almost the same as XenApp and XenDesktop Service. Both of them provide a Published version of Citrix Studio. Only with XenDesktop Essentials, it's currently limited to only publishing Full Desktops based on Windows 10 VDI.

NetScaler Gateway Service

NetScaler Gateway Service is the simplified Citrix Cloud version of NetScaler Gateway. The main purpose of this Service is to deliver Remote Access to your Citrix environment with low costs. Because the Service is included in the license, you’ll save money. But on the other hand, I personally think that the larger Enterprise companies won’t use this service a lot (at least for security reasons: no support for secondary authentication). The service is included in all three solutions, and for the XenDesktop Essentials and Service, you’ll also have the possibility to use your own NetScaler VPN from inside Azure.

Note: All the connections through Service are going through Citrix Cloud Connector.

Compare the NetScaler Gateway Service (NGaaS) version from inside the Citrix Cloud with the Bring-Your-Own-License version in Microsoft Azure IaaS in the comparison sheet below:

Note: The NetScaler Gateway is limited in some important services. Citrix is currently busy on getting XenApp Essentials supported for Azure Active Directory, and later also MFA / 2fa auth support.  

Citrix Cloud Connector(s)

Using Citrix Cloud products, with connections to other resource locations, such as Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and/or on-premise locations? It's required to have Citrix Cloud Connectors installed to establish the connection between both locations. All traffic will go over those connecters, whatever desktop registrations or Active Directory authentication, for example.

When you plan to connect the environment to Azure (what I certainly hope and recommend), you'd need to make sure to place both of the Citrix Cloud Connector servers in the same Availability set, with at least two fault domains and two update domains activated. With this Azure service, you ensure the continuity / availability of your connection to the Citrix Cloud environment. (Just in case there are problems in the Azure datacenters location.) For example, if one of the two servers isn’t active in the same availability set, there is a big chance that they have been activated in the same rack space of servers in the Azure Datacenter location. With fault domains, you’ll ensure that this can’t happen. Fault domain 1 means rack 1, and number 2 - rack 2. This can be useful in case of a power outage in the rack for example.

Updates to domains are somewhat similar, now related on Windows patches & updates. When Microsoft releases updates to provide vulnerability fixes and/or exploit leaks, such as ransomware hacks, this can be a high risk on the platform. There will be a chance that updates are forced by Microsoft. When you place them in different update domains, you’ll ensure that the updates don’t apply to both machines at the same time, and again ensure the continuity of your Citrix Cloud connection!

Note: The Citrix Cloud connector is sometimes also called Edge servers and/or Delivery Controller Proxy's. 

What about Citrix Smart Tools: Smart Scale?

Smart Scale is one of the great tools of Citrix Smart Tools, all delivered from the Citrix Cloud and included in the three workspace solutions. With this tool, you can provide scheduled and load-based scaling to your Workspace environment, just to down- and upscale the Citrix Cloud environment to your own business needs. Configuring it will eventually save money on resource costs, because you only pay what for what you use in the Cloud. So how does it work?

With scheduled-based scaling, you’ll eventually save money on your Azure bill. So how can Smart Scale fix that for you?

For example, a customer has the same working days of 9 to 7 with a XenApp environment of 10 Virtual Machines for serving their 700 concurrent users (CCU). Do all those servers still need to run after 7 o’clock? No, it doesn’t always answer with a Yes. With Citrix Smart Tools: Smart Scale, you are able to accomplish this, and more…You are also able to read out / create reports of your savings from using Smart Scale. Your IT Manager would love this feature!

 With load-based scaling, you can setup different triggers, such as session counts and CPU and RAM detection. When the environment asks for immediate assistance for extra capacity to ensure the user experience, then load-based scaling is something to look for!

Most of the Smart Tools are free to use if you have a valid Software Maintenance / Customer Select license. So let’s try the software and explore how Smart Tools can make your life much easier as Citrix Architect and Consultants out there.

Smart Scale also provides a great dashboard to get clear insight cost views about the statistics (see picture below) of your XenApp and XenDesktop environment.

Citrix Cloud and Azure Architecture 

When building one of the three Workspace Solutions in Citrix Cloud and Microsoft Azure, the complete architecture setup will eventually be like the picture below. The operations proceed from the Citrix Cloud and the resources are placed in Microsoft Azure. Remember the quote at the beginning of this article? As you can see there are two Citrix Cloud Connectors placed in Azure. They will provide the connection / interaction to the Citrix Cloud.

 

Citrix Workspace now available for XenApp Essentials 

Citrix released their new StoreFront ++ portal, named Citrix Workspace, last week to XenApp Essentials. This is one of the first examples of the Cloud-First release strategy, which they announced at this year’s Synergy conference. With this release, the limitation of creating your own custom theme / company front-end to the Cloud Workspace is now history.

See how it works in the following screenshots.

Note: See this - What’s New in XenApp Essentials – Nov 2017 - Citrix Blogs Article for all the details round the November upgrades around XenApp Essentials in the Citrix Cloud.
 

In the hamburger menu of the Citrix Cloud Portal, you now find Workspace Configuration to get to the customization screen. Here you can change the default logos to something of your own business requirements.

 

In that same Workspace Configuration screen, you can also change the Workspace URL to your own.

Azure Active Directory Support for XenApp Essentials (Tech Preview)

With this new solution, you can provide the following options to XenApp Essentials in Microsoft Azure! 

  • Setup the XenApp Essentials service to communicate with your Azure AD
  • Configure your users’ XenApp Essentials workspace portal to enable users to authenticate against your Azure AD

Note: the virtual machines hosting your applications still need to be domain joined, either Active Directory or Azure Active Domain Services (AAD + DS).

Azure Managed Disk support 

Hot of the press news is Citrix Cloud support for Azure Managed Disks. With this alternative storage solution in Microsoft Azure, you have much lower storage limitations in Azure, and it also increases the Machine Creation Services provisioning performance.

  • Faster provisioning time
  • Scalable elastic storage / dynamically expandable storage
  • No IOPS limitations anymore

Note: Managed Disks are currently only in PREVIEW only and supported for XenDesktop Essentials - XenApp and XenDesktop service. Expect to follow this up to XenApp and XenDesktop Essentials very soon from now…

Citrix on Azure Cost calculator

Thinking to migrate on-premise workspaces to Azure, but you need to create a Total-Cost-of-Ownership report?  I definitely recommend you look at the Azure Costs Calculator, which is FREE through the link below.

Some of the parameters which can be used to get the right and most accurate calculation:

  • Region selection
  • Smart Scale integration
  • Citrix VDA
  • StoreFront
  • NetScaler Gateway Service
Find the calculation program though this link: https://costcalculator.azurewebsites.net/costCalculator

Citrix Optimizer Tool

Citrix has released an alternative to the VMware OS Optimization Tool which was called Citrix Optimizer during Synergy 2017. The Citrix Optimizer, which has been released to final, is a great PowerShell tool that helps Citrix Architects and Consultants optimize their VDA’s Operating Systems. This is to get your machines to the maximum of user density possible, and also eventually save you money on resource costs in Azure. The tool can be used for Desktop or Server OS’s and delivers standard templates to optimise your Workspace. I expect that this tool will be integrated into more and more Citrix services, such as the XenApp and XenDesktop VDA installation process, and add more templates, also from the Citrix Community (CTA / CTP).

Martin Zugec is the (great) creator / maker of this tool and just released a new version, including a new improved GUI console! Download it through the following https://support.citrix.com/article/CTX224676 Citrix support page! Big thumbs up!

  

Azure Cloud Datacenter Latency Test

Have you ever wondered which Azure region would be the fastest to host your desktops and applications on, accessed from your company office network? Obviously, the closest datacenter would probably be the best choice (each region has multiple data centers), but how do you measure the connection to know what datacenter region is the nearest? Find it all out on AzureSpeed.com. On this free platform, you can see all the information you need on network latency live test results.

 

Azure Hybrid Use Benefit (HUB) Program

The Azure Hybrid Use Benefit program lets Enterprise Agreement customers, who already own Windows Server Licenses with Software Assurance, make use of their own licenses in Microsoft Azure Infrastructure-As-a-Service (IaaS). Normally, the license costs are included in the resource costs. Furthermore, this results in a resource cost saving of up to 40% on an annual basis.

Note: Detect them by name [HUB] in the marketplace. You can also activate the HUB capabilities during the Machine Catalog configuration process!

 

Citrix Cloud now also Available in Europe!

As being a Sr. Consultant from the Netherlands, this was actually great news to hear. Normally, all the Citrix Cloud services, such as XenApp and XenDesktop Service were operated from the USA. That now comes to an end. When you setup a new Citrix Cloud account, you’ll get the option to choose to place Citrix Cloud services in the USA and EU (see the example in the picture below).

Note: I hear you thinking, what about the current customers that are activated on the USA platform. Can they switch back? Citrix is currently building a solution for that. Hopefully this can happen soon!

Monitoring

You can check the status from all the different Citrix Cloud services through one simple dashboard named; status.cloud.com. In this free public available "health check" dashboard, you’ll see all the relevant information about the services and upcoming maintenance on the platform.

 Note: In the right upper-corner of the page, there’s a subscribe button. Here can you enable notification messages, in forms of SMS, Slack, email or custom APIs. So, you’re always aware of maintenance tasks and/or immediate incidents.

(As you can see the new EU location is status separately included.)

 

How to get started on Citrix Cloud Workspaces 

As mentioned in the beginning of this article, I did a lot around the Citrix Cloud. Find all the articles, which I posted throughout the past months on the Citrix Workspaces in Microsoft Azure below:

  1. How to configure the Citrix Cloud XenApp and XenDesktop Service using Azure Managed Disks and Citrix Optimizer
  2. How to configure Citrix XenApp Essentials in Microsoft Azure, including Azure Active Directory authentication to Citrix Cloud
  3. How to use Citrix Smart Tools – Smart Scale to reduce your XenApp and XenDesktop on Azure Cloud resource costs
  4. How to configure a Bring-your-Own NetScaler VPX in Azure for XenDesktop Essentials and XenApp and XenDesktop Service from the Citrix Cloud
  5. How to configure Azure Active Directory Domain Services for Citrix Cloud Workspaces with the lowest Total-Cost-of-Ownership in Azure Infrastructure-as-a-Service

Free CUGC Webinar on Citrix Cloud Workspaces

Me, and fellow CTAs, Carsten Bruns and Gareth Carson performed a free CUGC Networking SIG User Share Webinar on Building Citrix Cloud Workspaces in Microsoft Azure last week on the 7th of December. It was a fun and interactive webinar with almost 200 live attendees. We received a survey feedback of 83 NPS score, which is a great score!

Curious about the User Share Webinar?

Are you already a member of the CUGC Networking SIG? Join today and watch the recorded Webinar!

 

 

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