Citrix Synergy 2019 Revisited - Extended Edition

By Chris Jeucken posted 06-05-2019 03:59 PM

  

Citrix Synergy 2019
May 19th through May 23rd
Recap

Most people reading this probably will not need an introduction to Citrix Synergy. When it comes to one of our favorite vendors, this is their biggest event of the year. With lots of interesting sessions, labs, sponsors and the ability to try out new features at the Citrix booth, it is a fantastic way to stay current in the End User Computing-market. 

There are a lot of post-event blog posts about Citrix Synergy 2019, and none of them can be definitive, simply because there is so much to see, hear, learn, experience, etc. that nobody is able to do that by themselves. So therefore, here is my recap of Citrix Synergy 2019:

After arriving on Saturday afternoon and experiencing jetlag on Sunday (woke up at 4AM), I was ready for the event. Since this was my first time at Citrix Synergy, I wanted to include the instructor-led labs on Sunday and Monday to get the maximum out of this event. You had the option to choose which you wanted to follow. First up was a lab about Application Delivery Management (also known as NetScaler Management and Analytics System). I know just enough about NetScalers to do the basic stuff (Gateway, load balancing, setup authentication, create rewrite, etc.) and know what MAS is. But I never really had a need for it at my customers. Using the product really showed me the benefit of it in large environments. For smaller environments with just an single HA pair it might be a difficult sell.

Photo1.jpg


The second lab was about Citrix Access Control. You needed to configure a web app (Salesforce of course) and configure it with Single Sign-On. Not the most interesting one, but good to know how it can be done. The third one was about SD-WAN, and this was something that I've been wanting to play around with for a while now. The setup of SD-WAN between offices isn’t too hard and when you have multiple connections between these offices, implementing it really is a no-brainer. You basically create a virtual network on top and SD-WAN will handle the data streams. When your primary MPLS connection fails? No problem, it just utilizes one of the other connections (4G or broadband for example).

These labs were all pretty decent and the instructors really knew their stuff, but sadly we used Citrix Cloud in all the labs and this did not work perfectly all the time (some downtime here and there). Still, I thought the labs were worth my time and should be considered if you want to get the maximum out of Citrix Synergy.

Photo2.jpg

On Monday afternoon, there were a couple of meet-ups for Citrix Technology Advocates like myself. These basically were receptions where all CTPs and CTAs could meet up and have some drinks and after that, some more drinks. It was cool to meet up with everyone, but sadly there were no Pre-Synergy sessions that informed us on the announcements that would be made in less than 24 hours (like there are for CTPs).

That night, I attended the pre-Synergy ControlUp Mixer at the Game-X arcade bar. With drinks and food included and passes that allowed you to play any game you wanted. Although I spent most of the time at the pool table showing everyone how bad I am at it and didn’t play much of the other games. It was still a great night, I had a lot of fun and met a lot of fellow Citrix enthusiasts.

The following morning the actual event started. After a quick workout in the hotel gym and some breakfast at the Congress Center, it was time for the opening keynote. Usually this is the most important session because they announce new features and generally show which direction the company will be heading in the coming year. You could also follow the Keynote on SynergyTV and follow the flood of news on Twitter, but being there just adds something to the experience.

Photo3.jpg

The opening of the keynote was done by Star Trek Discovery actress Sonequa Martin-Green in a cool sequence that showed us what this Citrix Synergy was going to be about. After that, the actual keynote started with CEO David Henshall, executive VP PJ Hough and marketing VP Calvin Hsu walking us through all the new features and products.

The main announcement was the Intelligent Workspace. To put it in a nutshell: It combines information and actions from different applications into one portal. So, it gathers information which is relevant to you from your apps and combines this into a single feed. This feed then also allows you to perform actions on certain items in this feed. So, let’s say you need to approve some expense for one of your employees: It shows up in your feed and presents you with an ‘approve expense’ button. The same can be done when requesting leave: You have a reminder in your agenda that you need to request time off for a vacation. This reminder shows up in your feed and presents you a workflow through which you can do this.

Photo4.jpg
The backend of this Intelligent Workspace is based on the technology from Sapho (which Citrix acquired last year) and relies on microapps. These microapps run on the Citrix Workspace Platform and interact with the third-party application through its API. At release there will be at least 100 microapp templates available for use with various applications. If your application is not there, you can build your own microapp with the microapp builder. There is also support for local applications so it is not limited to SaaS apps.

I was able to play around with the Intelligent Workspace at the Citrix stand and while the idea is cool, it still felt like a work in progress. Some options were still closed off and some buttons simply didn’t work. But I am curious to see where did goes and what you can do with the microapp builder.

Another big announcement was the DaaS solution Citrix Managed Desktops. With the introduction of Windows Virtual Desktop (now in Public Preview) the question arose whether Citrix was going to do something with it. WVD is great but it doesn’t have a real control plane yet. However Citrix Cloud does and this new offering is a combination of the two where you buy everything from Citrix (so no need to combine things yourself). As a technical-minded person, this didn’t feel like a big announcement as it was more a question of ‘when’ instead of ‘will’. But it’s a big step for Citrix because they have never offered a DaaS solution themselves. One other cool thing to point out is that it can also offer non-domain joined machines. Something that WVD currently cannot do.

Other announcements include Machine Creation Services for Google Cloud (kind of expected since there is already MCS support for Microsoft Azure and Amazon EC2), more access control for Web Apps (Anti-keystroke logging and Screen capture prevention) and Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops support on VMware Cloud. That wraps up the keynote. Obviously, there were a lot more small new things, but these things caught my attention. The whole presentation and experience was very good, but it was a bit too long for my taste.

After the keynote, the Solution Expo opened and you could take it a look at the stands of all the different event sponsors. You also had the opportunity to try out some of the Citrix products on the Citrix stand. One that impressed me was the new Endpoint Management combined with Android Enterprise. It really divides your phone into two parts, one for business, one for personal and it does not allow data to be moved across these parts. It worked very well and I’m curious to see if this will make Android a good alternative to iOS in the business space. There were lots of great stands (HPE, Dell, Ivanti, Google, Uniprint, LG etc. but the most prominent were Citrix, IGEL, Nutanix and ControlUp.

After checking out all of them, it was time for an OK lunch (what is it with those bags of potato chips with every meal?). With that out of the way, it was time to attend the break-out sessions. There were a lot of them and of course, many of the ones I wanted to see were at the same time. I will give a short recap of each one I attended and my take on it.

- ‘Lessons from the field: Implementing Virtual Apps and Desktops and Gateway services’ by Eduardo Molina
Eduardo ran us through some migration scenarios that he encountered in the field and provided some insight into considerations, challenges that come with these scenarios. He also shared some notes that he learned the hard way. For example, he recommends to deploy at least three Cloud Connectors instead of the Citrix-recommended two. Also Citrix Cloud provides a SLA of 99.5%, this should be taken into consideration when a company asks for a higher SLA.

- ‘Future of Work’ by James Bulpin and the infamous Christian Reilly
Not to make it sound awkward, but these guys are a power-couple. With Christian’s excellent presentation skills combined with James’s cool demos you really can’t go wrong. First they went through various changes in IT and global mindset to approaching certain things (1999: Don’t get into a stranger’s car, 2019: Get into a stranger’s car and pay them for it). This set the tone for the rest of the presentation. The demo was basically the Intelligent Workspace, but then extended to a personal device with voice interaction (like Cortana, Siri, Alexa, Bixby etc.) and make it even smarter. For example, to forgo the need for authentication because of the location of the user and device. James Bulpin extended the demo with a situation where the device is bound to a location instead of a server. For example: it recommends the opening of certain documents because a meeting is almost starting. In short: Great session and even better ideas for IT.

- ‘How Citrix Content Collaboration enabled a journey to Office 365’ by Barry Schiffer and Ingmar Verheij
I didn’t catch the entire session, but they ran us through their experience with a customer who is adopting Citrix Content Collaboration together with Office 365. They talked about the gained benefits and the challenges they had during implementation. The part I saw was interesting and I definitely need to look into Citrix Content Collaboration in the near future.

- ‘Match.Geek with David Cottingham
Match.Geek sessions allow you to sit down with industry experts to ask them questions about their area of expertise and any challenges you might have. It’s always a pleasure to chat with David Cottingham and this was no exception. With a small group of people we talked about GPUs in XenServer, or I mean Citrix Hypervisor, the current market share of Citrix Hypervisor and about how the product team handles issues like Meltdown, Spectre, Zombieload, etc. An interesting insight to how these product teams work and manage their priorities.

- ‘Welcome Reception
Not exactly a session, but since I take this per session approach in this blog, I kind of have to.
This was basically the Solution Expo but with the addition of food and another opportunity to chat with fellow Synergy attendees and sponsors. I remember being more amazed by the screens at the Samsung stand instead of the product they were showcasing (Samsung DEX).

Photo5.jpg

- ‘Super Session: Dr. Madeleine Albright
The first session of Synergy day 2, which was in the same hall as the Keynote the previous day. We were joined by Dr. Madeleine Albright who was the first female U.S. Secretary of State. She talked to us about her time in Office, her take on democracy and the challenges she faced being a female in a political world dominated by men. An inspiring session. It started as a lecture but the second part was more like an interview with Citrix Chief Marketing Officer Tim Minahan asking the questions.

- ‘Going cloud? It’s where Citrix ADC has a role!’ by Thorsten Rood
When Thorsten is on stage there is one certainty, you will be getting a lot of information in a short time, more than most brains can handle. He showed us around the power of Citrix Application Delivery Controllers and how these can help connecting your on-premises environment to various Cloud-based environments and experience seamless. He also substantiated the use of load balancing and automation and explained the benefits of an ADC when integrating AzureAD in your environment.

- ‘How Vector launches rockets with Citrix Workspace’ by Bob Ball and John Metzger
Vector Space Systems is a company that specializes in putting satellites into space. They are working on a software platform called GalacticSky that runs on micro-satellites that allows various software developers to test their satellite software without first launching a satellite of their own. They showed us how Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops helps them to do most work from a central location instead of having the entire team on the launch site.

- ‘Lunch Table Tech chat with Guy Leech
The lunch table tech chat is similar to the Match.Geek sessions, but this time there is food involved. I joined the table of Guy Leech. A fellow Citrix Technology Advocate and definitely one to follow on Twitter if you are into scripting. Since I was alone for lunch I joined Guy’s table. We talked about how one builds images, the benefits of automating the building of images and which tools are best for monitoring of a virtual desktop environment.

- ‘Geek’s guide to the workspace (part 2): beyond pa$$w0rds for workspace authentication’ by Daniel Feller and Martin Zugec
If you are a Citrix Consultant/Administrator you definitely have encountered these names on Twitter, or the Citrix blog site. This session focused on various authentication methods (Time-based One-time password, One-Time password, regular password etc.) in combination with Citrix-related products and the differences between them as well as drawbacks and advantages. Also they showed us what a setup with an external identity provider would look like when using Citrix Gateway.

- ‘Simply Serve: Battle bots
Simply Serve once again part of the program and allows all the Synergy attendees to do something with and for the local community. You will be helping students from local high schools build a battle bot which will then ‘fight’ against each other. Due to sessions I wanted to follow, I did not participate. But I did see the competition later in the afternoon and wishing I did help out. It’s definitely on the agenda for next year.

- ‘Diversity and inclusion with experts from Citrix, CUGC & CTPs’ with Esther Barthel, Traci TuschiGuchi, Sarah Vogt and David Gautney
This was a ‘fireside chat’ session that changed the focus from the technical side to the social side of working in IT. Each person openly talked about their struggles in a predominantly male and caucasian environment while being of a different gender, ethnicity and/or having a different sexual preference.
An eye-opening session that gives a lot of food for thought with Esther leading the conversation and providing several amusing anecdotes from her daily life as a female IT professional/geek.

- ‘Super Session: Erik Weihenmayer
As with most conferences they usually include a motivational session to inspire everyone and to create some uplifting vibes. Erik did exactly that. Here is a man who has done so many challenging things. He climbed each of the seven summits, he kayaked through the Grand Canyon, he started a movement called “No barriers”, he wrote a book. All without the ability to see. He told us about his goals, his friends who also have handicaps, he brought along his dog who is his trusted companion. It’s difficult to put into words, but everybody was in awe of the man who misses one of his most important senses and still manages to do such extreme things. Definitely one of the best parts of this event.

- ‘Exam time
As with every Citrix Synergy (and Summit) you are allowed to take one free certification exam. I could not let this slide (even though I have almost all recent Citrix certifications) and did the 402 ‘Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop 7.15 Assessment, Design and Advanced Configurations’ exam which, when passed, gives you the Citrix Certified Expert – Virtualization certification. Since Citrix certifications expire nowadays, I thought it was a good idea to take it to extend this expiration date. Because of all the long days, I didn’t have the time to learn the material but luckily, I passed (barely). This is a great opportunity that every attendee should think about. Even if you don’t pass the chosen exam, you still tried and that’s half the effort.

- ‘Performance and scalability tips and tricks from Citrix experts’ by Eltjo van Gulik and Ryan Ververs-Bijkerk
These are the guys from the ICT-R community initiative who focus on research regarding the End-User Computing space. They often perform various performance tests to compare different EUC configurations and show the impact of various setups on your user experience and user load. They are also fellow Dutchies and CTAs, and since I want to support my Community-brethren, this session was simply a must. They also provide valuable information that I can use to design the best performing environment for my customers.

Ryan and Eltjo showed us for example that disabling unneeded Windows Service has very little impact on performance and that removing the UWP apps is a must if you want to get the most out of your virtual desktops. The new name of the ICT-R community was also unveiled which is GO-EUC. Excellent session and having their website (https://www.go-euc.com) is a must to have in your bookmarks.

Photo6.jpg

- ‘Deploying Application Delivery Management for the enterprise and troubleshooting common issues’ by Zaheer Mohammed
Zaheer is one of the escalation engineers for all the Citrix Networking products. In this presentation, he tells us about Application Delivery Management. What it is, what kind of deployment types there are andhow it can help manage your environment. It also features pooled licensing (which allows you to manage all licenses centrally instead of on each ADC), configuration templates and a SSL dashboard. That last one is going to help you a lot if you have multiple ADC’s and multiple certificates. It tracks the expiration date of each certification and allows you to deploy it from a central location. An interesting session, Zaheer really knows his stuff.

- ‘Optimizing VDI and RDS performance and scalability’ by Martin Zugec and Rob Zylowski
Together with the ICT-R/GO-EUC session this has got to be the most useful one. Martin and Rob talk to us about optimizing your VDI and/or RDS environment to get the maximum performance out of it. Set up clear goals before you start optimizing, take good measurements before and after optimizing and allow users to test thoroughly. Martin then showed us the new version of Citrix Optimizer (verison 2.5) and showed us what it can do and how it works. This tool is a must for all Citrix administrators, be sure to look into it. Then Rob took over and talked about other areas that can improve logon times for your environment. Think of logon scripts that cost too much time, or other stuff that needs to be done for a user when he logs in. When using VDI it might be a good idea to configure some of these settings on the machine level instead of the user level. This won’t be a problem since there is only one user per machine. He also showed the advantages and disadvantages of the different profile decisions (local, mandatory, containers, folder redirection, etc.). To me, the container solution (FSLogix) still is the best, although you still need to manage the profile or it will grow to insane sizes. I could go on and on, but this is a good session to watch on SynergyTV. Lots of information in just 45 minutes.,

Photo7.jpg

 - ‘Windows Virtual Desktop and Citrix: new opportunities for desktop and app virtualization’ by Randy Cook, Harsh Gupta, Carisa Stringer and Pieter Wigleven
My last session of the event. This session was about the Windows Virtual Desktop, what it is and what it can do. One thing that people often forget is that when you go for WVD, you are also able to run Windows 7 with extended support. So, if there are still legacy apps that only run on Windows 7 or older, you can still go on with your move to Azure. The presenters then talked about the FSLogix technologies that are available for WVD, which are Profile Containers, App Masking and Java Redirection. Last up was the combination with Citrix. They showed us what it looked like on the management side in Citrix Cloud. Lastly, they showed us the benefits the combination of Citrix Cloud and WVD will give you (HDX technology, App Layering, Machine Creation Services, AutoScale, Skype Optimization, WEM, Advanced Monitoring, etc.). Most people already left for their hotel, but I’m glad I managed to catch this one.

That’s it for the recap of all the sessions. Last up was the Final Night party. They set up all kinds of carnival games (Ring the Bell, basketball throwing, ring toss, karaoke etc.) and provided lots of food and alcohol. On the Keynote stage there was a big cover band that was actually really good. Since I had been walking a lot for the last five days I went back to the hotel at a decent hour.

Synergy was a great event. I have seen and heard so many things that this extensive recap doesn’t even cover everything. I met a lot of great people, some who I already know, some who I know through Twitter and some who are fellow CTAs. The people that immediately come to mind are Christian Reilly, fellow CTA David Gautney (our community-funded Citrix Synergy attendee), Guy Leech, Martin Zugec, Eltjo and Ryan from ICT-R, Kimberly Ruggero, etc. Sadly, I didn’t manage to meet up with James Bulpin. When he wasn’t presenting he was sharing his knowledge with a lot of people at the Citrix stand.

There are also sessions that I missed because they were at the same time as other sessions. The one I regret the most is the one is ‘Tips and best practices for getting the best from your Virtual Apps and Desktops deployments’ by EUC community rockstars Dennis Span, George Spiers and David Wilkinson. There was a long line for that session and I heard some people even needed to stand because there were no more chairs. Luckily, I can still watch it on SynergyTV.

Since I also wanted to spent some time as a tourist in Georgia, I did not go home first thing Friday morning. I actually rented a car to go to a US Air Force museum in Warner Robbins, just to satisfy my other inner geek. This museum is excellent by the way. It also was a good change of scenery and showed something else than lots of tall buildings.

Now that I’m almost ready with this blog, even more stuff springs to mind, but for now I’m done. Will I be going to Citrix Synergy again next year? If I can. But first up is the Expert 2 Expert Virtualization Conference in Berlin. See you there?

Photo8.jpg


#CitrixSynergy
#CitrixSynergy2019