Is XenApp 7.6 a Worthy Replacement for XenApp 6.5?

Since the 7.0 release of XenDesktop, Citrix has been trying to convince us that it was really an acceptable replacement to XenApp 7.6.  The painfully honest truth however was that it just fell short in far too many areas.  2 years and 3 revisions later (not to mention the return of the XenApp name!) and some of those shortcomings are finally being addressed.  Let’s take a quick look at where they improvements have come and where

The first complaint I and many others had might sound silly, but it was simply the lack of folder organization.  CItrix expected us all to transition to using filtered searches an the truth is a lot of us don’t work that way.  We need visual organization and that means letting us create or own folders and moving published apps into them.  Thankfully with 7.6 we finally have our folder creation back.

A real complaint was the local host cache of IMA and the reality that XenDesktop and FMA was FAR more database dependent.  In XenApp 6.5 and prior if your database was down you were ok for several days while you sorted it out.  Connections would continue to be allowed and you weren’t totally out of the water.  In 7.6 Citrix brings us Connection Leasing.  I won’t go into a ton of details on it, I already wrote this post the other day on it.  While Connection Leasing does allow for some connections to continue in case of a database outage, it can’t help if the user doesn’t have a previous connection cached on the Delivery Controllers.  So while it’s definitely an improvement over noting, it isn’t a total local host cache replacement.

Another big missing feature was Session Prelaunch and Session Linger.  These features are nice improvements to the overall user experience and help speed application launches.  Those are back in 7.6 essentially the same as we had them in 6.5 so thats an easy comparison.  If you have never tried them I really suggest it, although I do recommend you think about the potential additional load on your servers.  Session Prelaunch can absolutely overwhelm your boxes if you aren’t paying attention.

Finally they brought back Anonymous Logins.  This allows you to publish an application without needing the actual user credentials.  I know in many roaming kiosk situations like hospitals.  In many organizations they are not allowed however due to the lack of auditing around the user connection.

So we’ve talked about the issues that Citrix has addressed at least partially.  But what haven’t they added yet?

  • Zones – Nothing is in place as a Zon replacement.  That means situations where you logically used zones you now either have to let the traffic span the WAN or set up a new 7.6 Site.  I don’t know if we will ever actually see a Zones replacement based on how XenApp/XenDesktop itself works.
  • Worker Groups – In 6.5 Citrix gave us the concept of the Worker Group, a logical grouping of servers that you could use to do everything from publishing apps to applying policies.  We created an entire automation process with Worker Groups as the central part of our 6.5 farm.  Citrix has promised a solution to the missing Worker Group features but since 7.6 just landed I suspect it won’t come for at least another 1/2 year.

So… the big question remains.  Is it time to consider updating to XenApp 7.6 from XenApp 6.5?  The truth is the clock is already ticking.  Citrix announced that the EOL for XenApp 6.5 is August 2016.  That’s less than 2 years to get moved.  Depending on the size of your environment you might be able to get away with waiting a while longer to see what comes with XenApp 8.0 or whatever the heck is next.  But if you run an environment that doesn’t need Zones or Worker Groups and if you can implement a HA SQL environment (because Connection Leasing is not a substitute!) then yes, I think it’s time to really consider the migration.  Better to get ahead of the update or die curve while you have the runway :).

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