Tag Archives: citrix

Ask SysTrack: Be the Hero Your End Users Deserve

Citrix Synergy was once again a resounding success for us at Lakeside Software. We relished the opportunity to engage directly with industry insiders, to answer your insightful questions, and to witness the field of exceptional products showcased at Synergy this year.

We are excited to announce that the editors of TechTarget’s SearchVirtualDesktop.com™ have selected Ask SysTrack as a Best of Citrix Synergy 2017 Awards Finalist in the Desktop and Application Delivery category. This award is a continuation of the positive feedback we’ve received since launching Ask SysTrack last year, and we are proud that the hard work we’ve put into delivering this feature has paid off as real utility to users. After all, a mission of any workplace analytics software should be enabling detailed forensic capabilities for IT without sacrificing ease of use.

The concept behind Ask SysTrack is simple: modern users can answer virtually any question through an Internet browser search—why shouldn’t the answers behind how a computer is performing be just as easy to find? For too long, IT has had to fumble around any new monitoring software to access the views they need to manage their environment. What’s the point of delivering great metrics if they’re impossible to locate? Ask SysTrack comes to the rescue by offering an intuitive, natural language search capability powered by IBM Watson cognitive services.

With Ask SysTrack, you can easily find answers to important questions, such as

  • How are my servers performing?
  • What is the health of my users?
  • What are the critical errors of [insert system]?

The enthusiastic response we received after offering this user-friendly search capability inspired us to expand Ask SysTrack to integrate with our partners earlier this year. At Citrix Summit, we unveiled our plugin integration with Citrix Director, which allows users to answer Citrix-related questions through the Ask SysTrack interface. The plugin also displays SysTrack information within the Director Interface, including a user experience trend chart that shows what quality of experience users have been getting in relation to the data presented in Director.

The plugin effectively links SysTrack with Citrix Director to make it easy for IT to find the answers they need in order to efficiently oversee their environment. Ask SysTrack helps drastically cut down on the time between a performance query and meaningful action, facilitating proactive monitoring and ultimately improving end user experience.

We are encouraged by the positive response that Ask SysTrack for Citrix Director received at Citrix Synergy 2017 and we are continuing to explore further Ask SysTrack possibilities. IT is often the unsung hero behind any great enterprise; reveal your true powers and start using Ask SysTrack today.

THE dashboard for the Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop Manager

Our SysTrack product collects a lot of invaluable data points across a potentially very large and diverse IT environment. Each individual system provides up to 10,000 data points every 15 seconds and the IT landscape can include everything from physical desktops and endpoints to a myriad of servers with various functions to the Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop environments.

Because of that broad diversity, it is sometimes important and desirable to boil down the data to the specific use case and area of interest for a key class of IT stakeholders.

The dashboard builder functionality that was first introduced in SysTrack 7.0 provides just such a facility. SysTrack users can create their own dashboards and even include data from a variety of non-SysTrack data sources (such as Citrix Director, but also other items like HR systems or software license management tools). In many cases, the construction of a meaningful dashboard requires good knowledge of the underlying data structures. Therefore, we at Lakeside develop dashboards and make them available at no additional cost to any of our customers through the dashboard builder functionality.

Today, I would like to introduce a series of very useful dashboards specifically targeted at the XenApp and XenDesktop administrators and stakeholders.

Here’s how they work:

First, as many of you know, SysTrack assigns a health score to each system or user session. It is expressed as a value between 0 and 100 and is an indication of the percent of time (measured in clock minutes) that the system is operating without resource limitations. We have a secret sauce algorithm internally that weighs the various factors depending on their severity; i.e. an application crash may weigh heavier than a temporary spike in CPU or disk utilization.

I took the health score as a starting point and provided a mechanism to group the relevant systems. For example, I would look at all the servers and images in each of the following categories:

  • Connection Broker
  • License Server
  • Provisioning Server
  • SQL Server
  • Store Front
  • Web Interface
  • VDI Images
  • XenApp Hosts

Each group can contain one of more systems depending on my environment. At first, I pick a time frame in the dashboard and it shows the lowest observed health score in each group. That gives me an idea in which area I might want to have an additional look.

Citrix Health Dashboard
Citrix Health Dashboard

In this case, it looks like my infrastructure servers are doing mostly fine, but at least one of my XenApp hosts experienced a health score of 50, which I am trying to investigate now.

Citrix Health Dashboard with expanded node
Citrix Health Dashboard with expanded node

The expanded node shows the server with the potential issue and a double-click on the system name takes me into the next dashboard:

Citrix Health Details Dashboard showing all health related alarms
Citrix Health Details Dashboard showing all health related alarms

This view shows all the health alerts that indicate a reduced health score over the past 24 hours and I highlight the one with the score of 50. By doing so, the rest of the dashboard refreshes and shows only data that is time correlated to the time frame around that diminished health score – give or take a few minutes in each direction. The next pane in the dashboard now gives me a pretty good indication on where I need to focus my attention:

Percent contribution of each focus area to the diminished health score
Percent contribution of each focus area to the diminished health score

50% of the diminished health score was related to disk, 10% related to Event Logs and 40% related to application faults.

The rest of the dashboard has a number of detailed panes that I can use to get a better idea of what’s going on here. Let’s start with the Disk:

Application Disk details show all the running applications along with their disk related performance indicators:

Application Disk Details
Application Disk Details

The one application towards the bottom sports almost 700 read IOPS, 29 write IOPS, and large number of total IO operations and data read from disk. Now, let’s have a look at the disk volume metrics:

 

Disk Volume Metrics
Disk Volume Metrics

The C drive (which happens to be the only drive on this server) has a 32% disk time, indicating that the disk is not fast enough to deliver the IO load demanded by the applications.

Before we dig deeper into the disk topic, let’s have a quick look at application faults and the events:

Application Faults
Application Faults

It looks like that this example shows a single application that is faulting, which in this particular case is also showing up in the events log. This may or may not be related to the disk topics we investigated earlier and we can now focus our investigation. The application memory list may show more relevant information:

 

Application Memory Metrics
Application Memory Metrics

I may also wish to look at additional panes on this dashboard that show virtualization impacts like CPU Ready Time or the effects of memory ballooning, network details, latency to user sessions or backend systems, and a slew of other metrics.

Alternatively, I can simply drill down into the black box data recorder by double clicking on the alarm that was shown at the very top. This brings me right to the specific server and the specific time frame:

Black Box Data Recorder
Black Box Data Recorder

From here I can see the general state of the XenApp Server, the applications that were in focus at the selected point in time, and a slew of other data to help me in the IT efforts. In this particular case, the disk state, application focus, and application faults all point to the same application that I can now investigate further and work with the vendor or the in-house development team to address.

To summarize:

  • SysTrack provides a wealth of data about the infrastructure and the happenings from within the XenApp or XenDesktop workload, as well as from within the physical end-point. It can sometimes be daunting to focus on the pieces of information that are  helpful for me in my specific role in the IT organization. I hear from Citrix administrators over and over again that their primary objective is to either show that “it is not Citrix”, or to resolve the problem quickly and efficiently and take steps to prevent a reoccurrence.
  • The dashboards provide customers and partners the opportunity to create detailed visualizations that can be very specifically targeted at a job role, team, or function within the organization. SysTrack dashboards also integrate very easily with non-SysTrack data sources such as the Citrix Director database, ERP systems, HR systems, etc.
  • This specific pair of Citrix XenApp/XenDesktop health dashboards is available to all SysTrack customers and partners via the download function in the Dashboard Builder.
  • All health alarms described here can be disseminated to the right target audience in the organization via SNMP or email alerts in real time.

What ideas do you have? Please provide your feedback and comments!

Florian Becker

Florian Becker

 

Twitter: @florianbecker

 

Citrix Licensing – Deciding between concurrent and user/device licenses

Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop are available in two general licensing models:

  1.  Concurrent licensing. This model is intended for one connection to a virtual desktop or unlimited apps for any user and any device –  a license is only consumed for the duration of an active session. If the session disconnects or is terminated, the license will be checked back into the pool.
  2. User/Device licensing. Under this model, the license is either assigned to a unique user or shared device. If assigned to a user, it allows that single user unlimited connections from unlimited devices. If assigned to a device, it allows unlimited users, unlimited connections from that single device.

The User/Device license is typically half of the price of a concurrent license and can be an attractive model for organizations that follow a “traditional” work schedule (as opposed to shift workers in manufacturing or healthcare, where they may be a large number of individuals, but only a fraction of which are concurrently using the XenApp or XenDesktop environment.)

Internally, and this is the topic of this article, if Citrix XenApp / XenDesktop is configured for the user/device license model, the Citrix license server has to decide whether to assign the license to a user OR to a device. These are two different things, although customers purchase a user/device (as in user SLASH device)  license. So, how does this work?

Assume I, florianb, log into my organization’s environment and launch a session. At that time, a user license is consumed. I can run as many sessions from as many XenDesktop sites that share the license server as I like and use as many devices as I care to – it’s still one user license.

Assume that one of the devices I use is a shared thin client in the office. An hour after I leave, my co-worker Alex uses the same client to access his virtual desktop. Citrix internally then marks that particular thin client as a shared device and it consumes a device license. Theoretically, I could have 100 employees each use the same thin client and only consume a single  user/device license.

It becomes apparent that the recognition of shared devices is an automated way for organizations to minimize the number of licenses they need.

Most of us, however, have a mix of environments, so Citrix is calculating the total number of user/device licenses as follows:

# User/Device licenses = (# of total users) + (# of shared devices) – (# of users who only access from a shared device)

Makes sense?

Here’s a simple example:

User/Device Devices Used User License Consumed? Device License Consumed?
Paul Client01 No, because Paul is only using a shared device (Client01, which is also used by Florian, Alex, and Amanda) N/A
Florian Client01
Florian’s PC
Florian’s iPad
Florian’s Laptop
Yes, because he is using one or more non-shared devices N/A
Alex Client01 No, because Alex is only using a shared device N/A
Amanda Amanda’s iPad
Client01
Yes, because Amanda is using a non-shared device (her iPad) N/A
Client01 Used by: Paul, Florian, Alex, and Amanda N/A Yes – because Client01 is used by more than one user
Florian’s PC Used by Florian N/A No – because Florian is consuming a user license so he can use an unlimited number of licenses
Florian’s iPad Used by Florian N/A No – Florian is consuming a user license so he can use an unlimited number of devices
Florian’s Laptop Used by Florian N/A No – Florian is consuming a user license so he can use an unlimited number of devices
Amanda’s iPad Used by Amanda N/A No, Amanda is consuming a user license so she can use an unlimited number of devices

 

So, in this example, we would need a total of 3 user/device licenses, even though we have 4 individual users and 6 individual devices in the mix. Given that the price point for a concurrent license is 2x that of a user/device license, this small sample organization would absolutely benefit from user/device licensing as they may need as many as 4 concurrent users licenses.

The Citrix license optimization definitely works in the customer’s favor and the license allocation happens on a 90 day schedule for user/device licenses (i.e. the license of a user who is no longer in the organization or a device that is no longer in use get automatically released after 90 days or can be released immediately with a license management tool under terms of the Citrix EULA).

However, it can be a little difficult to predict what an organization might need. Lakeside SysTrack is a great tool to look at all sessions (say in an existing XenApp concurrent environment) to determine if a trade-up to user/device licensing would make sense. To illustrate the point, I’ve mocked up a quick and easy dashboard in SysTrack’s dashboard builder to look at one of the many environments we’re running internally.

license_dashboard2

 

In this particular example, our peak user concurrency was 11 and we would have needed 29 user/device licenses. We’re better off staying with concurrent licensing in this example.

Equally, if a traditional desktop environment is being assessed, SysTrack can make the choice between concurrent and user/device licensing very easy.

 

Florian

Twitter: @florianbecker and @lakesidesoft

Email: florian.becker@lakesidesoftware.com

On the web: www.lakesidesoftware.com

References/Notes:

  • While Citrix has reviewed this blog for accuracy at the time of this writing, Lakeside Software cannot make any representations on behalf of Citrix. Please always check with your authorized reseller, Citrix account manager and on citrix.com for the latest updates in product and licensing functionality.

Monitoring Citrix XenApp 7.5 and XenDesktop 7.5 Has Never Been Easier

Citrix has made some waves in the IT community with the recent releases of XenDesktop 7.5 and XenApp 7.5. Whether it be an app or a large desktop infrastructure, the newest versions of these leading products provide some of the best the market has to offer for virtualization solutions. Here at Lakeside we get pretty excited over software and IT product releases, and the new Citrix offerings are no exception. In earlier blog posts we talked about how SysTrack’s monitoring abilities can add value to XenApp and XenDesktop, but how do you best monitor the environment these products are running in?

Log files and performance monitor are one way, but those methods can be unreliable and time consuming. Lakeside Software works to make monitoring easy with SysTrack. SysTrack collects an extremely large amount of data out-of-the-box, but each enterprise is different and we recognize the need for additional data collection based on what software is being used. That’s why Lakeside offers Roles that are designed with a specific product in mind to ensure we’re monitoring that product as best as possible.

A number of Roles are already available and we work to add additional ones as new enterprise software hits the market. The new Citrix XenApp 7.5 and Citrix XenDesktop 7.5 Roles will make sure that you have the data and business intelligence needed to keep your Citrix solutions running as smoothly as possible. Research into best practices for these products recommended by Citrix as well as Lakeside’s experience in the monitoring space has allowed us to tune these Roles to be just right. They’ll monitor performance counters, events, and more and can be configured to alert you when something has gone wrong or even to take action.

Between Roles and SysTrack your enterprise is being closely monitored to make managing it a little easier, because deploying enterprise software on a large scale is already a big enough task with real costs associated with it. Delivering the best possible user experience by ensuring your environment is performing well will help ensure those costs deliver their best possible return. Check out Lakeside if you want to learn a little more about how Roles or SysTrack can help.

 

XenDesktop 7.5 – It’s all about the user

At Lakeside Software, we are very excited that XenDesktop 7.5 is being released – the third 7.x iteration in a few months puts customers on a great footing with the first unified architecture for both application and desktop virtualization.

Citrix has been doing a great job integrating design principles into the products for a couple of years now. Back in 2009 and 2010, we worked closely with the Citrix Consulting Services organization and took a “design thinking” approach to the implementation of XenDesktop and help determine organizations what their users need and expect from the solution. Those thoughts eventually led to the Desktop Transformation Methodology and the Desktop Transformation Assessment service offering from Citrix Consulting Services, which uses Lakeside SysTrack to gather the requisite data. I wrote about the methodology about two years ago on citrix.com.

A few years ago,  I wrote another brief blog post about observing end-user behavior. I felt that IT owed it to the end-user community to try and understand their business, their work, their desires, their frustrations etc. in order to provide the best possible  experience.  This is obviously difficult to do in person and on a large scale and IT leaders who are willing to apply this type of approach either have to select a small sample size or try to automate the task. That’s where Lakeside Software’s SysTrack comes into play. It has been around for 17 years and is a Citrix Ready certified product. It is primarily used for on-going and in-depth, non-intrusive end-user experience monitoring in cloud-hosted or traditional Desktop environments, but also plays a vital role in any transformational project such as the virtualization of desktops with XenDesktop 7.5 – whether in an on premise fashion, cloud hosted, or in a hybrid cloud architecture.

SysTrack can easily be deployed to existing XenApp servers and desktops (no matter if physical or virtual) and it seamlessly records and summarizes key usage patterns. What are the applications in use (and which ones are not used and thus consuming expensive licenses)? How often are they used? What resources do they consume (CPU, memory, network, graphics (including detailed NVIDIA GPU / GRID consumption))? How do end-users connect? What are the network and surrounding parameters?  All these are questions that must be answered before architects can meaningfully design and size the infrastructure, the application landscape, and the master golden images.

Within SysTrack, there are several modules that complement XenDesktop  7.5 wonderfully:

  • Virtual Machine Planner (VMP) for application rationalization, environment sizing, and master image design.
  • SysTrack Transform to manage the migration process from the old to the new. Citrix Platinum edition customers can share AppDNA compatibility data directly with SysTrack Transform and get more value out of their platinum investment.
  • SysTrack’s dashboard builder lets non-programmers quickly build dynamic dashboards and metric about the specific aspects of the environment that they care about. This is particularly valuable to hosting providers and IT shops that are building public or hybrid clouds to see the things that matter globally or to just one tenant.
  • Proactive alerting of any changes on the server or desktop side. This is often used to detect unauthorized changes or malicious software packages.
  • NVIDIA GPU and GIRD instrumentation allows customers to gather data for GRID vGPU Planning and for operational monitoring in order to allocate the right GRID profiles to users based on their actually observed needs.
  • SysTrack vScape to  instrument the Hypervisor layer and provide real time summary data across the environment – invaluable in private, public, or hybrid cloud environments.
  • Broad user experience scoring that can be observed over extended periods of time to identify high level trends.
  • SysTrack visualizers and the Resolve tool to direct IT efforts and pin point issues and resolve them quickly.

In summary, short of sitting an IT admin next to every user in the environment for a months and have them take copious notes, Lakeside SysTrack is the leading tool to apply design thinking to any deployment of  XenDesktop 7.5 and keep a high level of end-user satisfaction for many years to come.

XenApp 7.5 + End-User Analytics = great user experience

XenApp is back! And that’s great news for Citrix customer and resellers alike. At Lakeside Software, we’re excited about this latest release of the premier application virtualization solution.  Regardless of whether you are thinking about implementing XenApp 7.5 for the very first time or you are migrating from 6.5 or standing up a hybrid cloud environment, here are a few thoughts to make your implementation successful.

Citrix has been doing a great job implementing the concepts of “design thinking,” the discipline that is so successfully represented by IDEO and Stanford University. At its core is the idea of involving the end-users in the product design process and obtaining feedback of the proposed solution before too much out and rollout.

At some point during my eight years at Citrix Consulting Services I wrote a blog along the same lines – about IT going out and observing end- users in their daily habits in order to offer a solution or service user needs (in a  previous life as a developer of healthcare applications, we actually went out and observed doctors and nurses to see how they worked and interacted with our product on a regular basis).

At a large scale, this is easier said than done. Who has the time to position a body next to each users, observe what they are doing, take notes, and then translate this into a winning application and server design for the next XenApp rollout? Imagine somebody asking you every 15 seconds “What are you doing now?”  what if that task could be automated and executed at a large scale without annoying users?

That’s where Lakeside SysTrack comes into play. This award winning solution has been around for 17 years (and may be known to you as “Resource Manager” in earlier versions of XenApp or Presentation Server back going user experience analytics, monitoring, and management solution, but it lends itself very well to migration projects such as the adoption of XenApp 7.5.

A non-intrusive agent is installed on the existing workstations or XenApp servers and it gathers a ton of data at a very granular level. Which applications are running? How much, how often are they used? What resources do they consume in terms of CPU, memory, graphics (including deep details on NVidia GPU and GRID consumption for those who need HDX 3D Pro)? What apps are out there but not used? What web applications users connect and what is the experience on the network? Are end application resources do my users or XenApp servers connect to?

All these points are difficult to assess manually, but with SysTrack they become very easy:

  • Virtual Machine Planner (VMP) for application rationalization, environment sizing, and master image design.
  • SysTrack Transform to manage the migration process from the old to the new. Citrix Platinum edition customers can share AppDNA compatibility data directly with SysTrack Transform and get more value out of their platinum investment.
  • SysTrack’s dashboard builder lets non-programmers quickly build dynamic dashboards and metric about the specific aspects of the environment that they care about. This is particularly valuable to hosting providers and IT shops that are building public or hybrid clouds to see the things that matter globally or to just one tenant.
  • Proactive alerting of any changes on the server or desktop side. This is often used to detect unauthorized changes or malicious software packages.
  • NVIDIA GPU and GRID instrumentation allows customers to gather data for GRID vGPU Planning and for operational monitoring in order to allocate the right GRID profiles to users based on their actually observed needs.
  • SysTrack vScape to  instrument the Hypervisor layer and provide real time summary data across the environment – invaluable in private, public, or hybrid cloud environments.
  • Broad user experience scoring that can be observed over extended periods of time to identify high level trends.
  • SysTrack visualizers and the Resolve tool to direct IT efforts and pin point issues and resolve them quickly.

Post-deployment, SysTrack allows XenApp 7.5 admins to keep an eye on user behavior and the end-user  experience in order to adjust resources where needed in order to keep things running and to minimize  those dreaded helpdesk calls.