What? XenApp 6.5 is End of Life? What do I do now?

By Chris Marks, Esteem Field CTO

So, you read (you did, right?) my blog post back in 2017 about Citrix XenApp 6.5, XenDesktop <7.14* and VMware Horizon View 5.x all going End of Life and knew something needed to be done, but you’re looking at your EUC environment slipping out of support and still haven’t made much progress. 

Fear not, I have written a few pointers here to assist in getting you moving and finally using some of the new and awesome additional things you can do with a Digital Workspace (that’s a big topic and one we’ll need to discuss in a different post). 

There are a whole host of reasons for which you might not have migrated away from a solution which is now up to 7 years old. I have had a lot of conversations with many different organisations and have heard many of them. There are both technical and commercial blockers, potential skills shortages and / or other projects which have demanded more urgent attention in a team with stretched resources. Or, put simply, it wasn’t broken. These are all understandable factors and part of conversations I regularly have. 

Although the number of organisations running builds as old as XenApp 6.5 has reduced (from around 20% of all environments in 2017 to circa 15% in 2018) it is still a significant number, and when you take into consideration all the versions mentioned above which are EOL in 2018, that makes up approximately 40% of all organisations. For more on this, take a look at the great work done by the “VDILikeAPro” team with their 2018 survey here

I’m not here to judge. I’m just offering some friendly advice on why you should really get to grips with this and how to avoid being in a similar scenario in the future. 

Firstly, let’s take a step back and take a good look at how things stand: 

  • It’s likely that, once authenticated, this virtual application/desktop solution is used to access and edit some of the most sensitive data your company holds, either directly or indirectly. Having this running in an End of Life state presents a very real security risk which needs to be taken seriously. 
  • Apart from maintenance updates, it may not have changed much since implementation. This is not uncommon to see where multi-disciplinary teams are tasked with managing not just virtual desktop delivery but a whole host of other things.  
  • You may not have the skills in-house to carry this work out and/or you may not know what to do first 
  • Your applications or services may be “stuck” on a specific Operating System, Browser, Java version etc, so moving to a refreshed environment might be seen as a challenge 
  • Users of the environment think you are deliberately making their life worse out of some weird personality trait they teach you at “IT-school” and they tell all their friends about how bad it all is, all the time. 

Most of these factors leave the consumers of your service dissatisfied with what they are receiving. This has genuine knock-on effects to productivity and their ability to do their job. 

 

Now let’s think a little about how you might want the future service to benefit both the business and your IT consumers: 

Agility 

You don’t want to be in this situation again. Managing aging legacy solutions which are expensive to run and offer increasingly poor performance, make those delivering the solution (the IT guys) look pretty bad. Trust me. Send a questionnaire to your users and they’ll let you know. 

When the business looks to do something new, you want them to feel able to involve IT as an enabler, not as a “problem” they’ll need to overcome.  

 

Simplicity 

This is one of the most overlooked advantages of modern IT delivery services. Simplicity of operation is one of the main things which enables IT to provide the ongoing transformation the business has always wanted but which IT has not, until now, had the time and/or skills to deliver. Removing much of the unexpected work due to incompatible systems, numerous independent upgrades and making sure the platform remains fully supported can have an enormous impact on the ability of IT to deliver transformation. Even small percentage operational time savings can drastically reduce the response time IT has to business requests (I can demonstrate this through the power of maths – just get in touch, I’d be happy to talk you through it). 

 

Performance 

Performance requirements are not a static thing. With every release of Windows 10, the default performance requirements have increased. Unless you are all over your image deployment, this will multiply through all your Win10 builds across your organisation. I mentioned in a previous post that migrating Microsoft Office versions could reduce your session density by over 25%. Other application version upgrades could also cause a similar impact. For example, Google has publicly announced that the new version of Chrome consumes considerably more resources as part of its ‘site isolation’ functionality. There is little reason for us to assume anything different in the future. This means the way you deliver application services needs to be either over-specified from the beginning to deal with any potential increase in performance requirements in the future, or it needs to be able to deliver additional resource easily when the time comes to cope with these needs. 

 

Digital Workspace 

This is a big one, not just another marketing term. You really should pay attention to the benefits of delivering a digital workspace to your employees. I’ll mention just a few here – feel free to find me on social media and we can have a longer chat about it.  

 

Delivering IT services directly to consumers (historically called End User Computing) should be about delivering the right service to that individual at the right time to make them more productive, happier with what they are doing and generally leave them having a great day. However, historically, what actually happened was that the device was the focus – mainly because the individual only used one of them. Consumerisation has increased device proliferation and choice. If the device remains the core management consideration, we end up delivering multiple experiences, often with multiple disparate management utilities. This is unsatisfactory to the individual, time consuming for IT and a security minefield.  

There is also the inescapable move to Software as a Service (SaaS) consumption throughout a business. This means that applications and data are not in a single location and multiple authentication processes are needed as people navigate between applications. Then there is the very real challenge for IT that they can rarely shift ALL of their services to SaaS and they now need to operate in 2 worlds. Hence making things far more complex for IT to deliver. 

Just think about your leavers processes for example; In the “old days” you got told a member of staff was departing and you disabled their AD account – job done. Now, what about all the SaaS services that an individual can access once they get home by logging into them directly. How does that affect your GDPR status a former employee could still access personal identifiable data from your company? Centrally managing identity is fundamental to the delivery of these services which are now non-uniformly delivered into your organisation. How about managing what applications can do and what individuals can do with data? Straightforward when one application was used to access one data set – but that is so often simply not the case anymore. We need to consider methods which are built knowing that there are mobile apps, HTML5 clients and installed desktop applications that all need managing effectively and unobtrusively. 

A Digital Workspace also means your employees have a unified experience. It doesn’t matter how many apps are SaaS or web browser-delivered (yes, there’s a difference) or delivered locally or virtually. The individual is accessing them consistently. This makes transition from one delivery method to another straightforward. 

However, the real magic sauce with Digital Workspace is what you can do once you have this overarching approach. Because you can shine a light on all the application and data interactions, you can analyse and act upon all sorts of things. From using AI-delivered restriction on what an individual can do because they are exhibiting behaviour which is out of the ordinary for them (a sign their credentials may be compromised), to acting automatically to protect your company based on external zero-day threats which are having a global effect in other organisations. 

 

So let’s wrap this up 

OK – so I’ve tried to keep this high level, for the enjoyment of all. The key messages are these: 

Simplifying how you operate BaU IT can genuinely be the key to delivering exponentially more responsive services to your business. 

Performance requirements are only ever going up. Are you going to buy something big that you want to last for 3 years now (anyone with kids in need of new school uniform will appreciate this), or are you going to invest in something which you can seamlessly extend based on your requirements? 

Be very wary about taking the position that you are going to transform your whole business to SaaS consumption and you’ll no longer need desktop/app virtualisation. Sure, things are changing, but we don’t live in a binary world. Digital workspace can be the platform you can use to keep your employees shielded from the rate of change which is happening in our industry and in which they are pretty much not interested. They just want to access their stuff and to do their job. 

 

What to do about it? 

There are real reasons why two key approaches are growing at an unprecedented rate. Both Cloud Services and Hyperconverged solutions meet the simplicity, performance and agility features I’ve mentioned above. I would strongly recommend you take note of this and investigate the value they can each bring. They have some similarities and some unique features. There is no “winner” here. A combination of both is common and you need to consider what is best for your business. It is not simply a like-for-like comparison to traditional IT delivery. Do not underestimate the value of time saved using these approaches versus carrying on delivering things “as they are”. It can be truly transformative.  

Focus on your consumers. I hear lots of senior IT people say they have always done this. In my experience, this is quite rare. The user is not the device. Take care of your employees, they drive your business. They speak to your customers, they deliver your results. 

 

* Version 7.6, the Long Term Service Release, is exempt and not going End of Life until 2021 

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