This content is part of the Conference Coverage: Citrix Synergy 2018 conference coverage

XenApp 6.5 end of life spurs IT to rethink app delivery

A few factors come into play that may make a XenApp migration not as easy as it looks for some organizations. Planning and testing will help IT handle version 6.5 end of life.

With XenApp 6.5 end of life just around the corner, Citrix shops have the opportunity to reexamine their entire application delivery strategies.

Citrix XenApp 6.5 end of life comes June 30, nearly seven years after the product first came to market. As that date approaches, some XenApp administrators are evaluating whether they should deliver full desktops instead, rely solely on Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH) or move to the cloud -- or whether they want to stick with Citrix altogether. Although some have already started their migrations, others aren't as far along.

"It's not so complicated, but it needs time," said Sacha Thomet, system engineer at Die Mobiliar, a large insurance company in Switzerland. "If you have not started the migration to XenApp 7, you have to do it now. What you don't want is a system that's not supported by Citrix and Microsoft."

As Citrix shops migrate, they must also ensure application compatibility and consider whether to upgrade their Windows servers.

"People are rethinking everything as part of this process," said Jo Harder, a cloud architect at a hosting provider and analyst at The Virtualization Practice. "You've got to do a forklift, because you're not going to stay on 2008 R2. If that ends up being cloud, so be it. You have to redo everything anyway."

XenApp 6.5 end of life requires planning

Most organizations with XenApp run a mix of versions 6.5 and 7.x. Sixty-five percent of Citrix shops have XenApp 6.5, and 66% have XenApp 7.x, according to the "2018 Citrix Migration Survey Analysis Report" by IT performance monitoring vendor eG Innovations and, an end-user computing community site. Seventeen percent of organizations have fully migrated to XenApp 7.x, and 70% said they plan to by the end of the year, the report said.

Citrix XenApp 6.5 end of life is June
2018. Here are some options.

Differences in architecture between XenApp 6.5 and XenApp and XenDesktop 7.x have some organizations concerned about the move, according to the migration report. Earlier versions use the Independent Management Architecture (IMA). But beginning with version 7.0, Citrix combined XenApp with XenDesktop and moved to the FlexCast Management Architecture (FMA), which consolidates several brokering components of the IMA into one component, the Desktop Delivery Controller. It also adds other new components, which can make the migration process more complex than a normal in-place upgrade, the report said.

One of the benefits of FMA is that it maintains redundancy among components during an upgrade, making it easier for IT to move from one point version of XenApp to the next, starting with 7.0, Thomet said. He has also found XenApp 7.x to be more scalable for large environments of published apps.

David Johnson Forrester David Johnson

Version 7.0 was missing some features from XenApp 6.5, such as local host caching. Citrix has since restored most of those features in 7.x updates and added new ones, with some naming differences IT should be aware of.

"They're not going to lose anything, which was a concern for people at first," said David Johnson, principal analyst at Forrester Research. "They're getting access to a lot more capabilities."

Catalyst for change, cloud

For some organizations, revisiting their app delivery strategy might mean considering whether they really need virtualized apps. With the expectation that RDSH won't be an option in Windows Server 2019, a multi-user Windows 10 setup could push Citrix shops toward desktops over single apps. Another factor is that IT pros view Windows 10 devices and the OS itself as having better security, making some increase their trust in physical desktops. Whatever route they choose, IT pros should focus on what's best for users, Johnson said.

"It's made some companies reconsider whether they need a VDI environment or a XenApp environment," he said. "In the process of this migration as they're potentially looking at other options they could have, the absolute worst thing they could do is sacrifice the user experience."

It's made some companies reconsider whether they need a VDI environment or a XenApp environment.
David Johnsonprincipal analyst, Forrester Research

Organizations trying to reduce their infrastructure footprint are interested in moving workloads to Citrix Cloud services, which the company includes as an option when customers renew licensing, Johnson said.

The IT department at Die Mobiliar considered moving to the cloud-based XenApp with Citrix Cloud as XenApp 6.5 end of life approached but isn't right now because of several factors, including regulations that require data to be hosted data in the country. Since XenApp can run as a service on Microsoft's cloud, Microsoft's move to build up Azure data centers in Switzerland will help his company move to the cloud in the future, Thomet said.

Inside a XenApp migration

Die Mobiliar started planning for Citrix XenApp 6.5 end of life a year and a half ago, and IT started moving apps off it six months ago. Admins did quick testing of most applications before migrating them, and only a few didn't work on the new system. The company created a full XenApp 7.x farm alongside its 6.5 farm, so it was easy to switch any apps that weren't compatible back to the old one right away, Thomet said. This approach also gave IT time to make changes to the incompatible apps before finally moving them to 7.x, without any user downtime.

"We had less issues than expected," Thomet said. "We had really good planning."

The real test of app compatibility is when users interact with them for their daily work, he said.

"It's extremely difficult for a XenApp administrator to test every single application," he added.

During the migration to XenApp 7.15, Die Mobiliar also upgraded from Windows Server 2008 R2 to Windows Server 2012 and 2016. Those new server operating systems -- rather than the new XenApp version -- were the culprit of compatibility problems with a couple last apps that IT hasn't migrated, Thomet said. The company will keep those few apps running on Windows Server 2008 R2 with XenApp 7.15 for now.

But one issue for organizations on Windows Server 2008 R2 is that the end of extended support for that product comes in January 2020. If IT does an in-place upgrade of XenApp 6.5 to 7.x on existing Windows 2008 R2 servers, it's a fast and easy process, but there's a limited lifespan, because customers need to eventually upgrade to 2012 or 2016, Harder said.

"The longer-term solution is to rebuild XenApp servers," she said. "This is much more work ... as it includes reinstalling applications. Rebuilding will likely encompass significant rethinking and planning."

At next month's Citrix Synergy conference, attendees will have several chances to learn about the latest XenApp features and how to migrate in sessions such as "XenApp 6.5 customers, extend your on-prem environment to the cloud in minutes."

Customers can pay an additional fee to get extended support for XenApp 6.5, which goes until Jan. 14, 2020.

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