One of the services that we offer is a Citrix Health Check focused on XenApp and XenDesktop. This is a technical and operational assessment where we look at each component and verify the environment’s health and use of Citrix and Accelera best practices. We often provide recommendations related to the overall architecture or configuration of components. We also look at how the environment is operated and maintained by the customer. Although, this assessment is focused on technical components, these results oftentimes reveal things that are not related to technology at all. Are there skill-sets that need to be improved through training? Does the organization need to invest in hardware, software, and services? Is the solution meeting the organization’s expectations? Does it support the overall mission?
I was recently reviewing some of our Citrix Health Checks and I noticed certain issues that crop up from customer to customer. We've done hundreds of these for years for customers of all sizes. Here’s a list of some of the most common issues that jumped out at me (in no particular order):
- Customers don’t typically have a separate test environment - As part of a change control process, we recommend that changes impacting the environment are tested in a separate environment. Changes could be new applications, a new Excel plug-in, or a policy configuration change. Having a separate test environment ensures that changes don’t negatively affect end users. Often times, things are discovered during testing that you don’t think would cause problems or the administrator didn’t fully understand the impact of a configuration change in the environment. A test environment doesn’t have to be sized at the same size as your production environment. It can be a small environment that mirrors the Production system. Although some of our customers have a copy of the Production system completely isolated from the Production network, I think that a small XenApp/XenDesktop site with the same GPOs, Citrix Policies, and a copy of the Production images is adequate. Having a separate test environment can save you from a lot of headaches from introducing changes that affect your production users.
- The Citrix XenApp/XenDesktop environment needs to be upgraded - Traditionally, Citrix upgrades have been a very time consuming process. With the new revisions of Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop, this process has greatly improved. Before version 7.0, a Citrix upgrade was really a Citrix uplift from one environment to a new environment. XenApp and XenDesktop 7.x a simplify future upgrades and do not require you to rip and replace, or to stand up a completely separate environment. With that said, we are still running into environments that are not updated. Updates oftentimes provide stability improvements, fix bugs, security patches, and introduce new functionality that can be beneficial to the organization.
- Session Reliability is disabled - This is a feature that some consultants were recommending people disable because it can mask end user connection issues. However, from an end user perspective, it keeps the session active until network connectivity is restored. Users continue to see the application they are using until connection is re-established. The alternative for the user is to re-launch the application. Citrix HDX Insight, part of NetScaler Insight Center, administrators have visibility into network latency and connectivity and should proactively monitor these reports. Now, there are problems with some clients and older ICA clients with session reliability, but if you don’t have these problems we recommend that you keep Session Reliability enabled.
- VMware Tools or XenServer Tools Out of Date - It’s easy to overlook this one. It is best practice to ensure that every virtual machine is running the latest available set of virtualization tools for best functionality and performance. This is not a high priority for out customers, but is really, really common.
- Anti-virus exceptions not implemented or improperly configured - Antivirus can have a negative impact on performance and user experience. For some time, Citrix removed their antivirus guidance and simply pointed customers to Microsoft’s general guidelines. Before long, Citrix put their antivirus guidelines back up and enhanced the guidance they used to provide. They have a really nice blog article located here consolidating several of their CTX knowledgeable articles.
- Inadequate monitoring of supported infrastructure - This is another significant change to the XenApp/XenDesktop platform. Citrix used to provide Citrix EdgeSight as way to provide advanced troubleshooting and monitoring of the environment. It also provided a comprehensive list of reports that administrators could use to identify issues and resolve problems. The problem was that it was a standalone system that was confusing to our customers. Although it was a tool we always deployed, it was overwhelming to utilize. It also was a separate console, so many people didn't use it although they owned the product. With XenApp and XenDesktop 7.x, Citrix has integrated many of the features into Citrix Director. This simplifies the solution as you don't need two separate consoles to support your users. However, visibility into the supporting infrastructure (such as the datastore hosted on Microsoft SQL Server) is not available.