What Makes Citrix the Best in Virtualization
Virtualization is having a virtual machine that stores information and can be accessed through an authorized server. But many IT professionals reading this probably already knew that. However, as a novice to virtualization, that is about as much as I can tell you.
Luckily, I got a chance to speak with three instructors at New Horizons who are experts on three different platforms. They gave me an overview of virtualization and discussed which platform they believe is best.
In the previous blog Why vSphere is the Best Virtualization Platform, I talked with Ryan Birk about the benefits of VMware’s vSphere. Our talk helped me learn that vSphere is a great virtualization platform for many reasons, the main one being it’s had a long time to get it right. VMware also excels in their innovation, with a lot of new updates being made to the platform and many more to come.
In this post, I got a chance to sit down with Khalaf Haddad, a leading expert when it comes to Citrix. He agreed to speak to me about Citrix vServer. But before we started, Khalaf gave me a brief lesson on Citrix virtualization.
"First of all, Citrix has several virtualization products. vServer isn't one of them." Which was news to me. From there, Khalaf then told me all about Citrix's Xen ware and what makes it the best of the best:
How do most customers utilize virtualization?
Well they utilize it for simplifying application and desktop management. They also use it for application and data security. Because the application runs in the data center, all the data is stored in there. It doesn’t have to go back to the users machine so if they’re sitting at their desk or they’re sitting at a coffee shop in Istanbul, the data stays in the data center; it doesn’t ever travel back to the machine. Of course, except for the monitor display. So that’s what I tell people, you can always take a screenshot and call it done but you’re not going to be able to download half a million records by doing screenshots. But even then, there are security policies around application and data virtualization.
What are some of the bigger industry trends surrounding virtualization in 2017?
One of the biggest is the cloud. Putting these services now in the cloud has been the movement for the last year or two and Citrix is making a bigger push with that. Cloud is one of the biggest virtualization trends. So just like everything else, people want to get out of the infrastructure maintenance business, cut down on their carbon footprint and just get out of the hardware maintenance cycle and put it in the cloud.
Another trend is toward this thing called the hyper convergence. It’s kind of funny that technology trends actually tend to go in a circle. Think about mainframe, then going down to PC where everything’s spread out and now we’re back to network which sort of is the sharing of resources, like we did with mainframe. We start off with one and then go down to another. So another trend with hyper convergence is the idea that we’ve gone from everything in a self-contained server to taking the storage out. Now the storage is over here and your networking is over there, you’re CPUs are somewhere else. But hyper convergence is putting them back in the same box again. They’re looking to put everything as close together so that there’s less latency between each other.
Can you briefly describe Citrix and its typical role in an IT network?
In the Citrix product family, all their virtualization products are prefixed with the letters X E N, pronounced "Zen". So you have XenServer, XenApp and XenDesktop. Their flagship products are the XenApp and XenDesktop which, from a technical perspective, are one in the same but people view them as 2 separate products. XenApp is about application virtualization. XenDesktop then would be desktop virtualization. So what Citrix is more into, the idea of application virtualization and desktop virtualization; both pretty big trends. The thought behind application virtualization is that if you have, let’s say, a hospital; we’ll use the hospital analogy. So you've got, let’s say thousands of hospital employees and everybody needs access to electronic medical records when they’re in a patient room. So you have a couple options: 1. Give everybody a laptop and have them carry it around, 2. You can put computers in every patient room and install software on them, or 3. You can have, what they call, thin clients which are minimal; just enough intelligence to have a keyboard, mouse, monitor and a network connection back to a server where the application runs.
And that’s where XenApp comes in. For thin clients, the application is hosted on the server in the data center so that I don’t have to go room to room and update the application as it were. I can install them in a central location and then as demand increases I can add more servers to increase capacity for that application.
Has Citrix recently updated Xen? If so what are some of the new capabilities for 2017?
Well Citrix has moved to a quarterly release model so every three months Citrix will release what’s called a current release. Citrix bumps their version number up with what they call a long term service release, which they put out every two years. The long term service release is like a consistent base and then each current release after that will include a roll up of new features, enhancements or bug fixes.
The current long term service release is version 7.6. Since then, they’ve release 7.7, 7.8, 7.9 -- they skipped 7.10 because that would look too much like 7.1. Version 7.11, now we’re on 7.12 and sometime later this year we’re going to be getting a new long term service release. That does wonders for training too, like ‘Oh hey! We gotta change the course.’
And, of course, cloud is one of the biggest virtualization trends and Citrix is making a bigger push with that. In fact we are going to be running a Citrix cloud class here in June and that’ll be an interesting course. I’ve got from now until June to figure out what exactly that class is and how it looks.
What sets Xen ware apart from other, similar virtualization systems?
Well, they’ve been doing it longer than anyone has. VMware is finally starting to get into application virtualization. Microsoft’s AppV Solution works a little bit differently in that, with Microsoft AppV, you can package the application for single image management but you deliver the application to be processed at the endpoint. So that kind of limits where you can push the application out.
What really sets Citrix apart is their mantra of Any Device, Anywhere. Citrix Receiver is the name of the clients’ component that you would install on your endpoint. It’s the client software that lets you connect to the application and desktop resources. So to prove this Any Device, Anywhere, Citrix provides receivers for all kinds of operating systems. For example, both Google offerings: Android, Chrome, both Mac offerings: iOS and Mac OS, Linux and all the Windows components. And, get this, just up until about a year ago, they were even offering a Receiver for Blackberry. Talk about a commitment to any device anywhere! That, I think, is what’s sets Citrix apart.
How easy is it to implement Xen into an existing IT environment and can it coexist alongside other virtualization platforms?
Well for the XenApp and XenDesktop products, we need somewhere for these virtual machines to run and so that’s where the XenServer comes in. Now here’s the fun part about XenApp and XenDesktop: you can integrate it with VMware’s vSphere or ESXi or you can integrate it with Microsoft Hyper-V. You can have all three of these hypervisors running. XenApp and XenDesktop provide a service above that. VMware’s vSphere, Microsoft Hyper-V server, Citrix XenServer are primarily what we call the type 1 hypervisors. Type 1 hypervisors have their own operating system above the hardware. Type 2 hypervisors are less popular for production but it’s great for lab use because it runs on top of an operating system. So there’s an extra layer to get through before you can get to the hardware.
Citrix’s XenServer is a type 1 hypervisor and as a type 1 hypervisor that means it’s gonna be managing access to the hardware. You’ve got this control domain which is gonna regulate storage and network access.
How does Xen compare with other virtualization platforms in the industry such as Microsoft’s Hyper-V or VMware’s vSphere?
Well for years Citrix has been the leader in application and desktop virtualization so if we’re doing an apples to apples comparison, VMware’s vSphere lines up with the XenServer products. XenApp and XenDesktop don’t have a directly competing products, especially from Microsoft. VMware does have a product called VMware Horizon and I think there might be another new on out there. But in the app and desktop space, Citrix is the industry leader. Now, some people will push back with the VMware product but Citrix has been doing it for so long and so well that particularly around application virtualization which makes them stand out more.
Again, this discussion helped me learn a lot more about virtualization and what Citrix is doing to show themselves as the best platform. Citrix proves that, while vSphere can come close, there is no true comparison to XenApp and XenDesktop. The conversation gave me even more insight into virtualization options and how Citrix is proving why they are at the top of their game.
Keep an eye out for the final piece of this series, where we will compare Microsoft’s Hyper-V to Citrix and vSphere.
Khalaf Haddad has been connecting students with the information they need to succeed in the workplace since 1992. His acheivement include Citrix Certified Expert, Citrix Certified Enterprise Engineer, Citrix Certified Instructor and many others. He enjoys the student interaction in the classroom, and is always looking for ways to improve the Online LIVE virtual learning experience to make everyone feel more “connected and comfortable.”
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