It’s All About the User: Defining User Experience for Citrix/VDI


All-About-The-User-1The success of any IT initiative today is tied to the end user experience. If the user experience is poor, in the best case, efficiencies and productivity will drop, users will complain, help desk tickets will increase, and the IT team will scramble to solve problems in response. In the worst case, users will want IT to rollback the new technologies they have introduced – be it virtual desktops, cloud computing, or virtual storage – to regain the performance levels they are used to and rely on to do their jobs.

The importance of user experience is highlighted by a recent Gartner survey of enterprise customers. 49% of respondents indicated that they had adopted Application Performance Management (APM) solutions to improve the quality of the customer/user experience. Among the critical dimensions of APM, end-user experience monitoring was rated number one.

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Also, in a recent eG Innovations webinar we asked the 200+ attendees, “What are the key challenges you face in your VDI deployment?” The results were clear:

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End-user experience is by far the biggest issue on everyone’s mind, so we thought we’d take a detailed look into what we all know is the ultimate measurement for success and failure, no matter what application or silo you’re responsible for.

In performance management circles, there has been a lot of emphasis on monitoring, reporting and improving the user experience for web applications in recent years However, among all the different applications in use in an enterprise, providing a great user experience through virtualized applications and desktops – whether Citrix XenApp/XenDesktop or VMware Horizon with View – is among the most performance-sensitive challenges, and probably the most complex to manage.

So let’s break it down. This article is the first of a short series to discuss how to deliver a consistently great user experience from a performance management standpoint, starting with Citrix/VDI. First, what is it, exactly?

What Constitutes User Experience for Citrix/VDI?

Latency or response time is the most commonly referenced user experience metric in Citix/VDI, but there are many other factors that contribute to the user experience. Let’s look at the different tasks that a user performs when accessing a Citrix application or a virtual desktop, as filtered through the typical issues reported by users.

  • “I can’t login” or “login is slow”
    To access the Citrix/VDI service, a user has to login and failed logins will lead to frustration. Likewise, if login is slow, productive time is lost. These effects can be amplified as user logins may happen multiple times: A user may first login to a Citrix StoreFront server and see a list of available applications. When the user selects a specific application, he/she is then logged into one of the Citrix XenApp servers in the farm and then can access the application. Slow logins to StoreFront or to the XenApp servers negatively affect the user experience. In many domains, users only login a few times in the day. But in some cases, a user may need to login many times throughout the day. For example, a doctor visiting patients at a hospital may login to devices in each room to update information after they have a patient consultation. So for example, when the doctor checks in on 120 patients per day, a 10-second delay per login can result in 20 total minutes spent on logins instead of providing excellent patient care and ensuring satisfaction.
  • “I can’t get to my virtual desktop” or “It takes a long time to be able to get to my virtual desktop”
    In the case of virtual desktops, especially when desktops are dynamically provisioned, a desktop may be created and booted up only after a user logs in. But, users expect desktops to be made available instantly so any slowness during booting of these desktops or communication failures between the connection broker and the virtual desktop software (agent) running inside the virtual desktop can present noticeable delays for the user.
  • “My desktop profile is not available” or “I see my desktop launch but it takes a long time to become accessible”
    In VDI terms, a user’s desktop and preferences are together referred to as the user’s profile. In a physical desktop, a user’s profile is available locally, but in a Citrix/VDI environment, profiles are stored remotely on profile servers and loaded dynamically when a user logs in. This is required because a user may login to a different server or virtual desktop each time and the profile has to be loaded dynamically to the correct server or desktop each time. The time taken to load a user’s profile also affects the user experience. If a profile is not loaded correctly, the user will not get access to his or her favorites, folders and applications and will not be able to perform the tasks that he or she needs to do.
  • “The application did not launch” or “the application is slow to launch”
    Client applications, such as web browsers, SAP clients, Microsoft Office applications, and EHR/EMR applications, are published through Citrix XenApp or made available from virtual desktops. The time taken to launch an application is another measure of the user experience; for example, if excessive time is required for an application to launch and be available for user inputs (due to various plugins loaded during launch, for example), the user experience degrades. Sometimes, mismatched DLLs can lead to application launch failures. Application launch errors may also occur if the Citrix environment has run out of licenses.
  • “My access is slow, the screen refreshes very slowly” or “there is a big lag between my keystrokes and their echo on the screen”
    Citrix and virtual desktop applications are very interactive. Since no processing or data is done on the user side, all the user interactions have to be communicated from the Citrix/VDI clients to the server farm. If the screen takes some time to repaint or if the lag between a keystroke and its echo on the screen is high, users will perceive slowness and become frustrated. Similarly, for audio/video applications, excessive jitter and patchy display can cause the user experience to degrade.
  • “My session drops randomly while I am doing work”
    A common issue faced in Citrix and virtual desktop infrastructures is session disconnects. When a user is in the middle of their work, a session can get disconnected and it can be very frustrating. This can also lead to productive work being lost, because even if the user connects back to the server farm, he/she may be logged into another server or desktop. Session disconnects can be caused by poor network connectivity between the user and the server farm (e.g., lossy wireless networks) or by glitches in the server farm. Session management and connection handling are closely coupled in Citrix/VDI, and the TCP connection between a client and a server must remain on while the session is in progress. If a network error happens for a short while, it will result in the TCP connection being dropped and the session being disconnected. Users will have to connect back to the Citrix/VDI farm again when this happens. There are techniques like Session Reliability (aka Common Gateway Protocol – see http://blogs.citrix.com/2013/01/23/session-reliability/) that are intended to alleviate this condition, but this feature is not always enabled. Session terminations because of unexpected errors on the Citrix servers/virtual desktops also affect the user experience. Such situations also need to be detected and corrected at the earliest.
  • “My application crashes randomly”
    Applications may also crash as a user is performing their work. Repeated crashes of course negatively affect the user experience.

Have we missed any typical Citrix/VDI user issues? Please comment below, or send your suggestions to marketing@eginnovations.com and we’ll include them in an addendum.

For our next article in this series, we’ll step through the primary available methods for monitoring the Citrix/VDI user experience, and the advantages/disadvantages of each.

Enhanced Browser Monitoring in Citrix Infrastructures


A couple of application deployment and usage trends are causing interesting performance monitoring challenges in Citrix infrastructures:

Browser Performance Monitoring

  • Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop are used to host client applications that users access through thin clients. With a lot of the corporate portals and intranet applications being web-based, one of the most widely used client applications on Citrix infrastructures is the ubiquitous web browser. SaaS applications like Salesforce and ServiceNow are accessed using the browser.
  • A second key trend is that web applications are being designed to use client-side scripting (JavaScript, Ajax, etc.) for rendering and processing of information.

On a Citrix infrastructure, since browsers are hosted on the Citrix servers, client-side processing uses CPU, memory and disk resources on the Citrix servers.  Any script malfunction or errors can cause the corresponding browser instances to take up excessive resources.

When users had physical desktops, a browser instance taking up CPU, memory or disk resources would only affect the performance seen by the corresponding user. However, since a Citrix server is shared by multiple users, one user’s browser instances taking up excessive resources can affect the performance seen by all other users of the same server. Therefore, identifying and fixing browser performance issues is a key challenge for Citrix administrators.

Most Citrix performance management tools report on the resource usage by applications running on the Citrix servers. With this approach, an administrator can see that specific browser instances are using excessive resources but they will not be able to determine why – i.e., which URLs or web sites are being accessed by browser instances that take up excessive resources?

Windows Task ManagerTo illustrate this further, look at the figure below which shows a snapshot of Windows Task Manager showing the processes running on the server. From here, an administrator can see that certain browser instances are taking up excessive CPU but not which URL is being accessed by that instance.

eG Enterprise v6 maps browser instances to the URLs/web sites being accessed. This allows administrators to easily determine when a browser instance is taking excessive CPU or memory or is causing high IOPS on the server, which URL/web site is the user accessing.

To illustrate this capability, consider the figure below which shows the users currently logged on to a Citrix XenApp server and the resource usage and bandwidth usage for each session.  As is evident, the user Charles’ session is consuming more bandwidth than the others and his session is also consuming 85% of the CPU of the server.

Users currently logged on to a Citrix XenApp server

eG Enterprise’s detailed diagnosis capability provides more details on why charles’ session is consuming excessive resources. In the figure below, you can see the applications that this user is running. From the table below, it is clear that the user has three browser windows (or tabs) open and the process consuming CPU is “Internet Explorer” with PID 3566.  From the browser title, it is clear that the user is watching a movie from www.youtube.com!

eG Enterprise’s detailed diagnosis

This information helps Citrix administrators track the usage of their Citrix servers, watch for unexpected usage on their servers and track down users who may be accessing non-corporate applications and may be affecting the performance seen by other Citrix users.

PS: A mapping of process ID to URL is available only for Internet Explorer on Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop.

Visit eG Innovations at Citrix Summit in Las Vegas


Citrix performance and user experience management is a rapidly growing market. At eG Innovations, we provide a best of breed Citrix Ready product suite for unified XenApp, XenMobile, XenDesktop, and XenServer performance management. Many of the largest Citrix deployments in the world rely on eG Innovations solutions for proactive Citrix performance management and universal insight.

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Visit us at Citrix Summit in Las Vegas this week (booth #500) to see the Citrix performance management solution in action. Explore partner opportunities to collaborate in the new year and see how we can help you deliver the best Citrix experience to your customers.

We look forward to seeing you at Citrix Summit in Las Vegas!

Achieving Citrix Success with Proactive Performance Management [Webinar]


Join eG Innovations and Anexinet for the live webinar “Achieving Citrix Success with Proactive Performance Management” on February 12, 2015 @ 11:00 AM EST – Register now

Users expect applications delivered through Citrix to be as fast and reliable as they were on physical desktops. When performance slowdowns occur, users expect IT operations to fix the problem – immediately. But in reality, most IT administrators are challenged to identify and then repair the root cause of a slowdown in a timely manner: Is it Citrix? Is it the application? Is it VMware? Is it the network or the storage? Where to begin, and what metrics can you trust?

Join Citrix experts Srinivas Ramanathan (CEO, eG Innovations) and Raymond Otero (Manager End-User Computing, Anexinet) and learn how to:

  • Get the most powerful analytics, reporting and auto-diagnosis for intelligent Citrix performance management
  • Dramatically accelerate the discovery, diagnosis, and resolution of Citrix service performance issues
  • Achieve 360-degree visibility of the entire service infrastructure even beyond the Citrix tiers
  • Pinpoint and repair performance abnormalities well before users notice
  • Ensure maximum ROI by right-sizing your Citrix infrastructure using powerful reporting & analytics

Webinar Title: Achieving Citrix Success with Proactive Performance Management

Date & Time: February 12, 2015 @ 11:00 AM EST

Registration: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/300000000011000531

Anexinet is a preferred regional partner with Citrix and eG Innovations. Anexinet Solutions combine the power of leading technology products and consulting services for smooth system implementations.

We look forward to seeing you at the webinar!

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Citrix XenDesktop Performance Management – Optimizing VDI User Experience While Enhancing IT Productivity and ROI


eG-EnterpriseWe would like to invite you to join the upcoming eG Innovations live demonstration Citrix XenDesktop Performance Management – Optimizing VDI User Experience While Enhancing IT Productivity and ROI on August 21, 2014 at 2pm ET | 1pm CT | 11am PT | 7pm UK | 8pm CET.

See first-hand how to address performance-related challenges in your business-critical VDI environment. Register here: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/916239343

Desktop virtualization expert Bala Vaidhinathan (CTO, eG Innovations) will demonstrate how eG Enterprise helps you manage your virtual desktop environment to:

  • Proactively identify and diagnose the root cause of issues and resolve them before users notice
  • Rapidly resolve user complaints such as “my desktop is slow” with automated identification of bottlenecks and their root cause
  • Achieve real-time oversight and performance management to meet SLA and performance objectives
  • Gain a holistic end-to-end view of the virtual desktop infrastructure, understand usage trends and bottlenecks and plan effectively for growth
  • Customize real-time dashboards and create targeted reports to deliver timely, concise information that is relevant and valuable to each technical and management team member

Register Now: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/916239343

Title:  Citrix XenDesktop Performance Management – Optimizing VDI User Experience While Enhancing IT Productivity and ROI

Date:  August 21, 2014 at 2pm ET | 1pm CT | 11am PT | 7pm UK | 8pm CET

Presenters: Bala Vaidhinathan (CTO, eG Innovations), Holger Schulze (VP Marketing, eG Innovations)

 

We look forward to seeing you online!

Why Performance Visibility Is Key to the Success of Your Desktop Migration Project


BitsChange is the one thing that is a constant in any IT infrastructure today. One of the fastest changing areas in the enterprise is the desktop. Changes happen due to two main reasons. Firstly, IT organizations are seeking ways to respond better to the needs of their business lines. They are piloting and deploying new technologies to make IT operations more agile and cost effective. Desktop virtualization and application virtualization are two of the key technologies being used in this endeavor. Secondly, change is thrust on organizations by the advent of new technologies, or rather the end of life of older technologies. The migration from Windows XP to Windows 7 or 8 has been a huge change that IT organizations have had to address. Another important change, albeit on a lower scale, was the move from Citrix XenApp 4.5 to Citrix XenApp 6.5.

Often, change does not happen in one area alone. The move from Windows XP to Windows 7/8 may sound simplistic, but there are many things to be considered (higher hardware requirements, support for legacy applications, etc.). Some organizations are even looking to virtualize the desktops as part of this migration.
Likewise, when moving from Citrix XenApp 4.5 to Citrix XenApp 6.5, most organizations are upgrading operating systems (e.g., Windows 2003 to Windows 2008/2012). For its various benefits, virtualization is also being adopted for hosting Citrix XenApp instances.

Sometimes, the migration can introduce significant operational challenges. For example, with physical desktops, each desktop had dedicated CPU, memory, storage and network resources. On the other hand, virtual desktops share the resources of the physical server on which they are hosted. In this situation, a single malfunctioning virtual desktop application can choke the physical server, slowing down the performance seen by other virtual desktop users. IT organizations have to put in place effective mechanisms to ensure that they detect and resolve such issues at the earliest.

While IT organizations have to cope with the magnitude of these changes, from the user perspective, the requirements are simple. They expect the performance of their key applications to be at least the same as it was before the migration. Users also expect the reliability of the service to be at least the same as it was before. If it is not, the migration is blamed for the problem!

Often in any migration project, the focus is on the architecture and technology choices – what hypervisor to use, what hardware to use, what storage technology to use, how to size the desktops and Citrix XenApp instances (e.g., a few large instances, or many smaller instances), how many resources are to be allocated for each desktop/application, how will the new technology be delivered, etc. Performance monitoring and management is often an after-thought, and is often considered after users complain about performance after the migration is done.

Against this backdrop, there are three primary considerations that are critical to the success of any desktop migration project:

Establishing Performance Baselines Is Extremely Important

It is important to benchmark the user experience prior to the migration. By comparing the performance after the migration, administrators can determine if performance has indeed changed. Without this baseline, administrators will not be able to even determine if what the users are saying about performance is true — i.e., is performance after migration worse than it was before the migration? It is equally important to have baselines of workload, resource utilization and performance of every tier of the infrastructure. Having these baselines allows IT administrators to answer the question “what has changed?”. Any deviations in workload between the pre-upgrade environment and the post upgrade environment can provide clues as to why performance has changed after migration. For successful migration, it is essential to have baselines of what the performance was before the migration and what the performance is after the migration.

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Total Visibility Is Key to Ensure User Satisfaction

Problems will invariably happen after the migration and very often they are not directly related to the key application or operating system being migrated. If frequent problems occur, users will lose confidence in the technology and complain that “the performance degradation is because of the migration”. This is where having end-to-end performance visibility helps.

It may not be possible or advisable to just rely on monitoring and management capability provided by the key technology vendors. These tools may not have end-to-end visibility. Furthermore, their capabilities may themselves change from one version to another, making it difficult to get consistent baselines across versions. For example, if you are migrating to Citrix XenApp 7.5 or XenDesktop 7.5 from an earlier version, bear in mind that Citrix EdgeSight, the monitoring tool offered by Citrix has changed significantly in its capabilities (see this excellent article by Rob Beekmans, Missing EdgeSight 5.4 features in XenDesktop 7.5). Hence, prior to the migration, look for monitoring solutions that provide end-to-end performance visibility and can also work consistently across the application versions and operating platforms involved in the migration.

With end-to-end performance visibility across every layer, every tier — from the underlying hardware, network and storage, to the virtualization platform and the hosted applications — of the infrastructure, administrators can determine where the real bottleneck lies. Manually analyzing each and every performance metric is a laborious, time consuming exercise. If the end-to-end performance monitoring and diagnosis approach can be automated, user performance issues can be diagnosed and fixed more rapidly and with fewer administrators being involved. In fact, the diagnosis can even be done proactively, before users notice.
End-to-end performance visibility along with automated root-cause diagnosis can help you quickly find and resolve problems, thereby ensuring that your migration projects move to successful completion.

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Right-Sizing for ROI

The success of the migration is not just based on whether users are satisfied with the quality of service, but also based on whether the organization is able to achieve the ROI promised by the migration. To achieve ROI, organizations must right-size their infrastructure. Historical reporting across every tier of the infrastructure is critical for this. With greater visibility into the infrastructure, the operations team can identify areas of optimization (e.g., oversized virtual machines, unbalanced load allocation across servers, etc.), allowing companies to do more with their existing investments.

A focus on performance management helps organizations strike the right balance between cost and performance, allowing them to achieve the promised ROI from their desktop migration projects.

The first impression is often the lasting impression. User confidence is impacted by performance degradation after a desktop migration. Even if problems are resolved later, users will complain at the slightest sign of slow performance and this could result in higher operations costs.

Also, if you take a reactive approach to performance management, this means that the initial budget for the desktop migration did not have performance management costs built-in. If you have to go back and ask your management for additional capabilities to assist with the migration later on, this will result in longer approval cycles. Hence, make sure that performance baselining and diagnosis is an integral part of your considerations for a desktop migration initiative.

Srinivas Ramanathan is the founder and CEO of eG Innovations.

 

[Live Demo] Citrix XenApp Performance Monitoring Made Fast & Easy


eG-EnterpriseJoin our live demo Citrix XenApp Performance Monitoring Made Fast & Easy on Wednesday, July 30th at 2pm ET | 11am PT | 7pm UK | 8pm CET and learn how to accelerate and simplify performance monitoring for your Citrix environment.

Register now: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/610866743 

End users expect virtualized Citrix XenApp application delivery to be as fast and reliable as their physical desktop experience. When performance slowdowns occur, users expect IT operations to fix the problem – immediately. But in reality, most IT administrators are challenged to identify and then repair the root cause of a slowdown in a timely manner: Is it Citrix? Is it the application? Is it the VMware/Hyper-V virtualization layer? Is it the network or the storage? Where to begin, and what metrics can you trust?

Join Citrix expert Bala Vaidhinathan (CTO, eG Innovations) and watch a live solution demonstration of eG Enterprise and see how to:

  • Get the most powerful analytics, reporting and auto-diagnosis for intelligent performance management
  • Dramatically accelerate the discovery, diagnosis, and resolution of Citrix service performance issues
  • Achieve 360-degree visibility of the entire service infrastructure even beyond the Citrix tiers
  • Pinpoint and repair performance abnormalities even before users notice
  • Ensure maximum ROI by right-sizing your XenApp infrastructure using powerful reporting & analytics

 

Date & Time: Wednesday, July 30th at 2pm ET | 11am PT | 7pm UK | 8pm CET

Registration: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/610866743

 

We look forward to seeing you at the live demo.