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.

gartner-enterprise-customer-survey

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:

eG-Innovations-key-challenges-VDI-deployment-poll

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.

End-User Dashboard: Enabling Users Diagnose Virtual Desktop Slowness in No Time!


User Experience a Key for Virtual Desktop Success

Great user experience is a key to the success of any virtual desktop deployment. If users believe that the performance of virtual desktops is slower or less reliable than that of physical desktops, they will want their physical desktops back.

The performance of virtual desktops depend on many factors – the connection broker that manages user sessions, the virtualization platform on which the desktops are hosted, the storage tier supporting the virtual desktops, the provisioning servers that stream the desktop operating system, the enterprise applications being accessed by users, the virtual desktops themselves and the user’s terminals and their connections to the data center where the virtual desktops are hosted. Virtual desktop administrators have complete control over the connection brokers, virtualization platform, provisioning servers, and storage, but they do not often have visibility into or control over the network connectivity from a user’s terminal to the virtual desktop or the applications running inside the virtual desktop.

Virtual Desktop Performance is Not Always Controlled by the VDI Administrator

The below two factors can have a significant impact on user experience and user confidence in the virtual desktop service.

  • Impact of poor network connectivity on virtual desktop performance: Many virtual desktop deployment scenarios involve users being in remote locations than the virtual desktops they access. For instance, many companies outsource key business processes offshore. virtual-desktopIn such cases, knowledge workers in countries like India and Philippines connect to virtual desktops over wide area networks. Congested WAN links can result in virtual desktop slowness being perceived by users. Even in flexwork situations, users working from home can be connecting over low bandwidth lines to their virtual desktops. In such situations, virtual desktop administrators cannot be held responsible for poor virtual desktop performance
  • Impact of virtual desktop applications on the user experience: Applications run by the user on a virtual desktop can also cause slowness. Many a times, the user is not even aware of such a situation. For instance, one of the applications launched on the desktop could have a memory leak, causing the desktop to become slower and slower over time. Another common occurrence is when users access non-corporate web sites from their browser. These web sites can trigger the execution of client-side scripts on the browser, taking up key CPU resources on the desktop.

Unfortunately, irrespective of whether the slowness is caused by the virtual desktop, the network tier, or within the virtual desktop infrastructure, the user complaint is that “the virtual desktop service is slow”.  In such situations, administrators end up spending a lot of time and effort troubleshooting performance issues that are not within their control. Long problem diagnosis cycles also result in frustrated users.

eG’s End-User Performance Dashboard: Performance Visibility for End Users

eG Enterprise’s end-user performance dashboard provides end-users with key insights into the performance of their virtual desktops. From the dashboard, users can see the performance of the network connecting their terminal to the virtual desktop. They can also see the resource utilization within the virtual desktop and see what applications executing in the desktop are taking up resources.

eG End user dashboard showing key performance metrics, their detailed diagnosis and historical values for analysis
eG End user dashboard showing key performance metrics, their detailed diagnosis and historical values for analysis

The key benefit of the end user dashboard is that it empowers end-users to quickly diagnose if a performance problem is being caused in areas of the infrastructure that are within their control. If a performance problem is in the interconnecting network or in one of the applications the user has launched, the user can initiate corrective action (e.g., kill the offending process, contact the local network team, etc.) to alleviate the issue. This results in fewer complaints and trouble calls to the virtual desktop helpdesk and administrators. As a result, support costs are lower, users less frustrated and they have more confidence in the virtual desktop technology.

User can notice the higher utilization of a key resource (e.g., CPU) and can dig deeper for detailed diagnosis. In this figure, the user can clearly identify that Windows Media Player is consuming excessive CPU inside the virtual desktop and could be affecting the performance of other applications.

Some of the key questions that users can answer with the end-user dashboard and the corresponding actions they can take are indicated in the table below:

Questions a User can Answer with the End-User Virtual Desktop Dashboard

Action the User can Initiate

Is the network connectivity from the user’s terminal to the virtual desktop the cause of virtual desktop slowness? Raise a complaint with the user’s local network team to resolve the issue.  Try connecting from an alternative network if that is possible.
Is any application consuming excessive resources on the desktop (high CPU, high memory, lot of disk I/O) and thereby slowing performance for other applications? Kill the offending application process or stop the application
Is there a memory/handle leak in one of the applications running in the desktop that could be causing slowness of the desktop? Kill the offending application process or stop the application
Is there excessive traffic from the desktop – printer, audio, video, USB – that could be causing slowness during remote desktop access? Stop all bandwidth-intensive operations (eg. Audio/video players) on the desktop.

With eG’s end-user dashboard, users do not have to have login access to the performance management system. Administrators can publish the dashboard for access to virtual desktop users. By entering his/her domain user name, a user can get to see the performance of his / her virtual desktop session. Historical performance can also be observed for all key metrics.

Real-World Experience:  User self-service lowers Virtual Desktop Support Costs

Our customers have observed that with basic training, end users are able to learn how to do a first level triage to see if the problem is in their network or in their virtual desktop. They can contact the virtual desktop team only if the problem is neither in their network nor in their virtual desktop. This way, the end user dashboard allows enterprises deploying virtual desktops to:

  • Reduce the volume of helpdesk calls;
  • Have their key VDI experts spend time troubleshooting issues that lie in domains that they control;
  • Resolve virtual desktop performance issues at the earliest (since problems are directed to the right domains);
  • Build confidence in the user community about the technology.

Related Articles

Why performance management of Virtual Desktops is not the same as management of Virtual Machines
VDI Success ‒ The Role of Performance Assurance in VDI Deployments
User Experience and Performance Assurance Continue to Take Center Stage in Virtualized Environments

Ensure Citrix & VDI Success by Combining End User Experience and Performance Monitoring


eG InnovationsIf your end users are calling the helpdesk about slow response times from Citrix/VDI services, or if you are planning a new desktop virtualization project, this webinar Ensure Citrix/VDI Success by Combining End User Experience and Performance Monitoring is for you. Join us on Tuesday, March 18 at 2pm GMT | 3pm CET | 10am ET | 9am CT | 8am MT | 7am PT.

Register now: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/885229063

Desktop virtualization projects can bring major benefits to your organization. But if your users aren’t happy with application performance or availability, your support costs can escalate, and delivering successful deployments becomes a major challenge. Your support teams need to see what the users are experiencing and when a problem occurs, be able to rapidly identify the cause so it can be fixed. That is not an easy task if IT Operations and Support teams don’t have the right tools, or have to use so many silo tools they can’t get a single consistent picture.

Join our live webinar with performance management experts Stuart Kennedy (Senior Consultant, eG Innovations) and Serge Levi (CEO, Itexis) to find out:

  • How to measure the end user experience and baseline KPIs and why tracking end user experience alone is not enough;
  • Why silo based monitoring of the infrastructure components is not effective;
  • How to integrate end user experience and Citrix/VDI service performance monitoring to realize complete visibility into all IT domains;
  • How to achieve automatic event correlation and root-cause diagnosis to ensure you can fix problems quickly, with less waste of technical resources;
  • The benefits of bringing together end users and IT operations on a common framework understandable by everyone;
  • How to enhance quality of service (QoS) by optimising the service infrastructure.

WEBINAR DETAILS

Topic: Ensure Citrix/VDI Success by Combining End User Experience and Performance Monitoring

Register now: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/885229063

Date & Time: Tuesday, March 18th at 2pm GMT | 3pm CET | 10am ET | 9am CT | 8am MT | 7am PT

Target Audience: Citrix and VMware desktop and virtualization architects, IT Operations managers (network, database, application and desktop teams), Helpdesk/Support personnel, CIOs.
We look forward to seeing you online!