Category: Office 365 Container

The rise and fall of a champion

The rise and fall of a champion

A couple a weeks ago a attended Citrix Synergy at the Hilton Convention Center in Anaheim in the US. I’ve been there a few times before, and it has been a pleasure visiting and attending Citrix Synergy at this venue every time.

There were a lot of great sessions which sometimes made it hard to decide which one to attend. However in this article I will bring my views and opinions about some announcements made regarding Citrix Workspace Environment Manager (WEM) and Citrix Profile Management (CPM) formerly know as Citrix User Profile Manager (UPM).

Citrix announced Office 365 experience support in CPM/WEM. This means that CPM/WEM will be able to handle an Outlook OST file and Windows Search Index Roaming in a non-persistent Session Host/VDI setup, exactly like the 3rd party vendors, FSLogix and Liquidware. This is somewhat great news, as this is a feature I have wanted in CPM for years, however Citrix may have been dragging their feet just a bit too long in this matter.

The Rise….

Before I go any further, a bit of history never hurt anyone. Back in May 2008 Citrix acquired sepagoProfile from sepago, this product was rebranded and became Citrix User Profile Manager (UPM) which meant that Citrix got a Profile Management solution that was far superior to the Windows Roaming Profile solution built in to most Windows versions.

Citrix UPM was THE profile management solution from there on out, well in most cases at least. Of course UPM had issues from time to time, but Citrix was usually very quick to address and solve these issues. Back in the days with Windows XP and Windows  Server 2003 we had to rely on tools like UPHClean to get a stable Windows Roaming Profile environment without profile lockups. With Citrix UPM this was no longer the case, as UPM was much more “intelligent” and had builtin mechanisms to prevent profile lockups.

Gone were the days where we needed obscure batch or VB scripts running during logon or logoff, to manage or support application settings that was not saved in the APPDATA\Roaming folder, Citrix UPM was able to handle files and folders in the APPDATA\Local or APPDATA\LocalLow folders.

UPM eventually got additional features like Profile Streaming which enabled parts of the user’s profile to be streamed to the Session Host or VDI during logon, which most of the times had a huge impact bringing down logon times.

The Fall….

Up until the release of Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016, this was more or less the story with UPM. However, Citrix UPM is curently on a deroute and should, in my opinion, no longer be considered the preferred solution, this is primarily because of how Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016 handles the user’s profiles.

As Citrix UPM still relies on the principles of a roaming profile, copying the profile back and forth between a file server share and the Session Host/VDI during logon and logoff, there are still some situations where Citrix UPM has issues, and it still requires a great deal of configuration and management to prevent profile bloating and to obtain a relatively stable profile environment. Yes it still supports the Profile Streaming feature, but even that has over time shown that it is not always the way to go, as certain applications does not support this feature and may break or not work properly.

Currently there is a major bug in the Citrix UPM version introduced in Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop 7.15 LTSR CU1, which is mentioned in the Citrix discussions forums here – https://discussions.citrix.com/topic/391754-windows-2016-start-menu-blank-icons-with-715-cu1/

Citrix has posted a CTX article with 2 workarounds, however a couple of people are mentioning that these workarounds are not working. There is however a workaround described in the forum thread, which involves a PowerShell script, that should be able to take care of things.

The fact that this bug still exists in both Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop 7.16 and 7.17 and was introduced in an LTSR edition of Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop is, in my opinion, a major let down by Citrix and illustrates just how much Citrix is struggling with Citrix UPM at the moment.

The Future….

In my opinion the future of Citrix UPM is a bit hazy.

Considering the amount of issues that I have personally encountered, with Citrix UPM in Windows Server 2012/2012 R2, Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016, and the major bug described above, I have very little faith in Citrix providing anything remotely stable within this year, eventhough they claim to have the Office 365 experience feature ready within the next 90 days. This means that we are probably going to see this feature in Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop 7.19 or 7.20.

UPDATE – 14-08-18: The UPM Office 365 Experience feature is available in Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop 7.18

Also to be considered is the fact that Citrix is around 4-6 years behind in developing anything disk based whether it be supporting Office 365 or the entire profile in a disk based solution. Microsoft have had their User Profile Disk solution since Windows Server 2012 which was released 6 years ago, FSLogix and Liquidware both have disk based profile solutions going on 4+ years now, so Citrix has some cathing up to do.

To spice things up, Citrix will now have 2 seperate and very different products covering the same Office 365 experience features as Citrix App Layering have the User Layers feature, which is the entire user profile in a disk based solution, this feature is still in Labs though, which means that it isn’t ready for production use yet.

With Citrix App Layering you also have the Office 365 Layers feature, this only covers the Outlook OST file and nothing else, this feature is however production ready, BUT and there is a major “but” in there, both User Layers and Office 365 Layers is only available with the Platinum license, mentioned in this article – A Breakdown of Citrix App Layering Features by Edition this will prevent a lot of customers from being able to implement these features.
UPDATE – 25-05-18:
Te above statement around the Office 365 Layer was incorrect. As per this article – https://www.citrix.com/products/xenapp-xendesktop/feature-matrix.html the Office 365 Layer is available in all XenApp and XenDesktop license models, however it’s currently only supported on Windows 7 and Windows 10 64-bit.

I am looking very much forward to see how Citrix will develop both the User Layer and Office 365 Layer in Citrix App Layering and the merge of Citrix WEM/CPM with the Office 365 experience feature. If Citrix manages to get the Office 365 experience feature stable, a disk based profile solution with WEM/CPM, may not be far behind and if Citrix goes down that road FSLogix and Liquidware may have their work cut out for them.

For now, my recommendation is still to go with a disk based profile solution, like FSLogix Profile Container and Office 365 Container.

Why is FSLogix O365 Container essential when using Office 365?

Why is FSLogix O365 Container essential when using Office 365?

I have worked quite a bit with some of the products in the FSLogix Apps Suite, so it’s only natural that my first blog post is about one of the products in this suite.

FSLogix Office 365 Container is getting a lot of attention at the moment, and for good reason. It’s very easy to setup and dosn’t require much maintenance, once it’s up and running.

Microsoft MVP and Citrix Technology Professional Aaron Parker has written a nice guide on how to install FSLogix Profile Container and Office 365 Container.

For those of you who hasn’t heard of, or worked with, FSLogix Office 365 Container, I’ll provide you with a short introduction to the product.

FSLogix Office 365 Container provides the following:

  • Redirection and roaming of the Outlook OST file
  • Redirection and roaming of the user’s Windows Search Index
  • Redirection and roaming of the user’s OneDrive content

FSLogix is redirecting these features to a VHD/VHDX file/disk on the network. This means that we no longer have to deal with OST files or the OneDrive content in users profiles, OST and OneDrive sync usually means HUGE profiles and resyncs on every logon as OST and OneDrive isn’t roamed. As FSLogix uses the SMB3 protocol, it is possible to use block level transfer instead of file level transfer which is used with the traditional redirection features, this brings in a significant performance increase of the network traffic going in and out of the file server.

Another issue with the OST and OneDrive sync, is that the default paths are in the user’s profile which means that all writes go to the C-drive, and in a non-persistent Session Host or VDI setup we would usually like to have as few writes to the C-drive as possible, because writes consume our write cache which these days are usually in RAM.

Let’s say we have 10 users logging on to a Session Host. Each user has a 50GB mailbox in Office 365, as this is the default mailbox size in Office 365. According to Microsoft, we have to enable “Exchange Cached Mode” (OST file) when using an Exchange mail account in Office 365, to provide a better experience. This means that we now have to consider the amount of mail account data that needs to be synchronized down to the OST file.

Maybe each of the 10 users needs to synchronize at least 5GB of data, this is 50GB of data in total, all writes that goes to the C-drive. Our write cache is now long gone and our Session Host or VDI is currently caching to disk, which usually does not perform as well, as caching in RAM. This is just the user’s OST file, we haven’t even begun synchronizing the OneDrive content.

Microsoft’s solution to the OST issue, is to redirect the OST file to a network share. On the surface that may look like and easy and straight forward approach, however it does present us with a few other things to consider.

Microsoft didn’t design Outlook to store OST files on network drives, Outlook expects the OST file to be available at all times, this may not always be the case if storing an OST file on a network file share. All sorts of things can go wrong in that scenario.

A network outage may cut the connection to the OST file which means that it’s not available, hence Outlook stops working, until the OST file is available. A poor performing file server or storage subsystem may present it selves as if Outlook is not performing at an acceptable level.

Microsoft’s solution also presents another issue. The Outlook mailbox index is not roamed! This means the every single time a users logs on, Outlook and the Windows Search Indexer will start to do an index of the OST file. This may not be that big of an issue with 10 user’s 5Gb OST files, however imagine 20, 30 or maybe even 50GB OST files for hundreds or thousands of users, that may present a huge performance impact on the Session Host or VDI and the file server hosting the OST files.

Again we haven’t even started addressing the issues with OneDrive synchronization. Basically the scenario is the same, however as we cannot control how much data the user synchronizes to the local drive, this means that the amount of data may be way beyond the 50GB mark which just intensifies our current headache with the OST files and  Windows Search Index roaming.

If you are considering to switch to Office 365 or if you are already on Office 365, you may run into the issues mentioned and at the moment FSLogix provides a great and cost-effective solution to a potential major headache.

Feel free to signup for a fully functional 30 day evaluation of FSLogix Apps Suite and have a look at the other great products from FSLogix while you are at it.