Unsung Heroes…the best of SE Troubleshooting and Technical Data in one place

Today’s world of open information exchange  is very different than just a few years ago where practical technical information was hard to come by. In those dark times, companies feared that acknowledging product issues, flaws or workarounds was a source of negative publicity and would hurt sales and affect stock prices. Trade shows were closed to open discussion and web based information was tightly controlled. The goal then was to make it all seem simple and magical, and above all, ignore the man behind the binary curtain.

Back in these Dark Ages of the 1990’s and early 2000’s it was the System Engineers who broke convention, risked their livelihood, and shared the needed information to the community. Doug Brown, Brian Madden and Roy “I am about to be fired for what I am going to say” Tokeshi are great examples, but perhaps the most widely known was (then) Rock Star Citrix SE Rick Dehlinger. Rick’s ‘Metaframe Tuning Tips’circulated the globe (often via modem) as THE practical guide to making Citrix Metaframe installations work. The idea was simple  1) find out from your own experience and from others what works   2) put the information in one place and   3) share it to the world.

Nowadays we have open Social Media, the CTP Community, Briforum, Geek Speak,  and even real-time free support with Citrix IRC ! There are countless ways to find information. However, 140 character conversations or quick-fix blog posts don’t always provide the depth of knowledge that is needed to be successful, and, they are not even close to being located in one place.

This week I was attending our Citrix Reseller Technical Briefing and lo and behold I heard the words from the mouth of SE Rock Star Jared Cowart,  “I might get fired for what I am about say…”. I felt all warm and fuzzy inside!  Later JC shared a set of documents that he, and several others within the SE community, have been developing. I am happy to see that the spirit lives on!

These documents include:

– Citrix Troubleshooting (a fantastically deep PowerPoint that if you enter you may never come out of)

– Citrix Troubleshooting Tools (list of avilaible tools with the articles #s !)

– External Links (to important sites and resources)

– Recommended Training Videos

– Citrix Xen Desktop Tools (with article numbers)

You can download these documents as a single zip file here. Please provide feedback, if there is sufficient interest we will gladly create a centralized repository to maintain and update this data.

Citrix Aquires RingCube- My Ears Must be Ringing

You know when you are thinking of someone and then they call you? Well this is how I felt today when I received the announcement today that Citrix has aquired RingCube.

Just yesterday I wrote about the the “Data Problem” around Virtual Desktops and Applications (see blog C.R.A.P. Is King). This announcement from Citrix signals an important move in the right direction. What RingCube brings to VDI is the ability to represent all of the Computer Residue of Applications and Personalization (C.R.A.P.) from a standalone PC and layer it on top of a shared/read only VDI instance. In practise this means that the IT shop can manage a single image for a large number of users and yet provide the user a fully personalized environment (including apps that they have installed themselves).

The RingCube approach is to quantify all the data created by the user into a standard VHD file container. At runtime this set of data is layered over the shared/read-only desktop instance. In this approach you get a ‘best of both worlds’ scenario in that a single desktop image can shared to many users, i.e. through Provisioning Services, and yet the user experience is fully customizable. We have deployed other solutions to address this problem but they come with high system costs and add considerable complexity to the environment.

While this doesn’t address the larger issue of persisting this data across multiple operating systems and platforms, it does potentially provide a very elegant solution to the “Data Problem” in a pure VDI environment. Although Citrix has not yet made any specific product announcements, I predict that this functionality will influence adoption for organizations that want a simple and cost effective way to move existing PC’s into a centralized VDI solution.

This potentially could be a more elegant solution to the question posed by Gabe Knuth “Is P2V-ing your existing machines into a VDI environment really an option?”  In that article, Gabe explores this and cites one of our customer case studies in which P2V was actually the best way to transition the desktop into VDI. Only time will tell how well this works in practice, but we will be watching carefully and would love to hear your thoughts on the subject in the meantime!



VDI- One Man’s Trash is another Man’s Treasure, or, Why Crap is King….

[Please note, thinclient.net is under renovation- some content and links are in still in progress]

I.T. Professionals and Consultants who have worked for any period of time on hosting (or virtualizing) applications and desktops are acutely aware of the unstructured data that becomes part of a user’s environment. On a standalone PC it goes pretty much unnoticed as it “blends into the woodwork” of the overall system, spreading itself across the registry, file system and user profile. However, when you virtualize applications and desktops you become faced with trying to capture and re-apply this data as users move across diverse systems. Tim Mangan identified this issue in his 2008 Briforum Session “The Data Problem” which was an early recognition of the problem and a great explanation of the sources and impacts (PS-that’s the back of my bald head in the audience). He also has a more recent article on the subject  “How to Describe Layering: the blob, cake, or 3D Tetris”.

Over many years of working with Roy Tokeshi, a leading Citrix SE,  he would refer to this set of data in his technical/business presentations as “Crap”. In an effort to validate this concept, and to be able to actually use the word “Crap” in presentations, I came up with the following acronyon:

Computer Residue of Applications and Personalization (C.R.A.P)

I was pretty proud of this one and then Ron Oglesby pointed out on Twitter that “I love your acronym. But Users are like Hoarders. Some guy’s CRAP is their meaningful “stuff’ ”  

As a result I am releasing an alternate version:

Carefully Retained Applications and Personalization (C.R.A.P)

So now we can use “Crap” in any context , positive or negative, to refer to this same set of undefined data that attaches itself to users and applications.

This a strange problem because on the one hand our inclination is to simply retain all this data and carry it across whatever environment the user wants to run in. Whenever possible we like to have the settings that a user expects automagically appear (because then people are happy and we are heroes). Yet, large portions of this data may be  irrelevant (at best) or even incompatible (at worst). This problems shows itself most acutely in mixed environments where applications are delivered across multiple operating systems, and, when using other tools such as App-V. For example, a user may have a local desktop OS (i.e. XP), a hosted VDI desktop OS (Win7) and apps or desktops hosted in Windows 2003 and 2008 R2. In these cases there will be corruptions of settings, locked sessions, broken profiles, etc. when indiscriminately mixing this data across platforms.

What is the solution? Well there is no simple answer that can be applied in all cases, but it comes down to knowing your applications and including/excluding the correct portions of the data for the target platform. The details will follow in a future entry, but for now we have identified and understand the challenge this presents….