Why Citrix Systems might Fail

I have been administering Citrix severs for over 16 years.  The first Citrix system I managed was a Winframe server to publish an accounting package for Analytical Surveys Inc. some time around 1995 on a Windows NT 4.0 domain.  Citrix proceeded to be the go to company for remote application deployment.  Ask any Citrix admin what the biggest set back of Citrix has always been and they will all give the same answer: Printing, no doubt about it.

So what did Citrix do to fix these printing issues producing some of the greatest administrative overhead in the history of application deployment?  Almost nothing that made a difference.  They added Universal Print Drivers several years ago, touting them as an end to the printing nightmare.  Since then nothing much has changed.  Big environments tended to move towards third party utilities like Tricerat’s Screw Drivers.  What did Citrix embark on for revenue instead of working on the core problems of it’s primary server components?  They decided to enter the SaaS market and gave us GoToDamnNearAnything.  You know GoToMyPC, GoToAssist, GoToMeeting etc.   Then they decided virtualization was their future and took on competing with VMWare.  When they woke up the Citrix honchos decided they would “compliment” VMWare.  All this while creating enough product name changes to keep veteran Citrix Admins and VAR’s guessing what to buy.  Metaframe became Presentation Server.  Presentation Server became XenApp.  I seem to remember a Novel XenServer and can’t help but wonder where they got such an original branding idea.

So now I’m trying to take a Presentation Server 4.5 farm to XenApp 6.  Nothing is compatible.  Citrix has expanded the services installed with their basic app publication product from seven to about fifteen running services.  The bloat is absolutely astounding.  Starting with a clean Windows 2008 R2 server, from scratch, you would think I would not run into many compatibility issues out of the box.  Not so fast.  First, XenApp6 is not compatible with any previous versions of Citrix server farms.  So a new farm must be created.  Then it’s time to provide access to the old applications from Presentation Server using the new XenApp “Web Interface” component.  Well, it did not run out of the box and provided a nice generic message in the MMC saying the “correct version of Web interface is not installed”.  Never mind it’s the latest version available from the Citrix download site.  Even more fun, it won’t uninstall and doesn’t provide a reason other than “Web Interface setup ended prematurely because of an error”.  Well, at least it was informative.  I’m guessing it’s all based upon some vaguely published IIS 7 requirements.

All this hassle for what???  The answer is almost as bad as the Citrix product line has become.  As of right now Citrix is the only company providing a Windows server based product that will publish individual applications to users with user level security.  Windows Server 2008 Remote Desktop services will now publish individual applications.    The only piece that’s missing is user level security to each app.  That is the sole reason we still have a Citrix component in play on our network.  A $9300 component for 30 users.

Citrix better come up with a stream lined, viable, affordable product quick or like many admins I will work diligently to remove them from the environment for the first time in my career.  Citrix can press on as the GoTo kids.  They are getting hurt in that area as well because of cost.  A product like GoToAssist can be replaced with a less expensive alternative such as Elsinore Technologies Screenconnect for a fraction of the subscription cost.  Also, Citrix has not adapted well the to mobile market space.  They have very convoluted web interface requirements through products like Access Gateway that get so specific Android and iPhones apps struggle to connect until major back end server changes are implemented.

In short, Citrix products have just become too version incompatible and administratively complicated to justify their usefulness in the toolbox.  Add the insane annual Subscription Advantage price structure and I can assure you even the largest enterprises will start looking for alternatives as they become available.  If Microsoft adds user level security for remote applications in any upcoming service pack or server releases it will be a the gut punch that leaves Citrix struggling to get up from the floor.   How certain am I of this future?  CTXS is one long time stock leaving my portfolio.

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Dan Hamilton
13 years ago

The bloat is truly atrocious. I have had the fun of building a made from scratch farm on poweredge r410s for a law office with some legacy, less than terminal-service aware, applications. (Time Matters…irony) It should come as no surprise that if you uninstall XenApp (which I did in effort to resolve an issue), you will have to re-image the server despite manual registry cleanup. I was prepared for it, but still kept shaking my head in disgust. But hey, look at the bright side…they do hold some stellar lunch and learns from time to time…shotguns at the range anyone? 🙂