A few people have asked whether they can use PN Agent with an Access Essentials server. The answer: yes you can, but you’re on your own setting it up, and if things subsequently go wrong.

Given that Access Essentials is based on Presentation Server 4.0, you may be surprised by this – why wouldn’t we support PN Agent used with Access Essentials? After all, the underlying technology is all there. I’ll briefly discuss thought process that lead us to we are, our thoughts for the future. A lot of this is driven, ultimately, by the experience we want to give our customers, particularly ones new to Citrix technology – but I’ll try to break out the individual factors as I see them.

Technical

PN Agent can be made to work with Access Essentials, so there’s no technical reason blocking us from supporting PN Agent in some form. But, we can’t replace Interface with Agent. That’s a pretty bold assertion, what do I base it on? For me the two key technical reasons for this are:

  1. Even in Presentation Server, we don’t really support use of PN Agent over the Internet. There is no support for two-factor authentication, for example.
  2. We rely on Web Interface’s ability to push the software to users. Keeping this working in Web Interface is an arms race, but it’s a valuable capability if you don’t have control over all the client devices.
  3. The Administrative scope of PN Agent doesn’t suit all scenarios – PN Agent works great if your desktop administrator is the same person as your Presentation Server / Access Essentials administrator. This is likely internally in SMBs, but it falls down if you’re using Access Essentials to allow partners, customers, occasional home workers, etc access to applications.

User Experience

Out of the box, we’ve aimed to provide a consistent experience for users whether they are accessing applications hosted on Access Essentials – from the LAN or over the Internet. The URL you type into your browser is necessarily different (though you could setup DNS to have the same URL work internally and externally), but otherwise the experience is pretty much the same – log in, click on an application and wait for it to appear.

Even if we supported PN Agent, we couldn’t support it for external users. There’s now two ways to access applications running on Access Essentials, depending on where you are – which is more to explain and demonstrate to users, more to become comfortable with administering, and more to diagnose when things go wrong.

One interesting point that came up some time ago, when we discussed this with a Citrix reseller/customer (it was long enough ago I forget which), is that Web Interface may actually have an advantage over PN Agent in terms of setting user expectation. By navigating to a web page, such as Web Interface, I have different expectations about interactivity than if I’m working with a locally installed application. Networks introduce characteristics that we can try to mitigate, such as latency and reliability, but that ultimately leak into the user’s perception. starting Essentials applications from a web site lead to a more realistic set of user expectations, and so a more satisified user, than launching from the Start menu? For me, this rings true – but is it really true?

Admin Experience

For technical reasons, we can’t replace Web Interface with PN Agent, so Agent is, at best, to be a choice for administrators and that means another decision to make, and that’s something we’ve tried to remove from CAE. Individually, presenting customers with a can normally be justified – but in combination, choices can become overwhelming. Removing need to make a feature in Access Essentials.

Finite Resources

Ultimately, this is the big decider – we’ve only got so much engineering resource to spend on Access Essentials, so prioritization is a fact of life. If the other factors illustrate why PN Agent support wasn’t a high-priority feature for Access Essentials, this is the real reason it’s not available. Although we can be reasonably confident PN Agent works with Access Essentials, if we haven’t put the effort into testing, to make sure it works, we can’t claim support.

The Future

I’ve talked about why PN Agent isn’t supported with Access Essentials, but what about the future? One possibility in the short term that we won’t any changes to the product, but we’ll make the investment to do some testing with PN Agent. It would still be a manual job install, configure and use Agent need to use the Presentation Server admin guides for documentation) but you could get support for a deployment using PN Agent.