Like a lot of folks in the industry, I consider myself somewhat of a gadget guy. But after 10yrs of working at Citrix, thoughts of application delivery start to run through your veins and every time I get a new RRS post from Engadget or similar site, the first thoughts that go through my head are:
- Is this the Nirvana Device for connecting to XenApp and XenDesktop (See Chris Flecks post on The Nirvana device a Smartphone as a PC alternative)?
- Are there a particular Citrix customer segments that this device would provide a unique solution for?
- Could I use this device on the road and leave my laptop at home?
- And then, this thing looks pretty cool!
Citrix has long had alliance partnerships with a number of the main mobility players, both on the carrier side and the device side. Given the recent advancements in both WWAN bandwidth and small device capabilities, it’s made a lot of the conversations much more interesting than in the days of no QWERTY keyboard and Edge level connectivity. As the devices get better, so does our solution with them.
The demand for access to corporate apps and data from mobile devices also seems to continue to grow, which is driving the concerns about enabling this scenario by IT administrators. CMP Research recently published a paper on this trend entitled The State of Mobile Device Management that hit both on the growing trend and concerns caused by the trend.
Berfore I contine, I’d like to do a quick poll (note you must be logged in to participate):
DID YOU KNOW?
Citrix has for years offered ICA clients for mobile devices on its Client downloads page. ICA clients that can be downloaded from the Citrix download site include variants for Windows Mobile devices and well as select Nokia Symbian based devices and have been used by customers for years to securely access data in their data center, helping evolve it into a Citrix Delivery Center.
Citrix Access Gateway as well as Secure Gateway offer clientless access to XenApp servers, so yes, there is a way to securely connect such mobile devices to your XenApp server. CAG boxes need to be configured to allow what is referred to as “Secure Gateway” mode to provide such clientless access. No SSL/VPN software is required on the phone when the connecting to a CAG box in this mode.
UNDERSTANDING THE USE CASE
So the Citrix Delivery Center concept does provide the solutions to allow you to use mobile phones to access corporate applications and data, but there are still a few things to discuss. First I probably need to appropriately set some expectations. Below is a slide I commonly use when discussing this use case with partners and customers:
What this basically tries to convey is that there will still be cases where a user will need to pull out a laptop. If the user needs to produce a large amount of data, or make a lot of changes to data, they most likely will still prefer to pull out a larger device with a full keyboard and large screen to perform the task.
Data Production: For example, I would not try and produce this blog posting from my cell phone, even though I technically could by launching a browser from XenApp to get full functionality of the blogging software on my phone.
Data Consumption/Response: But I would and do frequently consume blog entries from this site, and post simple replies from my cell phone. Or respond to email I get from the SAP system to approve a request by launching SAP into IE published on XenApp, just so I can hit the Accept button without having to pull out my laptop.
So without moving into the Nirvana Device concepts discussed on Chris Fleck’s blog post, there are a lot of tasks that can be accomplished using today’s devices and today’s XenApp technology.
YA, BUT WINDOWS APPS ARE BIG, AND THE SCREEN IS SMALL
For all of you that answered YES to poll question #2, you probably are familiar with the below scenario:
Your device’s screen is 320×240 resolution, but XenApp is sending you an application running 1020×768 resolution. And you spend way too much time panning/moving the app around the screen to get to the data you need. You even need to pan to the right or bottom, just to get to the apps scroll bars. This is where most people start giving up because of usability issues.
Changes to Web Interface 4.5 have been posted on the Citrix support forums that can greatly help this scenario (http://support.citrix.com/forums/thread.jspa?forumID=136&threadID=91629&tstart=0) These changes can be added to the .ASPX code of Web Interface to make the launch of the XenApp application more device aware. Rather than launching Excel or some other application on my device at 1024×768, wouldn’t launching the session at a resolution more native to the devices screen be better to limit the amount of panning required? That’s what this code basically does.
- When the user clicks on an application icon in Web Interface from a mobile device (Windows Mobile and Nokia Symbian S60 devices recognized today), the device’s OS type and the device’s screen resolution are sent to Web Interface as part of the transaction.
- When Web Interface creates the ICA file to be sent back to the phone to launch the requested application, it changes the session resolution parameters in the ICA file to a resolution more compatible with the device’s OS and screen size.
Again, both the OS type of the device and the size of the devices screen size (Treo=WinMo,240×240, Cingular 8525=WinMo,320×240, Nokia E61i=Symbian,320×240) are used to determine the session resolution of the application.
You can read more details on this by following the above link to this posting on the Citrix support forum (http://support.citrix.com/forums/thread.jspa?forumID=136&threadID=91629&tstart=0) But I also do want to mentaion that the session resolution that is assigned can be defined on a per-application basis. So you can run Excel at 320×285 (the current default in this code) on an 8525, but then have SAP running in a published IE browser run at 450×300, because the SAP UI simply demands a slightly larger resolution. Running a cell phone at 450×300 is a lot better than 1024×768. It’s all about limiting the amount of panning and scaling (zoom-in/zoom-out) the user needs to do to perform the necessary task with the application.
The screen shots below represents how the same spreadsheet above would appear on a Cingular 8525 phone, with the Web Interface changes made. Excel would be launched on this device at 320×285.
Once the user opens the desired document, they can pan the file menu ribbon up and off-screen to maximize the available screen space for the actual spreadsheet data. The can then pan back down if the need to access the file menu ribbon again.
Note that at this resolution both the right and bottom scroll bars of the app are present on the screen, so the user does not need to pan the application, just to get to the scroll bars. The defaults in the Web Interface code have been optimized for a lot of “standard” windows applications such as Excel and Word 2003, based on the “normal” size of a file menu ribbon. The defaults are completely configurable in the code.
SO WHY USE XenApp WITH MOBILE DEVICES
Below is a snippet from the CMP paper mentioned earlier on the key concerns of enterprises and use of mobile devices:
Numerous Citrix customers today are using Citrix solutions to solve a lot of the same issues with laptops and home desktops. So why not use the same infrastructure to help solve these problems with mobile devices. A lot of applications do not need to be “mobilized”, and you can simply deliver the same app that you deliver to your lap/desktops to the mobile device, just running in a smaller window (yes there will always be some apps the just don’t make sense).
So if you’ve been investigating a strategy to enable mobile device access to your corporate data, I hope this summary helps you understand how the technology in the Citrix Delivery Center can help. While it may not be the 100% solution, it can help you establish a common infrastructure to base you solution on.
Associated blog with video at http://community.citrix.com/display/~adamma/2008/03/21/Citrix+App+Delivery+to+an+ATT+8525+using+WWAN
Actual use of such devices with Nirvana Device Concepts from CTIA 2008: