New MSPs will provide services with the lowest touch, highest volume of subscribers.  And you can take that to the bank.  The largest service providers in the world know this is the only way to provide a scalable approach to data services delivered over the Internet.  Whenever a mass market service is offered that requires a truck roll, the operations cost will dwarf the revenue and create a poor return on investment. 

Service providers are interested in four things; reliability (usually expressed in service level agreements or SLAs), sunk cost (usually described in network infrastructure and data center capital), operating expense (usually defined in terms of the total operations of the corporation – OpEx) and Average Revenue Per User (or ARPU).  These are the defining terms that make or break the business when dealing in services that span hundreds of thousands or even millions of small and medium sized business users.

Using the Citrix FlexCast model and Shared Hosted Desktops, XenApp provides the best total cost of ownership under the the OpEx umbrella.  It also provides a greater ARPU based on the expansion of application based services.  With great technology partners we’ve also enabled the service providers to minimize their truck rolls with a product from a company called EMS-Cortex.  Instead of me telling you about it, I thought I’d have one of our esteemed engineers jump in… David Halls…

Cortex has streamlined their products to simplify them for use with XenApp. To this end, access to Citrix applications is controlled simply through Cortex creating groups in AD corresponding to sets of users in the Cortex control panel. Then you publish applications in the Citrix admin tool to those groups, according to which sets of users (which can be customers or subsets of customer users – whatever) you want to be able to use those apps.  The group name in AD is named to include the service and customer name (e.g. Citrix ACME) – so you know which group to publish to. Groups are created per customer.

To initiate what Cortex calls their “Single Pane Console” you set Remote Desktop Services (RDS) properties, from Cortex, that will be given to users. This is typically Profile and Home directories. Cortex actually goes and creates these (e.g. on a share) and makes sure that when users are provisioned, their profile and home dir paths are set to these values. Some initial consultation is usually required here to assess what the customer’s current configuration regarding profiles is.

Shared Hosted Desktops or Apps published through XenApp must be secured through the AD group that Cortex creates. Cortex adds and removes users to that group. Everyone (Cortex admin, reseller, customer) uses the Cortex UI for account management (create/delete user), service management (e.g. Citrix, Exchange) and app management (e.g. Notepad through XenApp). You can assign an application (e.g. Office) as default – when a user is created, they automatically get access to apps marked as default. Cortex’s does multi-layer filtering, so service providers can publish a filtered set of apps to each customer, who in turn can filter the list for each user. Cortex isn’t just bought for Citrix apps. They have customers using it for Exchange, SharePoint, SQL and OCS. It is positioned as a single portal for administrators – day-to-day account management and management of access to applications. Consequently it saves service providers time because they can delegate tasks to customer admins if required.

Finally, Cortex has a Provisioning Engine. This is MSMQ-based – it receives messages and processes them using rules. I was surprised to see how configurable this is. They have a rules editor where you can write your own rules or customize built-in ones. Basically, all the built-in Cortex rules are there in the editor. A rule is just a function on a .NET class, and you specify the conditions under which they fire as standard .NET conditions (when you save the rules, Cortex actually compiles it all).”

If you want to be a next generation MSP and scale to where your customer demand is, then you may want to check out all of the benefits that Citrix has to offer through our Citrix Service Provider program and come along side our offering… just as EMS-Cortex has done.