Over the last couple of weeks a series of blogs have gone out that provide a glimpse of some of the upcoming improvements to XenApp and XenDesktop; focusing on FlexCast 2.0, delivering Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8, provisioning with PVS, and many more great topics planned for the month ahead. For those of you lucky enough to go to Synergy Barcelona you may have caught a sneak peak of Excalibur Tech Preview during Mark T’s Keynote, the Avalon Excalibur Tech Preview Demo Pod or perhaps you joined the thousands of people who downloaded the Tech Preview.  If you have not had the time to install the Tech Preview, or you did not go to Synergy and would like to see Excalibur in action check, out this video interview courtesy of Gabe Knuth at BrianMadden.com.

What is perhaps inescapable is that XenApp and XenDesktop are unifying into a single platform and management architecture; not so much one product replacing the other, instead it is about how they are fusing together and making the product easier for our customers.

In this first of two blogs, I want to share what you can expect under this unified management experience.

Studio simplifies management in Excalibur

One of my favourite Excalibur images come out of the Product Design department (yes, Citrix now has a dedicated Product Design team who work closely with Administrators and Engineering to design the user experience!).

XenApp, XenDesktop, EdgeSight, Profile Management and StoreFront are unified by Excalibur

What this graphic shows far better than anything I could put together using PPT graphics, is how clearly how all the core components come together in one unified platform that is capable of delivering applications and desktops. What is missing in the graphic is the management console, now called Studio. The management console is the lens through which all Admins view a product, and the design and ease of use of this interface impacts their daily life. In fact, you couldn’t go too far wrong if you imagined the word ‘Studio’ inside the white circle labelled ‘Excalibur’ in this graphic!  Evidence of the unification effort is therefore abundant in the Excalibur Studio console.

The next generation Studio, available in Excalibur tech preview can have you up and running in three simple steps if you want to create a new deployment

Step 1 – Set up the infrastructure by configuring and testing connections to the hypervisors (XenServer, HyperV or vSphere are all supported), storage, license server and database.

Step 2 – Create the pool of machines that can be used host applications and desktops (Create Machine Catalog more on this in Part II of the blog). The improvements in the provisioning technologies within Excalibur mean that XenApp servers can now be provisioned using Machine Creation Service (MCS), Provisioning Service (PVS) or 3rd party tools (say, if you wish to use physical servers), something that has been available within XenDesktop for a few releases now; check out Patrick’s Blog on provisioning.

Step 3 – You are then only a few clicks away from delivering hosted shared desktops, applications and VDI desktops to users by creating Delivery Groups (Create Deliver Group more on this in Part II) . What is slick is the way the workflow integrates everything you need to deliver a great user experience; we’ll explore this in the next section. Check out this video on creating delivery groups if you want to see it all in action.

Tailoring the user experience

Studio’s wizards include all the settings you need to deliver a great experience for your end users; the ability to create profiles on the fly or select one created earlier. Whether you opt for Citrix Roaming Profiles or redirected documents and settings, the choice is yours. I can’t say too much more about Profile Management integration without stealing Dave W’s thunder so you will need to wait for his blog. Policy creation is included as well, so you can tailor the user’s HDX experience; find out more on this in Derek’s blog on user experience.

Studio integrates with profile management

Intent based workflows, validating user input

Involving a dedicated product design team has ensured that the work flows ask Administrators intuitive questions, based upon what they are trying to deliver to their end user and not expect them to select from a complicated list of options. Wizards also spare the Admin from setting up the system wrongly; in the example below the Delivery Controller address is validated, this includes making sure it is running the controller services, similar checks ensure you can connect to the database, the Provisioning or License Server. If you’ve ever had to spend time troubleshooting a configuration issue, all because you had a typo? User input validation is your safety net and keeps you from making mistakes such as these. Ultimately configuration testing will possible as well from within Studio, or scripted via PowerShell, which means Administrators are alerted to problems arising from changes in the infrastructure, for example caused by maintenance activities at the weekend.  All sure-fire ways to make sure Excalibur is operational!

Validating the controller address

What is coming in Part II?

Stay tuned for Part II of this blog I will cover publishing applications and desktops to users from catalogs of machines created within Studio all from a single console.