Gabe Knuth from brianmadden.com is confused about XenApp and ShareFile.
And it’s my fault.
A couple of days ago, Gabe posted an article. Shortly after the posting, lots of “WTF?” emails started arriving in my in-box. Originally the article was titled “ShareFile doesn’t work on XenApp? Now Citrix is making apps that ‘don’t work on Citrix?’ ” and the attention-grabbing headline led a number of people to believe (incorrectly) that these two Citrix products don’t work together.
The irony of the situation to me was that not only was this conclusion incorrect, the exact opposite was true: Not only does ShareFile work with XenApp, but ShareFile has been specifically engineered for the unique requirements of the XenApp environment. (And for what it’s worth, we aren’t aware of any other File Sync & Share product on the market that can make the same claim).
After some reflection, I realized that Gabe’s confusion is my fault. I work in Product Management & Marketing for the ShareFile product at Citrix. And I used to work in Technical Marketing for the XenApp product (back when it was “MetaFrame Presentation Server”). So if there is any confusion on how XenApp and ShareFile work together, shame on me for not doing my job well enough.
So, in this blog I’ll try to do a better job, and explain how ShareFile and XenApp have been engineered to work together. I’ll start by explaining the ShareFile Desktop sync tool, which I’ll call “ShareFile Sync” for short. ShareFile Sync enables all of your files to be accessible on any device you use. So if you have a Windows laptop and a MacBook, for example, ShareFile Sync makes sure that the files on each device are kept up to date (“in sync”) on the hard drive of those devices, and in the Cloud storage location. Users can therefore access their files on any device while online or offline.
So now let’s introduce XenApp into the equation. With XenApp, users can run a “hosted shared” virtual desktop that sits on top of the Microsoft Remote Desktop Services (RDS) platform. Just like with any Windows desktop, the role of ShareFile sync with a hosted shared desktop will be to make sure that a user’s files are available there–and synced with the Cloud and available on all other devices.
Shortly after ShareFile became a Citrix product 18 months ago, we realized we had a problem to solve for XenApp and XenDesktop. The concept of “full Desktop sync” on a virtual desktop made no sense. You would never want the user’s files to be synced down to the hard disk of the XenApp server (or virtual disk of the XenApp VM if you are virtualized). Why? As every XenApp administrator has been trained for more than 15 years, you should “never keep user files on the XenApp server.” In a typical XenApp farm, users are load balanced to different servers. So if user “Pete” came into work on Monday, he might get his virtual desktop served up by server “XenApp-1.” On Tuesday, he might get load balanced to server “XenApp-5.” With ShareFile “full sync” Pete’s files would end up being synced on the hard disks of every XenApp server in the farm. That would make no sense. You want the files to be accessible from all servers in the farm, but you don’t want them physically resident on the disks of every XenApp server.
Due to the “don’t put user files on the server” best practice in XenApp farms, for user files we’ve typically mapped a drive to the user’s session that points to a network share e.g. \\fileserver\homedirs\%username%. And sometimes we even remap the server drives so that this mapped drive shows up as the “C: drive” that users are accustomed to on regular Windows desktops.
This is probably where Gabe (and those people he has spoken to) start to get confused. With ShareFile in the equation, we change the way the “don’t put user files on the XenApp server” best practice is implemented. Instead of using a network share, we simply use ShareFile to store the users’ files. ShareFile Sync creates a “Favorite” library available from Explorer that provides access to the files. And unlike on a Windows laptop where the files are physically synced to hard drive, on XenApp we employ an “on demand” Sync mode. Users can access the files but they aren’t resident “locally” on the XenApp hard disks, and they appear slightly “grayed out” within Explorer. When a user double-clicks on a file it is merely cached for the life of the XenApp session (and isn’t grayed out anymore). Below are some screen shots that describe “full sync” on a Windows laptop (figure 1), “on-demand sync” on a XenApp virtual desktop (figure 2), and the appearance of a cached file on a XenApp session enabled with on-demand sync (figure 3).
Figure 1: ShareFile "Full Sync" on a Windows Laptop
Figure 2: ShareFile On-demand Sync on a XenApp Virtual Desktop (files slightly grayed out)
Figure 3: ShareFile On-demand Sync on a XenApp Virtual Desktop w/ cached Word doc
By putting user files in ShareFile we unlock the full set of ShareFile functionality. Users can access their files in their XenApp session, as well as via all the other ShareFile tools– the web app, tablet app, mobile phone, Outlook plug-in, etc.
So now let’s talk about the the practical implications of ShareFile on-demand Sync. With an existing XenApp farm that uses network shares for user home directories, it may be difficult to make the necessary changes to the XenApp environment in order to support the ShareFile on-demand Sync mode. This reality is probably also a source of Gabe’s confusion. Because ShareFile on-demand sync isn’t targeted at this type of deployment, there may be an assumption that it “doesn’t fully work” even though this is making an incorrect assumption that the only way to implement user home directories on XenApp is with a network share. While ShareFile is an excellent (and alternative) way of implementing home directories, it is fair to say that ShareFile on-demand Sync is much more feasible for a new implementation of XenApp (or XenDesktop) where you have a “blank sheet of paper.” And it’s also a fair criticism that the GPO-based configuration (detailed in CTX136078
) for ShareFile sync on XenApp doesn’t expose this capability in an obvious way to an administrator.
At the risk of over-complicating the discussion, I should add that even in the case where re-engineering home directories (away from traditional network share approaches) on XenApp isn’t feasible, ShareFile can still enable a user’s files in XenApp to be available on other (mobile) devices users might have. ShareFile has a feature called “StorageZone Connectors” which provides mobile access to files on network shares. So the files a user gets from their “C drive” or “H Drive” (which is mapped to a network share location) via XenApp are also available on their iPad or iPhone. Stay tuned for news from Citrix Synergy in May for some more exciting developments on this front.
So, in summary: ShareFile works with XenApp! We could have done a better job to make it obvious that this is the case, and that ShareFile sync is in fact specially engineered to work with XenApp.
Hopefully that clears up the confusion. It’s a complex subject, though, so if you have any questions please post a comment!
ShareFile Product Management