UPS Session at #CitrixTex2014 - so much interest we got the main stage!

Sometimes as a product manager you see a technology that is either so cutting edge or fundamental that you have to add it to your portfolio.  I joined the Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp, HDX Product Management team as product manager for “HDX Graphics” to expand my remit beyond the GPU accelerated projects I’d been working on such as integrating NVIDIA vGPU and enabling GPU adoption in OpenStack, Intel GVT with XenServer. As soon as, I joined I spotted a couple of particular products that I wanted! Citrix Universal Print Server (UPS) and Citrix Universal Print Driver (UPD). My title has now changed to “Product Manager HDX and Peripherals”, which means printing, USB, Client Drive Mapping and a lot of fun things like haptic devices (e.g. Connexion 3D space mouse and Virtual Reality headsets!).

Printing is Essential

UPS and UPD provide functionality that is both fundamental and essential but also these technologies are cutting edge and no other VDI solution matches what we can do by integrating these into HDX (see here).

  • As my colleague wrote in an email, reassuringly, after he learned of my new enthusiasm “Think about this: once you have published apps and desktops, what do your users do next? They start using them, performing day-to-day tasks similar to traditional desktops…  like printing, for example. Ubiquitous as it may seem, printing is one of the most challenging and critical part of the virtual desktop strategy”

Why is Virtualized Printing a Complex Problem?

Printers are notorious for their sheer variety, in the whimsical multitude of hardware drivers, or the way a simple job can bloat by an order of magnitude before it is printed. When the virtual desktops and the local printer are separated by WAN, that doesn’t help matters. Citrix has gone through this pain with its customers, and back in 2011 we launched Project Phaser to rewrite the rules of virtual printing. The result was a set of technologies that not only make end user printing experience simple and pleasant, but also optimize print jobs and make the administrative task of printer management more efficient.

For an overview of UPS and UPD, you should check out the “Citrix Virtual Desktop Handbook”, which has an entire chapter covering solutions and usage.

For the last few months we’ve been working on the next generation of UPS/UPD projects, hardening the technology and improving scalability and WAN performance. Plus some great new user guidance and documentation is on its way!

A Steep Personal Learning Curve

Whereas vGPU was an easy transition project for me as a new project manager, having worked on the product as an engineer, UPS and UPD have been a new challenge and it’s been nice to have been given the resource and remit to take our printing solution to the next level. As is often the case with a version 1.0 product, the first release of UPS had some deficiencies in debug information, logging and documentation, but a super smart-architecture with lots of potential. Bringing the next generation to productisation has taken a lot of planning and a holistic approach, giving us a rock solid base with which to go forwards with. The sharp-eyed amongst you will have started to notice the output from the formation of a pretty smart team across Citrix:

  • The Citrix XenDesktop Handbook now has a dedicated, updated printing chapter (see here), regular updates are now planned so if you’d like to see specific architectures or questions address please do comment below!
  • Better user information on the compression levels and data levels to expect, see here
  • A new scalability guide to act as a reference for new implementations is in the works
  • An aggressive series of software improvements addressing scalability, corner cases and configuration niggles
  • Increased information from specialised support SMEs, such as Marek Dresler’s blogs

I can’t give specific information on new features and timelines but I can mention a few of the projects underway

  • A expanded test Citrix Ready printer vendor certification program, and enhanced driver test tools, in collaboration with Citrix Ready printer vendor partners
  • Defensive re-architecture to protect the user against issues caused by leaking third-party drivers
  • Support for new server OSs
  • New features

Are We Still Working with Printing ISVs and Supporting the Use of Third-Party Printing Solutions?

Although we are putting a lot of resources into our own printing solutions we plan to continue to work with our specialist third-party solutions too. We have a number of printing partners such as Cortado ThinPrint, Tricerat ScrewDrivers and UniPrint’s solutions. These solutions can cater to the most demanding of printing needs and we have many existing customers using them who love the options they offer. As such we are firmly committed to supporting those vendors and working with them to ensure seamless interoperability. Anyness and supporting customer choice to avoid vendor lock-in by working with third-parties is a core Citrix value, one I have blogged about previously. We’ll continue to work with third-party vendors and promote their great solutions, in fact we’re presenting a webinar on Secure Mobile Printing Solutions from UniPrint on 29th October 2014, details here.

Final Thoughts

A few people have been really puzzled regarding my fascination and enthusiasm for printing and features like stapling. HDX GPU accelerated Graphics are flash, poster-boy features that captivate users. Why when I work with the Formula One, sexiest area of XenDesktop (HDX 3D Pro) already, am I obsessed with “dull” old printing, surely nobody’s interested in printing!!! No not at all, if your graphics are a bit flaky because your network has issues you’ll probably live, if printing goes down your entire organisation and procurement system can’t! I love products that people care about, that make businesses function!

Technically, though cloud and VDI printing has all the elements that I love and which can benefit from the HDX team’s vast experience in adverse networking, ICA protocols, image handling and compression.  Documents consist of images and text and sending them remotely to be printed there are so many elements of the same compression and network considerations which we’ve apply to Citrix Receiver and our mobile graphics technologies. We lead in remote and mobile graphics and are the perfect team to do so in mobile printing! Integrating those printing optimisations with Citrix NetScaler is another fascinating whole system solution.

I’ve found the paperless office is rare but we are also looking at exciting technologies whereby you will be able to print traditional documents to readers on your mobile phone without cumbersome driver installation…. So watch this space 😉 I also never thought I’d become so deeply interested in stapling options! Having spent most of the last few years living and breathing GPU virtualisation projects I didn’t think I’d be lucky enough to get another differentiating product so soon!