At Citrix Summit, the annual Citrix channel partner conference, Mark Templeton stood on stage and talked about some great new XenApp and XenDesktop features and tech previews. In case you missed the full press release, check it out here.  The announcement covers a bunch of announcements for new features that will be released in 1H 2015 like the Linux Virtual Desktop Agent (Linux VDA) tech preview, an updated Optimization Pack for Microsoft Lync, new HDX technologies from the Framehawk acquisition, a tech preview of DesktopPlayer for Windows, the newly expanded architecture of the XenServer 6.5 hypervisor(already available), and last but certainly not least a new feature for XenApp 7.6 called Session Recording.  This blog is focused on the upcoming Session Recording feature, but remember this extensive list of innovations is just for Q1 with even more exciting functionality to come later in the year, so get ready for 2015! It is going to be a great year for XenDesktop and XenApp!

What is Session Recording?

Session Recording enables you, the Citrix admin, to record active XenApp 7.6 virtual app and server hosted desktop sessions, based on user, application or server and then archive that recording for reference when you need it.  For those XenApp 6.5 admins out there, Session Recording is based on SmartAuditor technology, but Session Recording is specifically designed for the XenApp 7.x FlexCast Reference Architecture (quick reminder IMA is the architecture of XenApp 6.5 and earlier, FMA is the architecture for XenApp 7.x). So when would you need Session Recording and why? Here’s a couple of examples to get you started.

How About An example From the Help Desk World.

Let’s say someone calls into the helpdesk with a one-off issue that’s hard to reproduce. Well, you’ve recorded their session and included in the recording is everything the user has done in that session, including all the steps the user took prior to the issue manifesting itself. No more hunting for error messages, no more asking the user “could you please try abc”. Session Recording simply records the information that will help with troubleshooting the issue.

What if you are in a highly regulated industry like finance, government or healthcare? Obviously you are already using XenApp for its inherent security benefits but recording user’s sessions has some additional advantages.  For example, if an employee knows that any and all activities could be recorded at any time, they are much less likely to initiate inappropriate behavior. What about compliance? Naturally, Session Recording can help by enabling Session Recording for specific users or user groups, application groups or server groups providing the granularity you need to help ensure compliance is met.

These are just a couple of use cases to show why everyone is so eagerly anticipating the feature.

How Will It Work?

Just to be clear, Session Recording is a XenApp 7.6 feature that will be available when Feature Pack 1 is release in Q1 2015.  It consists of the Session Recording Agent, Session Recording Server, Session Recording Player, Session Recording Policy Console and Session Recording Database. The Session Recording Server, Policy Console and Database are considered to be “Administration Components”

  • The Session Recording Agent is installed on each XenApp server delivering virtual apps and server-hosted desktops and is responsible for recording session data.  This agent will be a separate agent from the Virtual Delivery Agent (VDA).
  • The Session Recording Player is the user interface that an administrator or user accesses to playback recorded XenApp sessions.  The Player can be installed on server and desktop operating systems for easy access from a variety of locations.
  • The Session Recording Server is a server that hosts both the Session Recording Broker and the Storage Manager.  The Broker is an IIS 6 or greater web application that handles queries from the Session Recording Player and policy administration from the Session Recording Policy Console.  Storage Manager does just that, manages session recordings once they are sent from the XenApp servers doing the recordings.
  • The Session Recording Policy Console creates and manages session recording policies and can be installed on the Session Recording Server or on a stand-alone server.
  • The Session Recording Database is where the recorded sessions are stored and is supported on SQL Server 2008 R2 SP3 and above.  It can also be installed on the Session Recording Server or on a stand-alone server.

Admins Will Configure Session Recording Via the Session Recording Policy Console (SRPC).

Within the SRPC you configure all the recording policies and rules, specify which users are to have their sessions recorded as well as specify the location where your captured recordings will be stored. Session Recording is disabled by default so the first thing to do is to enable and activate the Session Recording policy. Recording a user’s activities has data protection implications so we obviously have the ability to record with notification or record without notification. In the event of “record with notification” being set, a pop-up window will appear notifying the user that their session is being recorded. It’s also possible to define a set of Users or Groups, a set of Published Applications or a set of Application Servers that you want to record. A very useful policy is “White Listed Users”, that is, a group of users whose sessions are never recorded. As you see, we’ve built a lot of granularity into the policy engine.

Security is a very important aspect of any recording type feature and Session Recording has been designed to be deployed in a secure network to further enhance the inherent security of the product. Digital Certificates, HTTPS, SSL should be considered standard deployment practices nowadays and Session Recording can be configured to use those techniques.  A ‘playback protection’ feature can further protect the recordings by encrypting the files before they are downloaded to a Session Recording Player.

The Session Recording Player enables the admin to watch live sessions or previously recorded sessions.

The admin can search for sessions based on specific criteria such as domain account, site, group, application or a specific date and time since this info was all captured as metadata during the recording. In playback mode the admin can start, stop and pause the session, fast forward, fast reverse through a session and set markers for future reference.

Finally, to close out this blog, you might be asking yourself how this works on XenApp servers that have been provisioned with Citrix Provisioning Services or Machine Creation Services, in either case it is supported, you can provision the Session Recording Agent as part of the golden XenApp server image using either technology.  Storage optimizations have been extended to the recordings as well, recording files sizes are 15 times more efficient than AVI/MPEG and just for perspective an 8 hour recording of a Microsoft Office app is only 32MB, now that’s some storage efficiency.

Since Session Recording is very powerful and Citrix is the only vendor to offer Session Recording, it’s a premium feature and will be available only in the Platinum editions. I know you are excited to have this functionality!  It will be available this quarter, which means by March 31st, 2015.  Citrix is committed to making 2015 a great year, and Session Recording is a great way to kick off the year!

One more thing.  We’d love to hear your views. If you’ve got ideas for additional Session Recording features please post comments below.