While we finalize preparations for our Citrix Summit partner conference in Las Vegas and a series of new announcements for early 2016, I started to reflect back on just how much was accomplished in the preceding year to meet the ever more demanding needs of XenApp/XenDesktop and Citrix Workspace Cloud customers.
The HDX team’s mission is to provide a ‘high definition’ in-session user experience that feels like local or better.
Let’s look back at some of the huge advances in HDX that were released in 2015 to achieve that goal, focusing on the following big ‘needle-movers’:
- Thinwire enhancements
- HDX templates
- HDX RealTime Optimization Pack
- Citrix Receiver enhancements
- HDX SoC thin clients
- Linux VDA with latest Thinwire technologies
When XenApp customers ran Windows Server 2008 [R2] or one of its predecessors, they benefited from very efficient HDX Thinwire display remoting techniques that leveraged Microsoft technologies no longer available in Windows Server 2012 [R2]. While Thinwire still supports legacy Windows operating systems for customers on extended support from Microsoft, it has evolved to support the newer graphics technologies used by Windows Server 2012 and beyond.
The first step happened back in 2013 with XenDesktop 7.0, which made our adaptive H.264 encoder (previously included only with HDX 3D Pro) available in the standard VDA and in all product editions.
But what about XenApp 6.5 customers migrating to XenApp 7.6? Many organizations in our installed base don’t yet have very demanding requirements for 3D graphics or server-rendered video. Would it be possible for them to move to Windows Server 2012 [R2] without upgrading their network pipes or even older thin clients to support the H.264 video codec?
One of the most impressive HDX deliverables of 2015 was enhanced Thinwire in XenApp/XenDesktop 7.6 Feature Pack 3. Our engineers were able to achieve amazing bandwidth frugality and server scalability (although Windows Server 2012 itself may require more CPU than Windows Server 2008) without requiring updates to Receiver or minimum endpoint processor specifications. Delivering a great user experience cost-effectively is a tremendous accomplishment and the feedback from the community was ecstatic:
“Mind-blowing good quality / performance.”
“A must-have without a doubt.”
“Truly the most amazing product improvement I’ve seen in years.”
Have you encountered demanding use cases where even our industry-leading Thinwire technology didn’t deliver the quality of experience that was needed? HDX with Framehawk, introduced in June with XenApp/XenDesktop 7.6 Feature Pack 2, has proven to be ideal for:
- Mobile workers on broadband wireless
- Offshore workers who need like-local interactivity
More and more organizations have a segment of the user population who are mobile and highly reliant on Wi-Fi or 4G/LTE. Spectral interference is the unavoidable bane of wireless connectivity, usually making it very difficult to work productively with hosted applications. But Framehawk delivers fast click-response and consistent cadence even under conditions of high packet loss.
For offshore workers who need like-local interactivity to be fully productive, whether they’re handling customers in a call center or working with large 3D models, Framehawk overcomes network latency with its patented gearing system and time-based heat map. It feels like local.
The feedback has been extremely enthusiastic:
“While the difference between LAN and WAN [at 500 ms latency] was perceptible, it was barely so.”
“Very impressive results… Hands down, Framehawk is a game-changer.”
“Working at 35% packet loss! Welcome to the future!”
Framehawk is compatible with NetScaler Gateway (including the Unified Gateway as of release 11.0-F) and the Citrix Receivers for Windows and iOS.
Our experience over the years has proven that there’s seldom a default value that works well in every situation. With HDX Adaptive Orchestration, our software makes intelligent choices based on network conditions and the capabilities of the server and user device, but it is also important to give customers control through administrative policies. In 2015, the HDX team delivered a set of completely revamped policy templates that you can think of as the new defaults (starting points) for various common primary customer objectives, including:
- High Server Scalability
- High Definition User Experience
- Optimized for WAN
- Maximum Security and Control
Check out Marcel Calef’s blog post to learn more about these templates.
The value of these policy templates and the accompanying white paper has truly resonated with the community:
“Full of essential info; download it ASAP”
“Amazing white paper showing the impact on CPU and bandwidth”
HDX RealTime Optimization Pack
As organizations embrace Unified Communications and softphone applications, the challenge is to deliver them from a virtual workspace without exhausting server capacity or degrading audio-video quality. For several years now, Citrix has promoted an “optimized architecture” that shifts the media processing workload to the user device whenever possible, and this approach has been embraced by UC industry leaders including Microsoft, Cisco, Avaya and Vidyo. In June 2015, we introduced optimized support for Microsoft’s Skype for Business 2015 client in Lync UI mode. Then, last week we posted a new release of our HDX RealTime Optimization Pack that delivers the Skype for Business client in native UI mode. Stay tuned for a lot more about this new release shortly!
Citrix made significant enhancements to our various Receiver versions in 2015, with the goal of providing the best HDX features and performance on any device that the user wants to use.
Receiver for Windows emerged with a single architecture combining the features of the enterprise Receiver and the standard Receiver. Windows 10 was a big and fresh change this year, especially with the Start menu coming back. We supported the Receiver on Windows 10 on “day zero” of its release. H.264 hardware decoding, first introduced in the Receiver for Linux, became available for Receiver for Windows, too, meeting customer demand for fast performance with 4K resolution monitors on thin clients.
2015 also saw the realization of our project X1 strategy of a consistent user experience and customization capabilities for web and desktop Receiver versions. Receiver for Mac supported Apple’s new El Capitan OS X 10.11 release with the fresh X1 user experience.
HTML5 Receiver is now available as an SDK for ISVs, customers and partners who want to implement portal integration. Receiver for Chrome advanced significantly in 2015 with quarterly releases, enabling more and more use cases on Chrome devices which continue to catch the attention of enterprise customers.
Receiver for Linux is now a fully 64 bit client, and enables double hop with Linux virtual desktops. Receiver for Android enabled creative device innovation with new classes of devices like docking stations, set top boxes and HDMI-out dongles, while at the same time its new HDX engine provides a much improved user experience with enhancements such as fit-to-display, support for mirroring the session display and for languages with left-to-right text.
Receiver for iOS added Framehawk support and enabled 64-bit support. The X1 mouse became very popular with iPad and iPhone users, enabling a local Windows experience on these devices.
Citrix continues to evolve the Receivers and enable more and more use cases for different verticals. Refer to our Receiver feature matrix to stay up-to-date on Receiver capabilities.
HDX SoC devices
While our focus in the HDX team is on delivering an outstanding in-session user experience when working with a virtual workspace, you’ve no doubt noticed that we also pay a lot of attention to costs. The HDX System-on-Chip initiative was launched with the goal of supporting our thin client ecosystem partners in reducing the cost of user devices at the HDX Ready and HDX Premium Ready levels. One outstanding result of this program in 2015 was a release from ThinLinX for the Raspberry Pi 2. Be sure to read “Eric” Haavarstein’s review on xenappblog.com.
Last year saw two major releases of the Linux Virtual Desktop Agent, supporting the recent enhancements to Thinwire and the H.264 codec for graphics and compatibility with all Citrix Receiver versions. The Linux VDA fits easily in your existing XenApp and XenDesktop architecture, just replacing the Windows VDA with Linux in the mix. Linux desktop support is generating a lot of excitement in the field, and this will surely grow in 2016 with the addition of 3D graphics acceleration.
So, are we done?
With all this innovation now out in the field, maybe you’re wondering if there’s anything left to do.
In his recent article on BrianMadden.com, “Are the display protocol wars (finally!) over?”, Michel Roth concluded that Citrix with HDX hands-down still offers the best user experience” but then made this thought-provoking observation:
HDX already excels in the most unbelievable scenarios and I am not sure what is left for HDX to achieve that makes business sense.
Is HDX now so fantastic that we should shift our investment elsewhere? Are we done?
I raised this topic at the recent Citrix Technology Professionals meeting in Ft. Lauderdale (covered by Gabe Knuth within the limits of NDA in his December blog post). Our conclusions? End users are ever increasingly demanding. And increasingly mobile. So the bar keeps getting higher. In addition, applications, browsers and the Windows operating system itself continue to evolve. So stay tuned for more exciting news from the HDX team in the year ahead! There’s plenty more to come.
Meanwhile, I encourage you to learn more about HDX technologies in our newly-updated white paper. And if you’re a Citrix partner attending our Summit conference in Las Vegas this month, be sure to check out these sessions:
- SUM217: Deployment best practices for all the newest XenApp and XenDesktop HDX technology
- Day 2 Technical Keynote
- SUM609: Delivering Skype for Business from XenApp and XenDesktop (Learning Lab)
- SUM187: Microsoft Skype for Business Client Virtualization
- SUM507: Using HDX Insight to optimize and troubleshoot your virtual delivery infrastructure
Director of Product Management, HDX