Book review! Citrix® XenMobile™ Mobile Device Management, published by Packt.

 

As some of you might have noticed, Packt Publishing was randomly requesting (on Linked-In and facebook) IT professionals to review their, relatively, new book on Citrix XenMobile. Since Citrix study material (I really mean books here) can be hard to come by, I thought I’d give it a go as well. It’s my first book review, but that doesn’t stop me from being honest. I’ll try to judge from a professional, as well as a ‘beginners’, point of view. What kind of information am I presented with and does it really teach me something new?

About the author

MTAThe book is written by Akash Phoenix, he is a leading Messaging and Enterprise Mobility Solutions expert with a diverse global background in technologies such as Microsoft Exchange, Windows Servers, Cisco Ironport and ISE, Citrix® NetScaler® Gateway, and App Controller. As stated in the ‘About the author section’. I don’t know Akash personally, nor do I have any connections with Packt, except for this review. The book is printed in an easy to read format and consists of ‘only’ 112 pages. I say ‘only’ because XenMobile isn’t an easy topic to write about, there’s so much to tell and explain, which is almost impossible in ‘just’ 112 pages. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand Packts idea of keeping it simple and compact but I think they’ve taken a wrong turn here, there’s just to much information missing. There, I’ve said it, no point in beating around the bush right?!

Under constant development

Again, XenMobile isn’t ‘easy’, it is, and can be, very complex depending on the components you implement and need to configure. It’s also under constant development and new editions are being released on a ongoing basis which makes it even harder to keep up with the latest technology. I mean, we know, or can probably imagine, how it works right? You write a few chapters, they’re being reviewed, notes are send back, you make some adjustments, write some new stuff perhaps, and it’s off for review again, etc… With this process repeating itself over and over again, even a book of 112 pages will take at least around 4 to 6 months to write, get printed, marketed etc. if not longer.

Newer editions

In the mean time XenMobile has been updated at least two or three times. Well… you get my point right? So I think it’s brave they took on the challenge, and as far as I’m concerned it turned out reasonably ok. In the next few paragraphs I’ll share my thoughts in some more detail. I’d also like to point out that I fully understand how much work a project like this brings, It’s a massive assignment and I respect that, my complements for your persistence and dedication! The same goes for the (Packt) team involved as well.

The things I like

Packt-logoLet me start by highlighting the things I like. I like the format, it’s easy to read, taking it step by step, and that’s what people enjoy, or perhaps need, when learning something new. It’s written in plain English, straight to the point and easy to understand, although you’ll probably need to have an IT background of some sort. I received an e-book copy, but if I’m not mistaken the printed version is relatively small in size so easy to take along. I also like the NetScaler VPX configuration part, a subject most of us struggle with, certificates included. Some of the policies highlighted, like Jail Break detection and the Passcode policy give us a good idea on what’s possible with XenMobile MDM and the power it supplies. It’s obvious that the author knows what he’s talking about, no doubts there, it’s just that, IMHO, there is so much more to tell.

Things missing

Especially if your new to XenMobile you need to know the basics around application wrapping and signing, the MDX technology involved, licensing, micro VPN’s, the Vault, Interapp, the Worx application suite, overall data flow, architectural overviews and more. And although some of the above is mentioned in the book (most isn’t), it’s all very brief and un-detailed. When it comes to the AppController for example, the book shows us how to deploy an application, making it available to our users, but that’s it, nothing on the technology involved or other application configuration options whatsoever, while there are tons.

Expectations vs marketing

Of course you could argue that the book is meant to give you a first impression on what’s needed, the look and feel, how to install the product, or products, and perhaps take you through the initial configuration phase, sure, but that’s not how it is advertised. And for me that’s where they’ve took that wrong turn I was talking about earlier. Although there are never versions on the market today, 8.5 also offers and works with most of the above, including Active Sync BlackBerry support, DLP, SMG etc. which are also not in there.

When I, as an admin, buy an IT orientated educational book, on XenMobile in this case, I want to learn (or expect to learn) about the technology involved, how does it work. For example, applications can be securely deployed using AppController, and that’s great, but why is it secure and what do we need to do to get it that way, which technologies are involved and how do they interact etc.

Little over an hour

Packt XenMobile CoverI read the book in just over an hour or so, mainly because I already know how XenMobile works, which components are needed, how they all interact and so on and so forth. But there was another reason, to me the book is more like a advanced installation guide with some basic configurations steps to go along. It doesn’t really emphasize or explain the power of XenMobile, why we might need it, some of it’s biggest advantages and what (real) technology is involved. Over 30 to 35% (maybe more) of the book is filled with information on where and how to download the software and licenses, including step by step ‘click next, click finish’ instructions. That’s just to easy, sorry. It also includes screenshots on every step involved, taking up a lot of space which could have been used way more efficiently. Take the troubleshooting section, it’s not even one page in total! Screenshots are great, but don’t over do it.

You need to include the basics

Let’s not forget that we’re talking XenMobile 8.5, which is over a year old and lot’s has happened since. Then again, given the whole book writing process mentioned earlier it’s understandable that not all technology and components used today made it into the book. But ask yourself this, if your going to implement, or recommend, XenMobile, would you go after the 8.5 bits and bytes? Probably not. Edition 8.6.1, or 8.7 which will be released later this month, is way ahead of what 8.5 had or has to offer. My point is, if you write about a product which is still so ‘fresh’ and under a constant development, like XenMobile, chances are that your book is already outdated as soon as it hits the shelves, it’s risky. At least focus on the basics, which, needless to say, are also there in 8.5

I made a list

I won’t go into all the details for now (although I could probably write a 112 page book about it :-) I’ll just list some topics of which I think they should’ve made it into the book or should’ve been described more thoroughly, some I already mentioned:

xenmobilemdm1. MDX, including: InterApp, the MDX Vault and Micro VPN’s 2. Way more overviews and explenations on how you can deploy and configure XenMobile (nowadays the MDM server can sit on your private LAN and NetScaler will do the SSL offloading for you) 3. More on the differences between the editions available. Note that the term ‘Solutions Bundle’ is no longer used 4. A lot more on the concecpts behind the different technologies used 5. How do Exchange and SharePoint fit in? Not that they do, but how? Data Leak Prevention for example and the Secure Mobile Gateway 6. Application wrapping, the MDX technology involved (mentioned earlier, I know). The MDX toolkit, how does it work 7. The fact that your iOS applications need to be singed by Apple, and how to go about this process 8. The Worx application suite, more one secure e-mail client, secure web browsing in combination with the MDX Vault 9. StoreFront integration, we could also deploy AppController without MDM 10. HDX smart access in combination with NetScaler 11. Because this is all on edition 8.5 a lot has already changed, like the enrolment process, the editions available, and tons of other app specific features and options. 12. High availability 13. General best practices 14. Backup and restore.

Some of the above is mentioned in the book as well, but that’s it, it’s mentioned, nothing more. I’m not saying that you’ll have to dedicate a page per feature or anything, but at least give them something. I’m aware that it’s close to impossible to write a book on XenMobile that doesn’t exceeds 150 pages, ticking all the boxes and still keeping relatively simple, but your readers need to know what they’re up against, it isn’t simply a matter of clicking next, next, finish when it comes to XenMobile, unfortunately not.

Conclusion

No hard feelings, i hope. I’m absolutely positive that the writer, and the team from Packt, had all the best intensions and that he knows his stuff, perhaps even better then I do. And besides, it’s always way more easier to criticize someone else’s work than do it your self, no doubt! But they asked me to do an honest review and here it is.

I’m not saying it’s worthless, it isn’t! They made a good effort, It’s just that reading the books overview, table of contents and the ‘What you will learn from this book’ sections, gives you the wrong idea on what you’ll learn. Of course this is my personal opinion, feel free to disagree as much as you like! If you’re interested in getting a copy, go to the Packt website and order one. It’s also available on:

Amazon

If it’s an advanced installation guide that you’re looking for, than definitely buy this book, it will tell you all you need to know and more, including some basic configuration tasks. Do you want to learn about the different scenario’s in which you can implement XenMobile, MDX (which is kind of a big one when it comes to the AppController), application wrapping, the Secure Mobile Gateway (Exchange), Data Leak Prevention (SharePoint), the story behind the Worx application suite and all the new features and components that have been released since 8.5 etc… Well, than don’t, it isn’t in there. I hope I haven’t offended anyone, because that’s not my intention at all. I understand that certain people will disagree, and that’s fine, I just hope you’ll respect my opinion as well. Take care.

Bas van Kaam ©

Reference materials used: Citrix.com, Packtpub.com and the E-Docs website.