Not that long ago (during Summit 2016 to be exact) Citrix introduced two new XenApp / XenDesktop servicing options, the LTRS, which stands for Long Term Service Release and the CR a.k.a. Current Release. And while this is sort of a big deal, it does tend to confuse people on what to expect when it comes to Citrix support. This post is meant to clarify a couple of misconceptions that have been slowly formed during the last two months or so.
Let’s start with what is really new, the LTSR. The LTSR is all about stability and supportability when it comes to ongoing maintenance and support. I’ll let Citrix take care of the intro on this one:
As a benefit of Software Maintenance, Long Term Service Releases of XenApp and XenDesktop enable enterprises to retain a particular release for an extended period of time while receiving minor updates that provide fixes, typically void of new functionality. This provides customers with greater predictability and simplified on-going maintenance. Today, Citrix is announcing our first-ever Long Term Service Release of XenApp and XenDesktop 7.6 available for download on Citrix.com
What they are basically saying is: this is our most stable, robust and Enterprise worthy release of the XenApp – XenDesktop 7.x platform up to date. It has been thoroughly tested and used for extended periods of time within large, heavily utilised environments. Ensuring you of an (99%, ok, perhaps 98%) error free platform as long as all of the included main components are LTSR compliant (more on this in a bit), as prescribed by Citrix. You will receive at least 5 years of so-called mainstream support and an optional 5 years of extended support when needed and/or desired. Not the that this will need to be purchased separately around 6 months before the mainstream support ends.
Following a predictable maintenance schedule of 4 to 6 months on average (these time lines are meant for general guidance only since Citrix does not publically release any product roadmap information) thoroughly tested and fully patched cumulative updates will be released to further enhance and simplify ongoing management and maintenance, including potential small (er) fixes keeping up with the latest security standards. These will replace the well-known Citrix Hotfix Rollup Packs. However, when needed and/or possible general and private (hot) fixes are also still optional.
Next to the mentioned maintenance schedule, every 12 to 24 months in general new LTSR versions of XenApp / XenDesktop will be added, following multiple CR’s, which is very similar to what happend with the 7.6 LTSR as well, it was preceded by 3 Feature Packs. For now, only XenApp / XenDesktop version 7.6 is available as a Long Term Service Release, which makes sense since they just announced / released the program.
So you can’t go wrong, right?
Well… a lot will depend on the type of organization / business you are in or have to deal with. I mean the LTSR isn’t for everybody. An important aspect that goes with all this is that no matter how many updates and or fixes will be released during the LTSR lifecycle of a particular XenApp / XenDesktop version, 7.6 in this case, no new functionalities will be added to the product. This is one the main reasons why Citrix can (almost) guarantee an error free product. Adding in new features and/or functionality takes a lot of testing, trial and error, feedback etc. (think Tech Previews for example) and while Citrix does all it can to release stable and error free products with every new version, it is near impossible to get up a 100% every time. So you see that while releasing cumulative updates from time to time help in keeping your LTSR platform stable and easy to manage, at the same time it will also lack the latest and greatest when it comes new features and/or other potential helpful functionalities. Something to be aware of. Of course there’s a bit more to it and you have options, read on.
This is basically where the CR makes its entrance. With the CR servicing option you can always make use of (install) the most recent XenApp and/or XenDesktop versions including all the latest enhancements and additions that come with it. Its release cycles are much shorter with a new version release being announced every three to nine months in general. These are full product updates meaning they will impact your Delivery Controller, VDA’s, StoreFront servers and so on. Replacing Features Packs, as we know them today (although I’m not sure these will completely disappear).
But don’t let this scare you. If you give the e-docs website a search you will find the LTSR under the ‘What’s new’ section with XenApp / XenDesktop 7.6, this is mainly because with the ‘new’ CR servicing option not much has changed with regards to what we were, or are used to when it comes to Citrix support and maintenance etc.
In fact Citrix themselves tell us that they decided to create the CR servicing option, which is nothing more then identifying the standard release process as it is today, to be able to better distinguish the two. The thought behind all this is of course to get and keep the spotlight on what is really new, the Long Term Service Release option.
Besides the earlier mentioned potential FP replacement, which we would now refer to as a new XenApp / XenDesktop CR version, nothing changes. And while ‘Fixes’ are still included from a support perspective, customers on a CR version might be asked to first upgrade to the latest release including any potential fixes. But from my personal experience, and yours I’m sure this approach isn’t any different from how Citrix support operates today.
Additional ‘need to know’ information and key takeaways
Long Term Service Release
- A Long Term Service Release guarantees 5 years of mainstream support and an optional 5 years of extended support (needs to purchased separately). This includes cumulative updates every 4 to 6 months, a new LTSR version of XenApp / XenDesktop every 12 to 24 months and any potential (hot) fixes.
- Every new LTSR will probably be preceded by at least 3 tot 4 CR’s. Again this has a strong resemblance with the current release cycles. For example, before XenApp / XenDesktop 7.6 became a LTSR it was preceded by three Feature Packs.
- A valid Software Maintenance (SM) contract is needed to make use of the LTSR servicing option.
- As you might know, besides SM Citrix has multiple types of support contracts available, for example, Premier Support, Preferred Support and/or Enterprise Support. If you have any of these combined with an active Subscription Advantage contract you are eligible for an LTSR as well. However, there is one caveat, without Software Maintenance you will not have access to any of the cumulative update downloads.
- As soon as Citrix releases a new LTSR version of XenApp / XenDesktop you are free to upgrade to that specific version as part of your current LTSR / Software Maintenance contract. Note that upgrading is always optional, not mandatory. Your 5 years of mainstream support will start over for that particular version. This way it will still be possible to make use of new features and functionalities as part of the latest LTSR version. What I mean is, when you go with a LTSR you are not ‘stuck’ with that particular version for a minimum of five years.
- Since LTSR is primarily aimed at stability and supportability it will probably be a perfect fit for slow (er) moving companies where innovation and cutting edge technology isn’t a top priority. Although the above could apply to all sorts and types of companies out there, especially customers where bureaucracy plays a prominent role might do well, or better with the LTSR’s when compared to others. For some this might make a LTSR a niche use cases, for others it is what they see and have to deal with on a daily basis. Of course mission critical and/or extreme secure workloads might qualify as well.
- Citrix will tell you which version of which products you need to run, Citrix Receiver included to be able to make use of the 7.6 LTSR, go here for more information. This page also includes information on components and features that are optional and /or excluded from the LTSR lifecycle milestones and benefits.
- If you are running XenApp / XenDesktop 7.6 including Feature Pack 3 you will already have most of the LTSR compliant components in place. Again see the above link for more info.
- Citrix is currently working on a compliance tool to help you check if your current environment is eligible for a LTSR.
- Note that you can have the LTSR as well as the CR servicing options in use at the same time.
- The same applies to running two types of XenApp / XenDesktop Sites, one based on a CR and the other based on a LTSR for example. Both could be production Sites or one could be production and the other one could be test, pre-prod or whatever you would like to call it.
- Switching from a LTSR to a CR servicing, and vice versa, is always optional as well.
- Citrix does not recommend mixing and matching non-compliant CR components in a LTSR environment. This comes from the Citrix e-docs pages: In terms of the support experience, the mixed LTSR and non-compliant components environment will be supported based on the terms of the support contract and the individual component’s LTSR status. Here they acknowledge that LTSR and certain CR components like PVS and StoreFront for example, can be used in conjunction, however it won’t make the troubleshooting and support process any easier.
- Citrix offers full downloadable packages including all LTSR components, fully up-to-date, patched, supported and ready to go. No need to figure out which or what updates, hotfixes etc. to install next.
- When dealing with support they may (not mandatory) ask you to install the latest cumulative update for your current LTSR if not done so already.
- If it is new functionality and innovative features you are looking for then go with the Current Release instead.
- With a CR supported version you have the ability to upgrade to the latest version of XenApp / XenDesktop making use of all the new and innovative features and functionalities that Citrix has to offer. So basically nothing changes.
- New versions of XenApp / XenDesktop will be released every 3 to 9 months following the standard product lifecycle milestones. And if we look at XenApp / XenDesktop versions 7.7 and 7.8 my guess is that quarterly releases are probably preferred over a new release every 6 to 9 months. Time will tell.
- No cumulative updates will be made available but certain (hot) fixes; from a support perspective will still be available when applicable.
- You will (at least) need a valid Subscription Advantage contract to make use of a Current Release version.
- When only Subscription Advantage is available a separate support contract will be needed. Remember that with Software Maintenance, support as well as Subscription Advantage (the right to update to newer versions / software) is included.
- Although you do not have to upgrade when a new CR version becomes available (personally I like the -1 version approach as opposed to running the latest and greatest all the time), when reporting an issue with Citrix support they might ask you to update to the latest CR version available if not done so already.
- Notice that I say MIGHT, when reporting an issue on one of the CR XenApp / XenDesktop versions, Citrix will do its best to help you any way they can, this includes troubleshooting your current deployment without upgrading, fixes included. As a minimum, the component, or components in question need (s) to fall within the applicable EOL period.
All in all definitely a good move from Citrix, the customer has spoken, they listened and this is the result. Having options never hurt anybody right? Although I realize there might be exceptions :) One thing they probably could have handled better is the communication around the Current Release (CR) servicing option. While basically nothing changed from a support perspective, people (and not just customers I can tell you) tend to think it did, causing some confusion. I have already spoken to at least two customers who where in doubt on what to do, while looking back the CR servicing option was an obvious choice. Ah well, we’ll live I suppose. Thank you for reading.