The Problems with Citrix Long Term Service Release (LTSR)
It has been a long time since I wrote for the blog, I’d like to wish a happy new year to all my readers. To start 2017, I am introducing a new “Opinion” section where I will share some of my views on Citrix products, strategies, and positions.
The first topic I’d like to discuss is the servicing options offered by Citrix that are as confusing for customers as they are for Citrix.
UPDATE 02/01/2017: Citrix has responded to this article by providing the XenApp and XenDesktop 2017 release schedule below:
Source: Citrix Blog
Ever since Citrix made the switch from Independent Management Architecture (IMA) to FlexCast Management Architecture (FMA)—and removed many features—they have been trying to make FMA attractive and close this gap in features by releasing frequent updates. However, most companies were not able to follow the pace imposed by Citrix, and many are still running XenDesktop 5.6 and the beloved XenApp 6.5 versions. To resolve this issue, Citrix introduced new servicing options on Jan 11, 2016 at Summit, covering all editions for fast-paced (Current Release) and slow-paced (Long Term Service Release) environments. Citrix is following the trend and Microsoft with its Long Term Support Branch/Current Branch options.
Citrix decided to label Current Release(CR) as the latest release of their Software. For example, 7.12 is the latest CR version available for XenDesktop and XenApp as of today. When Citrix releases the next version (ex. 7.13 or 8.0), it will become the CR version and the previous 7.12 version will become deprecated and unsupported; therefore, no updates/fixes will be delivered. The release schedule of approximately 3 to 9 months does not necessarily require Software Maintenance. Obviously, Citrix is targeting fast-paced environments that can quickly move to new versions, take full benefits of new features/enhancements, and provide feedback.
Once a Current Release version has been proven to be stable and reliable, Citrix will promote it as the Long Term Service Release (LTSR) version for customers with valid Software Maintenance contracts. It aims to balance rapid release cycles and provide stability for customers who need predictable enterprise long-term schedules. Included are 5 years of mainstream support which can be extended 5 more years. The release schedule is expected to be 12-24 months. Fixes will be released every 4 to 6 months as Cumulative Updates(CU) in a single package, replacing the previous Hotfixes Rollup Pack (HRP) program but no new feature will be added during the lifecycle. When a new version is identified as LTSR, you are free to upgrade at any time to get the latest features or you can stay with your current LTSR version until the support expires.
The first misconception is that because Citrix communicates mostly on XenApp/XenDesktop, that LTSR only applies to those two products. This is not the case. The LTSR also applies to VDA, Director, StoreFront, Provisioning Services, Universal Printer Server and Session Recording but has not been extended to all Citrix products. Additionally, the components versioning does not always make sense. For example, StoreFront follows its own versioning and is currently in version 3.0.2000 LTSR. On the opposite, Provisioning Services follows the main versioning is currently in version 7.6.300 LTSR. In my opinion, Citrix should align the versioning of all components part of the LTSR program to make it easier to read and should also apply the same rules to all its products.
Note that Citrix Receiver is not eligible for the XenApp and XenDesktop LTSR benefits (extended lifecycle and fix-only cumulative updates).
Receiver is officially not part of the standard LTSR program, but has its own specific program because it is not eligible for the same benefits. In Citrix Documentation, it is recommended to upgrade to the latest version any time it becomes available (however, they do release a Long Term Service Release of the Receiver, currently version 4.4.3000 LTSR). For some reasons, Receiver is the only component that currently has the third Cumulative Update. Citrix is sending mixed messages regarding Receiver, and should take a clear position.
For ease of maintenance, and to ensure optimal performance, Citrix recommends that you upgrade to the latest version of Citrix Receiver any time it becomes available.
Personal vDisk is not part of any LTSR program, so basically Citrix is saying that PVD is dead and that you should all get out it as quickly as possible. Citrix has also released a new tool called Citrix LTSR Assistant back in April but is still in Tech Preview. Are we ever going to get a final version of this tool?
Predictability and stability are key parts of the LTSR program, but don’t expect it to be 100% safe. For example, StoreFront LTSR 3.0.1, 30.1000 & 3.0.2000 versions were the only ones impacted by an issue documented in CTX218815 and had to be patched outside the Cumulative Update releases. Customers with the Current Release version were not impacted.
Windows 10 was released on July 29, 2015 but is still not fully supported by any LTSR version. Most components part of the LTSR version were released post-Windows 10 and are surprisingly not supporting it. Especially when Gartner; the well-known research firm; claims that 50% of enterprises have started Windows 10 deployments as of today. The official Citrix recommendation is to install non-LTSR components for Windows 10. To make it even more confusing, they have created an exception for Windows 10, where customers were asked to install the Virtual Desktop Agent(VDA) 7.9 to be LTSR-compliant. For provisioned deployments, they were recommended to install Provisioning Services(PVS) 7.9 to be compliant. Sounds easy, except that few months later and with the Cumulative Update 2, Citrix now recommends to install version 7.11 of VDA/PVS for Windows 10. And just to make sure that you are entirely confused, both VDA and PVS 7.11 will not get the full benefits of being LTSR-compliant, such as the extended lifecycle or the cumulative updates. You may be asked to install the latest Current Release by Citrix Support if issues arise. The documentation itself is not clear because sometimes it says follow the Current Release path and therefore install the Virtual Desktop Agent part of it (today it is 7.12) and in some other part of the documentation it says install 7.9 or 7.11. Really confusing. Also why Citrix did not include Windows 10 support in VDA 7.6.2000 LSTR version?
Regular support for Windows 10 is available through the Current Release path. Windows 10 does not get the full set of 7.6 LTSR benefits. For deployments that include Windows 10 machines, Citrix recommends that you use the Current Release Version 7.11.
The same applies to Windows Server 2016, released end of September 2016. As of today there is no Long Term Service Release supporting it. Citrix recommends to install 7.11 and up to support the latest Microsoft server operating system. Essentially, customers are being forced to delay their new deployments to be LTSR-compliant or take the risk to deploy the Current Release, perhaps face some issues and have to update to a new Current Release few months later. The most annoying part is that Citrix does not release—even under NDA—any roadmap information about the next Long Term Service Release that could help prepare a migration. The only information shared with customers is that Citrix will give more details in the second half of 2017. My guess is that we will have to wait for Synergy 2017 to have more details about an upcoming XenDesktop 8 LTSR version.
Windows 10 was added as an LTSR compatible platform with 7.9 version but Windows 2016 is not LTSR compatible today.
To wrap up, Long Term Service Release seemed like an ideal model to follow, but the lack of homogeneity in the components and the lack of clear and coherent roadmap from Citrix make it hard to follow. Citrix claims to have an excellent partnership with Microsoft, and therefore should make sure to align its LTSR versions to Microsoft’s timeline. If you are a big company looking to migrate to Windows 10 & Windows Server 2016, there are currently no coherent Long Term Service Release path for you today as Citrix contradicts itself by telling its users to install non-LTSR components.
Hopefully Citrix will make improvements to its program at Synergy 2017 in Orlando, FL.
- Citrix Supportability Pack – http://support.citrix.com/article/CTX203082
- LTSR Assistant – https://support.citrix.com/article/CTX209577
- XenApp/XenDesktop LTSR
- Cumulative Update 1 – Cumulative Update 2
- Receiver LTSR program
- XenApp and XenDesktop Servicing Options (LTSR) FAQ
- LTSR announcement
- A Sneak Peek Behind the Scenes of the Long Term Service Release (LTSR)