Citrix celebrated the third anniversary of the Long Term Service Release (LTSR) program by pushing customers towards adopting Current Release (CR). Read more on why this move could be in my opinion the end of the road for LTSR.
Citrix recently published an article about the debate between LTSR and CR which is a recurrent topic within the Citrix community and often mentioned at CUGC events. The timing could not be better, as I wrote an article about the very same topic exactly two years ago that needed to be updated. If you need to know the basics and problems of the LTSR / CR servicing options, check out this article, The Problems with the Long Term Service Release (LTSR) program. At the time, I was concerned by the lack of coherence within the programs and the numerous associated challenges. Before diving in on why Citrix could drop the LTSR program, let’s review the essentials.
Disclaimer: Citrix has NOT communicated at this time about the end of the LTSR program. Also, Citrix has announced that they are targeting the release of next Virtual Apps and Desktops in H2′ 2019 in this blog https://www.citrix.com/blogs/2018/12/12/ring-in-the-new-year-with-citrix-virtual-apps-and-desktops-7-1811/.
What are LTSR and CR?
LTSR, which stands for “Long-term Servicing Release”, was initially announced in January 2016 at Summit, and the very first release to be labeled as such was XenDesktop 7.6. The company promised the longest intervals between feature upgrades of any version, as well as regular support for 5 years. That meant predictability and fewer changes during a set timeline, a less-involved upgrade effort, fewer disruptions, and fewer possibilities for applications breaking because of the Citrix stack. Alongside this LTSR program, Citrix also released its Current Release (CR) counterpart, aimed at fast-paced organizations with a 3-4 months release schedule and only six months of regular support. On top of that, extended support is possible for a fee with LTSR (5 additional years), but this option is not available for CR versions. Here is a side-by-side comparison of the CR and LTSR program:
|Frequency||Every 3-4 months||Every 2-3 years|
|End of Maintenance||6 months||N/A|
|End of life||12 months||5 years|
|Extended support (Premium)||No||Yes, 5 years|
|Total lifecycle||18 months||Up to 10 years|
|Cumulative Updates||No||Yes, every 3-6 months|
More details in CTX205549.
So, you’re telling me that I can stay 5 years with the same version?
Typically, large corporations (in industries like finance and healthcare) are fond of the LTSR program because of its predictability. It allows them to plan ahead of time in environments that are generally more restricted and don’t need the latest and greatest features. The common misinterpretation is that once LTSR versions are deployed, no additional modifications are required for up to 5 years. But to stay supported, it is necessary to install Cumulative Updates (CU) of LTSR products. Citrix recommends customers maintain their LTSR sites with the latest Cumulative Update.
Here is the Cumulative Update schedule since the release of LTSR and CR:
|Version||Cumulative Update||Release Date|
|7.6 LTSR||CU1||May 27, 2016|
|7.6 LTSR||CU2||Oct 5, 2016|
|7.6 LTSR||CU3||Jan 26, 2017|
|7.6 LTSR||CU4||Jun 27, 2017|
|7.6 LTSR||CU5||Feb 6, 2018|
|7.6 LTSR||CU6||Aug 14, 2018|
|7.15 LTSR||CU1||Nov 28, 2017|
|7.15 LTSR||CU2||Apr 17, 2018|
|7.15 LTSR||CU3||Oct 29, 2018|
Code-level maintenance will only be available on the latest Cumulative Updates. Those security updates are generally released quarterly, and still need to be thoroughly tested — an effort that can be seen as time-consuming by many customers, as it requires a similar investment as deploying CR versions. Therefore, many organizations are just skipping installing Cumulative Updates in their production environments and stick with the version installed during implementation. If it works, why change anything? See below a summary of the past releases:
Citrix wanted customers to adopt LTSR when it launched the program and many took the bait and have deployed LTSR. But Citrix did not plan that customers would be reluctant to upgrade and would stay where they are for 5 years. It is obviously easier for them because they have fully working environments, and they can maintain them with virtually no effort. Keep in mind that Citrix is only a small component of the enterprise stack, and that customers also have to deal with business applications. And many customers are willing to run unsupported software to accommodate their apps, it does not matter if Citrix gives them 6 months or 5 years of maintenance.
Citrix is steering customers away from LTSR
In its latest post about the servicing options, Citrix encourages customers to embrace the Current Release (CR) schedule instead its Long Term Service Release (LTSR) big brother. The article argues that the cool new features are available first for customers running CR versions of Citrix products. The software company gave few examples such as HDX Insights 2.0 that drastically reduces AppFlow load on ADC appliances and OST redirection for Outlook that finally provides a native way to deploy Office 365 on RDSH/VDI. This new strategy is a massive shift for Citrix, who previously pushed LTSR to its customers. So why is Citrix doing this? Let’s find out!
While Citrix frequently releases new features as part of the CR program, LTSR customers are asking,What about us? They seem to forget that part of the deal with purchasing LTSR is that you don’t get new features. Citrix recommends to decide between LTSR and CR based on your business needs and not some new features. However, It’s still hard for them to see up to 8 CRs being released in between LTSRs (Kind of like feature update FOMO).
|Version||Type||Release Date||"Killer feature(s)"|
|7.15||LTSR||Aug 15, 2017||N/A|
|7.16||CR||Nov 28, 2017||Real time user experience optimizations with Adaptive Transport & Support for HDX Insights 2.0|
|7.17||CR||Feb 26, 2018||HDX Session Watermark|
|7.18||CR||Jun 6, 2018||Outlook Search Redirection & Battery Status Visibility|
|1808||CR||Aug 30, 2018||Workspace App / Experience & Support for 2019|
|1811||CR||Dec 12, 2018||PVS Asynchronous I/O|
Customers staying with LTSR results in requests to backport features from the CR to LTSR. Citrix has a strong position on this topic. There is no new feature added after a LTSR version is released. For example, I worked on a project where AppFlow (with HDX Insights 1.0) was considered. The cost of having this feature with the current LTSR (7.15) was substantial because of its impact on ADC appliances and the need to purchase much more appliances to support the additional load. Using HDX Insights 2.0 (with VDA 7.16) for this project would have saved millions of dollars, but was not supported as part of the LTSR program. It would have required to install CR versions of the VDA and Delivery Controllers in a LTSR environment which is not supported by Citrix.
At some point in the project, we asked Citrix to backport this feature to LTSR components but we hit a wall and the request was never approved. We ended up not enabling AppFlow.
What’s the current LTSR, and when is the next one supposed to show up?
Well, there is more than one LTSR right now. XenDesktop 7.6 was the first edition labeled LTSR in January 2016, and is supported until January 2021. XenDesktop 7.15 is the second and latest version labeled as such, and was released 20 months later in August 2017 — it will be supported until August 2022. For customers looking to deploy LTSR right now, 7.15 is the way to go, as it has the longest supportability window and features that are not available in the previous version part of this program.
We don’t know for sure when the next release is coming, and that is part of the problem. Citrix does not provide a clear roadmap (even under NDA) for its releases. You have to dig into their articles posted on the official website. Even then, the only clue so far is that this version is roughly a year away, and it will be the first LTSR version based on the new YYMM versioning. That’s approximately 28-30 months from the previous and current release. Is Citrix slowing down its schedule for LTSR? Maybe, and it would make sense. Why would they want to have a somehow fast schedule for releases that they need to support for 5 years?
By 2020, Citrix will support 3 LTSR versions
By now, I am sure that most CitrixGuru.com readers have already figured out the issue that might be facing Citrix right now and it has to do with the lifecycle. There are already 2 LTSR versions in the wild, and Citrix has to support them concurrently for 2 more years. When the next version becomes available in 2020, Citrix will have to support 3 LTSR versions simultaneously for about 12 months, in addition to all CR versions that are supported within the same time frame. That’s a huge amount of resources, and will create headaches for customers who have to navigate through all the versions available and their associated support models.
Here is a look at the LTSR support and maintenance dates:
|7.6||Jan 11, 2016||Jan 11, 2021||Jan 11, 2026|
|7.15||Aug 22, 2017||Aug 22, 2022||Aug 22, 2027|
|19XX||H2 2019||H2 2024||H2 2029|
I haven’t even mentioned that not all Citrix products are eligible to LTSR, such as NetScaler or App Layering. Those are upgraded and supported at a completely different rate, making the whole thing even more complicated. Also, it is worth mentioning that Receiver has its own LTSR program because it’s not eligible for the same benefits. No word yet on when Workspace App will be considered LTSR. This seems surprising, because Citrix is really pushing the new Workspace Experience with Citrix Cloud hard.
Citrix Cloud, a way out for Citrix?
With regard to Citrix Cloud, Citrix updates the infrastructure side on its own for this platform and does not have to support numerous versions. The Citrix Cloud services receive fixes and updates on an ongoing basis. To draw a parallel with LTSR/CR, let’s say that Citrix Cloud is always running CR components. Most of the time, features are rolled out in the Cloud first. For customers, the only component they have to worry about is the VDA software installed on-premises (or in another cloud). This is much more flexible than the traditional on-premises model, as it allows for new features to go to market much quicker. It is easy to understand why Citrix is pushing its customers towards Citrix Cloud. But at this time, a lot of customers are still reluctant to move to Citrix Cloud. Mostly because the lack of features parity between Citrix Cloud and on-prem products. I blogged about the missing features in Citrix Cloud few months ago, check out my wish list for Citrix Cloud.
The end of the road for LTSR
As we’ve seen in the article, Citrix is already thinking about the future of the LTSR program because the current system is not sustainable for them. Here are some possibilities of what I may think will happen with the future of LTSR:
- Drop Receiver/Workspace App and VDA from the LTSR program
Extended support should be reserved for infrastructure components. The days when it was a pain to update Receiver are gone now, as Citrix made huge improvements in its code. Citrix should push customers to deploy the latest versions of Receiver/Workspace and VDA. Organizations are already doing frequent upgrades for Windows/Office patches, Google Chrome, Adobe Flash, etc.
Citrix implemented an auto-update feature in Receiver, which is great, but it cannot be used in large organizations.
- Expand mixed mode of support
Mixed mode is having a different version of VDA and infrastructure. This mode is supported when using Citrix Cloud where you can have either LTSR or CR VDAs. The catch is that there is no mixed mode support for LTSR control plane with CR VDAs. All components must be LTSR compliant to be eligible for the benefits of LTSR. Having this possibility would help customers moving towards a full CR environment.
- Slow down the frequency of CR versions and charge customers for extended support
Currently CR versions are released every 3-4 months, and are supported by default for 6 months. After that, no more fixes are released. Another 12 months before the end of life. So basically, after 6 months, you are on your own. Citrix recommends to immediately update to the latest CR released.
We don’t need a new CVAD version every quarter, especially if releases are full of bugs. From the 5 CR versions released since 7.15, we could have avoided some of them. I would rather wish that Citrix takes its time to release clean releases, rather than rush it to market for the sake of doing it.
To help customers adopting CRs, Citrix should also extend the support to at least 12 months of maintenance and another 12 months before reaching EOL. It could be seen as premium support for customers who decide that they need to stay on previous releases.
- Streamline upgrade processes
There are still too many issues during upgrades of Citrix components making customers reconsidering the need of doing so. Citrix should invest to make upgrades bulletproof and make sure that 99% are delivered without issues. Customers would feel more comfortable to adopt the CR schedule if upgrades are easy and safe.
- Drop LTSR pure and simple
The easiest way to force customers to adopt CR versions is to stop releasing new LTSR versions. Existing LTSR versions would remain supported until the EOS date. This move would required changes within the CR lifecycle to appeal to LTSR customers.
The debate between LTSR and CR has been a thing since the announcement in 2016. For the most part, because it is far from perfect. Citrix spearheaded the adoption of the LTSR program, only to realize that it had many challenges. The current restrictions imposed to the Current Release program are preventing LTSR customers to consider a switch and Citrix would be wise to make some changes in the CR lifecycle strategy to appeal to customers. Ultimately, it seems that Citrix is hoping that customers will jump into the cloud bandwagon to avoid those issues. While the next LTSR is already confirmed by Citrix with a release at the of 2019, we don’t know what’s going to happen after that. The fact that Citrix is urging customers to adopt CR is a sign that the LTSR program might come to an end in the next few years.