By: Benny Tritsch & Kristin Griffin

Deploying Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop in Microsoft Azure is an interesting solution for everybody who wants to deliver Windows desktops or applications from the public cloud. Citrix and Microsoft are working closely together to develop this modern application delivery platform based on Azure Resource Manager (ARM). This article introduces the multiple variants of hosting XenApp and XenDesktop on Azure, allowing potential customers to make the right choices for their particular use cases and business models.

Before looking at the details of the different XenApp and XenDesktop on Azure options it is helpful to define some important terms used in this context. XenApp and XenDesktop Workers are Windows Server 2016 or Windows 10 virtual machines, with the Citrix Virtual Delivery Agent (VDA) and Windows applications installed. From an endpoint with the Citrix Receiver client software, users connect to a Worker’s remote session or virtual desktop and interact with the applications. Groups of Workers reside in one or multiple Resource Locations, for example in an Azure datacenter. The Citrix Control Plane contains all necessary XenApp and XenDesktop backend services, including network gateway (NetScaler), connection broker (Delivery Controller), Web frontend (StoreFront), configuration database, license server and management consoles. For those customers that don’t want to deploy and manage their own Citrix backend services, Citrix Cloud (operated by Citrix) delivers the Control Plane in an Azure Software as a Service model. Two Cloud Connector VMs running in each Resource Location maintain the communication from and to the Control Plane in Citrix Cloud. Citrix Machine Creation Services (MCS) are used to create master images of the Worker VMs including the operating system and all applications.

XenApp and XenDesktop Service on Azure offers access to Windows desktops and applications in a hybrid model. The Control Plane is hosted in Citrix Cloud and supports multiple Resource Locations. This means that Workers can be located both in on-premises datacenters and in Azure. This infrastructure can be used to deliver the full range of remote shared sessions, virtual desktops and published applications. It gives IT administrators access to the full-featured Citrix Studio management console. The product can be purchased through the Citrix channel and the price is $360 per user per year, including NetScaler ICA Proxy VPX and connection licenses. Azure consumption of the Worker and the Cloud Connector VMs comes on top.

On March 23, 2017, XenDesktop Essentials went live in Azure Marketplace all across the globe. It’s an Azure-only package leveraging Citrix Cloud and Windows 10 Enterprise desktops hosted in Azure. The management console is a published instance of Citrix Studio with a limited feature set. Pricing for 25 or more users is $12.00 per user per month (PUPM) for the Citrix Control Plane hosted in Citrix Cloud. Only customers with Enterprise Agreement can use the necessary Windows 10 Enterprise Azure VMs in XenDesktop Essentials production environments. Azure consumption of the Windows 10 Workers and the Cloud Connector VMs comes on top. Smart Scale scripts allow the IT administrators to configure rules to automatically spin up and shut down Worker resources.

On March 30, Microsoft has completed the global rollout of XenApp Essentials. It is now available in Azure Marketplace. XenApp Essentials is the successor of Microsoft Azure RemoteApp. It is an Azure-only solution to publish remote applications (not desktops) from shared Windows Server 2016 VMs. Configuration and management is done through a simple Web administration console, there is no access to Citrix Studio. Pricing for 25 or more users is $12.00 per user per month (PUPM) for the Citrix Control Plane hosted in Citrix Cloud. The XenApp Essentials subscription includes Citrix NetScaler Gateway Service and 1 GB data transfer PUPM. You need to add $6.25 PUPM for Microsoft Remote Access fee if you don’t have a separate RDS Client Access License.  Azure consumption of the Windows Server 2016 Workers and the Cloud Connector VMs comes on top. It is important to note that NetScaler VPX is included with XenApp Essentials but not with XenDesktop Essentials. Check out RDS Gurus’ walkthrough on how to setup and run XenApp Essentials.

 XenApp Trial is available in Azure Marketplace and allows to evaluate a complete Citrix XenApp site for a 30-day trial period. It uses an ARM template to deploy the entire XenApp environment in an Infrastructure as a Service model. This includes the Control Plane, which means that it doesn’t use the Citrix Cloud. The only prerequisite to deploy a fully functional Citrix XenApp environment is an Azure subscription.

While it’s exciting news that now there is this wide spectrum of solutions to host XenApp and XenDesktop on Azure, it’s still challenging for beginners. Successfully deploying and managing XenApp and XenDesktop workloads on Azure requires some expertise in identity (Azure AD), Azure infrastructure and Citrix administration. In most cases, it’s not something you can do in just one afternoon. In addition, a very careful full cost calculation is something that must be taken into consideration before starting a XenApp and XenDesktop on Azure project. But I expect a range of future use cases and business models where hosting remote desktops and applications in Azure is an advantage.