Zen and the art of Citrix migration – How to prepare for XenDesktop 7

Migration is a term that is cropping up more than usual in IT and CIO circles at the moment, and it is the word that springs to mind when looking at the release of Citrix XenDesktop 7. It reminds me of points we made when Microsoft announced Windows version 10 – migration is no longer a once in a leap-year process but rather a continuous cycle for businesses to go through.

For many IT teams moving to XenDesktop 7 will be the second major IT migration to factor in this year when you consider most businesses are both Citrix and Windows users. Research we carried out last year found that more than three quarters of UK businesses still use Windows XP, despite the fact it is now 12 years old. Similarly a survey of AppSense users in 2015 found that nearly 60% were using Citrix XenApp 6.x as their desktop platform with a similar number using Citrix published apps for their desktop deployments.

Almost 60% relied on Citrix published applications for their virtualisation deployment, and a further 40% of respondents used Windows Server 2008 for their physical desktop platform while nearly 40% also used a version of Microsoft-App for their virtualisation deployment.

Just to further complicate matters many organisations using older versions of XenApp do so on Windows Server 2003 which reaches End of Life in July – complicating this Citrix migration further. This really highlights just how much variation there is in the typical UK business, in terms of legacy operating systems, applications and devices.

> See also: 6 tips for migration from Windows Server 2003

In any migration it’s the user that causes the problems. Their profile, policy, data and apps that they expect to go with them can be a big, and often manual job for IT. Preparing your environment for simple migration is time well spent. So if you’re XenDesktop customer, or even XenApp customer, getting ready to deploy XenDesktop 7 how can you best prepare for this latest cycle of migration? Selecting the best migration path today will also impact the simplicity of migrations in the future, so be sure you consider your options carefully. Here are four ways that will get you there successfully.

A new installation

For XenApp customers, this is the Citrix-recommended approach, but it may also be the hardest. New installations will give you a fresh-start and allow you to benefit from all the latest features available in XenDesktop 7.x. Customers are offered StoreFront 2.0 to aggregate applications and desktops between an existing XenApp farm and the new XenDesktop 7 Apps edition site.

This is designed to offer users a single point of transparent access to all applications regardless of the Windows Server used. The challenges with a new installation, however, are added time, cost and functionality changes that may impact user experience. If you are on a later version of XenDesktop, you may want to consider one of the following upgrade alternatives.

An in-place upgrade

This is a consideration if you are running XenDesktop 5. XenDesktop 7 supports in-place upgrades form XenDesktop 5 VDA and Controller, but won’t help if you are a XenDesktop 4 user. XenDesktop 5 users can upgrade to the latest version without disrupting or re-planning their XenDesktop deployment. By running the in-place VDA upgrade, customers can bring their golden image to the latest version. Users can then benefit immediately from the new HDX features in XenDesktop 7.

Using the XenDesktop migration tool

For XenDesktop 4 customers Citrix does offer a migration tool to help you go from XenDesktop 4 to XenDesktop 7. The tool exports your XenDesktop 4 data to an XML file which can then be imported into the new XenDesktop 7 site. The challenge is that the tool doesn’t migrate some of the critical information including administrators, licensing, desktop group folders and registry keys. These need to be recreated in the new XenDesktop 7 implementation.

The seamless way

Implementing a user environment management solution first, before upgrading, can be the best way to assure a seamless upgrade, regardless of the version you’re starting from. This separates the user and all their personal stuff away from the OS and apps, which means ANY migration will reap the benefits.

> See also: 7 questions to ask when leaving Windows Server 2003

This will ensure that significant functionality regarding administrators, licensing, desktop group folders and registry keys are seamlessly ported from the older version to the new one. In addition, using a workspace management solution in conjunction with your new XenDesktop 7 and XenApp environment will deliver increased user density per server and seamless, personalised roaming between physical desktops, virtual desktops and virtual sessions (Terminal Server/RDSH). It will also help provide control of users’ admin rights and offers granular control of application performance to deliver an optimised experience for all user types.

The key message however is that you shouldn’t take on your XenDesktop 7 upgrade until you’ve considered all of your options. Prepare now for a more seamless migration project and you’ll also ready your environment for increased performance and productivity. By giving this proper consideration you can minimalise disruption to you systems and users throughout the process and ensure your migration is successful both now and into the future.

Simon Townsend, chief technologist at user environment management provider AppSense

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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