The future of Access Gateway

The future of Access Gateway

5 June was the second Citrix CiTIE 2012 event in the Benelux, I wasn’t able to join the event but I would like to thanks everybody on twitter for the live updates and Wilco van Bragt for the summary of the event.

One of the announcements I noticed was the retirement of the Access Gateway Standard edition.
I was surprised about this retirement at first, because of the effort Citrix put into the new 5.x version (new flash based GUI, more advanced HA options, etc) but second I thought why would Citrix support 2 products with almost exactly the same set of features?
Below I have summarized a quick list of features, between the Netscaler CAGEE and CAG Standard in combination with the advanced access control software. Of course Netscaler can do a lot more other things, but we will concentrate on the Access Gateway functionality here.

Netscaler (CAGEE) CAG Standard + AAC*
ICA Proxy Yes Yes
SSL VPN Yes Yes
Multiple Logon points (Basic + Smart access) Yes Yes
Clientless Access Yes Yes
Endpoint Analysis Yes Yes
High Availability Yes Yes
LDAP \ Radius authentication Yes Yes
Simultaneous user sessions 5,000 and up** 500

* Advanced Access Control software
** Depends on the model

As you can see a lot of the same features are present on both products, a big difference is the scalability and concurrent user limits.
But although a lot of the features are the same, they are working in very different ways for example :

They use a different SSL VPN plugin
Imagine the following scenario:
One day you will install the Access Gateway Enterprise plugin to access customer A through SSL VPN, then you need remote access to customer B which uses Access Gateway Standard.
The plugins cannot co-exist so you will have to remove the Enterprise plugin, install the Standard plugin and vice versa…

They use different types of logon points
Netscaler uses virtual IP’s (VIPs) that can be configured in Basic mode or Smart Access mode (see my previous blog post for more details about this modes), more VIPs can be created depending on the use case. Each VIP can be accessed through its own FQDN.

CAG Standard has one public facing FQDN, logon points are created after this FQDN like https:\\my.cag.com\lp\xenapp, this logon points can be in Basic mode or Smart Access mode, only one Logon Point can be set as the default.

They use different clientless access methods and have a different policy structure
Netscaler is very flexible when it comes to profiles and policies, you can manage policies on almost every level (Global, VIP, Groups\Users) and apply them based on different expression filters, this is why CAGEE really fits like a glove in a lot of different access scenarios.  There is no extra software needed to enable advanced functionality like clientless access.

CAG Standard in Smart Access Mode has some advanced features like Smart groups and SSL VPN. But if you really want all the advanced features (clientless access etc) you need to connect the appliance to the Advanced Controller software, which then synchronizes with the appliance. This software runs on a windows server which can be a security concern (not because it’s windows but you would need to update and secure 2 components in this setup)

They are different in architecture and hardware
Netscaler software runs on top of FreeBSD and has a large range of appliances you can choose from depending on your needs, this are the Netscaler models available today :

Physical Appliance (MPX) Virtual Appliance (Netscaler VPX)
MPX 5500 Licensed based on bandwidth (10,200,1000,3000)
MPX 7500/9500
MPX 9700/10500/12500/15500

The higher the range the more performance you get, physical appliances can have more concurrent connections because they have SSL offloading capabilities and because there is no Hypervisor layer. Physical appliances in higher ranges also have redundant components, like power supplies.

The Access Gateway Standard appliance runs on a stripped Red Hat kernel and comes in 2 flavors :

Physical Appliance (2010) Virtual Appliance (Access Gateway VPX)

The hardware of the 2010 appliance is really low level, it’s nothing more than hardware you find in a cheap PC.
I was a little bit ashamed when i opend this appliance on a customer site a while ago because of a bad harddrive, there is no way you can explain the amount of money paid for this appliance.

Conclusion : 
So Citrix have 2 products that have very similar features, because of the difference in architecture of this products, Citrix needs to update both to support new receivers and to provide new functionality (think of Cloud Gateway functionality for example). This may be one of the core reasons why Citrix will retire one of them.
I think CAGEE (Netscaler) is the best Access Gateway edition there is, it’s far more flexible and fits in a lot more different scenarios and use cases.  Access Gateway on Netscaler is also future prove because of :

- Access Gateway is lifting on Netscalers success (build on good hardware and install base)
– All Smart Access functionality is on board of the appliance no need for external software
– Fits in a lot of different scenarios based on the modular design of Netscaler
– Can be used for more functionality then Access Gateway only, Load balancing of services for example

Ok so what will be the future of Access Gateway?
If Citrix will retire CAG Standard + Advanced and Citrix makes some changes in the licensing model of Enterprise edition to replace the other editions, then we are done right?

Not really,  I think Access Gateway VPX is a good replacement for the Secure Gateway software, a Netscaler can be a bridge to far for some customers. Also if a customer is already using a competitor of Netscaler (like F5), there may be some friction with adapting Netscaler to enable Access Gateway functionality.

The perfect future if you ask me, is that Citrix will strip the Access Gateway VPX to provide standard functionality (providing access to XenApp and XenDesktop) and give it to customers for free as a replacement of the Secure Gateway software.
Then they should retire the Advanced Controller software and ditch the 2010 appliance.
So at the end there will be 2 editions of Access Gateway left :

- Access Gateway VPX for providing basic functionality to access XA/XD
– Netscaler with Access Gateway Platform license for providing basic functionality to access XA/XD, which can be extended with Access Gateway Universal licenses (also included in Cloud Gateway Enterprise) to provide Smart Access functionality.

Please note that the information in this blog is provided as is without warranty of any kind, some information is based on speculations and predictions.

Citrix Cloud Gateway, a wrap-up so far

Citrix Cloud Gateway, a wrap-up so far

Table of contents :

1 : Introduction
2 : Cloud Gateway Editions
3 : Storefront services
4 : Access Gateway services
5 : Cloud Gateway Enterprise and the Access Gateway Universal License
6 : Cloud Gateway Express and the Platform License
7 : Webinterface V.S. Receiver for Web
8 : Conclusion

1 : Introduction

In this blog post I wanted to talk about Citrix Cloud Gateway, as you may already know, Cloud Gateway will replace Citrix Webinterface and Webinterface will go end of live in 2015. Webinterface has grown into a key component in almost every Citrix environment, and it is a so called “proven technology” product. Webinterface is great in providing access to XenApp and XenDesktop environments in many different ways and  different scenarios, but that is also its limitation, there is no possibility to integrate it with Cloud services like follow-me-data or SaaS applications. This is why Citrix made a new product from scratch, called Cloud Gateway. This blog post is a wrap-up so far about Cloud Gateway, because Citrix is working hard on the product things in this blog post may be very soon changed or outdated.

2 : Cloud Gateway Editions

There are currently 2 editions of Cloud Gateway :

Cloud Gateway Enterprise

Cloud Gateway Enterprise is the paid version and provides the following features :

- Access to XenApp and XenDesktop (through Storefront)
– ShareFile integration (new in version 2.0)
– Single Sign On (SSO) and account provisioning for Web and SaaS applications through AppController
– Mobile (native) app management + remote wipe (new in version 2.0)
– Access Gateway Universal License included

Cloud Gateway Express

Cloud Gateway Express is free for XenApp and XenDesktop customers and provides access to XenApp and XenDesktop and Merchandising services only.This version will be the direct replacement of Webinterface.
With Merchandising services you can manage the complete Citrix Receiver (and other plugins) life cycle.

3 : Storefront Services

As you can see in the above pictures Storefront is one of the key components in Cloud Gateway, it’s the broker for all the services behind it and provides a SSO experience for the users.
Storefront provides access to XenApp and XenDesktop in the following 3 ways :

1 : Access through the Native Receiver (Self Service plugin)
2:  Access through StoreWeb (Receiver for Web)
3:  Access through Legacy mode (PNAgent)

The native receiver can be configured with a provisioning file (.cr file which is XML based) downloaded from the Receiver for Web or distributed by Email or something like that.
To make the internal access to Storefront more clear I made the following drawing :

Every login point is used by different type of client devices, some Receivers (older Thinclients, Android devices and Iphones) still uses the legacy mode (PNAgent). But newer Receivers will talk to Storefront directly and not using Legacy mode anymore.

4 : Access Gateway Services

Another key component in Cloud Gateway is the Access Gateway, there are 2 types of Access Gateways that can be used with Cloud Gateway:

1: Access Gateway VPX (with or without advanced controller software)
2: Access Gateway Enterprise (Netscaler VPX\MPX)

Whether you go for Cloud Gateway Express or Enterprise you need to buy a Access Gateway Platform license for one of this Access Gateways. The platform license will give you unlimited access to XenApp and XenDesktop, this is called ICA proxy. With ICA proxy you are allowed to land on the Webinterface and launch a XenApp and/or a XenDesktop session but you cannot use any advanced features of the Access Gateway (for example Clientless Access, VPN plugin, EPA scans, etc), if you want to use this features you need to purchase a Access Gateway Universal License per concurrent user (included with Cloud Gateway Enterprise license).
In Access Gateway you can choose between the following logon point\virtual server modes :

1: Basic Mode (ICA Proxy only) (Platform license needed)
2: Smart Access Mode (Advanced Features) (Platform license + Universal License needed)

To make this more clear I made a drawing how the access to storefront looks like with the Access Gateway Enterprise edition :

As you can see the Netscaler will check, if it is correctly configured, the type of Receiver based on expression filters and HTTP headers. Netscaler will then contact Storefront the right way depending on the Receiver type. With Access Gateway VPX you cannot configure this expression filters, Access Gateway VPX works with Receiver for Web, but I have not yet seen this working with the native receiver from the outside.
My guess is that Citrix will enable this in a feature release of Access Gateway VPX.

5: Cloud Gateway Enterprise and the Access Gateway Universal License

If you purchase Cloud Gateway Enterprise you are also entitled to use the Access Gateway Universal License, i think this is a logical step because Cloud Gateway Enterprise leverages the clientless access and VPN features of the Access Gateway, for example Appcontroller can be configured with keywords to start the VPN plugin and for access to Storefront clientless access is used.

6: Cloud Gateway Express and the Platform License (ICA Proxy)

As you may have noticed you need clientless access when you want to use the Native Receiver through Access Gateway, though it works on a VIP in basic mode the documentation says that you need a VIP in Smart Access mode to make this work. I can imagine that Citrix is going to allow one of the following when using Cloud Gateway Express with the platform license only :

1: Only allow landing on the Receiver for Website (same as ICA proxy using Webinterface)
2: Allow access for all type of Receivers, but only for use with XenApp and XenDesktop

Option 2 is most preferred imho! ;)

6 : Webinterface V.S. Receiver for Web

First : Webinterface cannot be directly compared to Storefront, because Storefront enables a lot more other features then Webinterface (SSO to other services, Application subscription, more advanced HA, etc.) But if we compare Webinterface with the Receiver for Website, it is safe to say that Webinterface has still a lot more features. Thomas Koetzing made a list of missing features here, but I am certain that Citrix is working hard on this feature list, remember that they are only at version 1.1 so there is a lot more to come.

The total redesign has also some very positive points, for example a big plus of Storefront is that it includes a new user authentication method which directly queries Active Directory rather than the existing double-hop Web Interface process where user credentials are sent from the Web Interface server to the XML broker who then negotiates authentication with the Domain Controller.

7: Conclusion

I think Cloud Gateway and Storefront have a lot of potential, it gives the user a true single logon experience with all of the applications and data they need in one place on almost every device. Integration is the key here as more and more companies are starting to use Cloud services,  Cloud Gateway aggregates and secures this services into one logical logon point with the same look and feel on every device.

On the down side, Storefront is still missing a lot of features compared to Webinterface, if you already installed Storefront and walked through the console you were probably done in 30 seconds ;) not much to customize there. This is why Storefront is not yet a tight fit in scenarios with special needs and requirements. I hope Citrix will make it as flexible and customizable as Webinterface is today in feature releases!

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Please note that the information in this blog is provided as is without warranty of any kind, it is a mix of own research and information provided by Citrix.