App-V Scheduler 2.6 Released

Very excited to announce the latest release of App-V Scheduler, version 2.6!

This release contains a lot of new features and improvements based on customer feedback. App-V Scheduler, started in 2014, has a large install base at customers ranging from small to large Enterprises. App-V Scheduler is a proven application life cycle management solution for Government, Finance and Healthcare organisations. Since the App-V client is embedded in the operating system we have seen a fast growth in the adoption of the App-V Scheduler solution. We also see a very high success rate in the deployment of applications with App-V 5, this is also due to the simplified architecture of the App-V client, basically the client consists of a couple of filter drivers that redirects reads and writes making the application run isolated and portable. It’s easy to adopt and learn how this technology works and because it’s already part of the operating system it’s very easy to enable and use!

App-V Scheduler 2.6 new features:

  • The Central View Console has been redesigned from the ground up and build on the latest industry standards
  • Central View now includes advanced filtering, performance improvements and new features
  • The agent is thinner and faster
  • The agent doesn’t need a service account anymore and can be configured to use impersonation
  • Machine groups based on Active Directory OU’s are now supported and it’s possible to provide friendly names for machine groups
  • Multiple content shares can now be configured for a single machine group
  • New feature to disable logons on machine startup until the cache is up to date
  • New package and connection group drain mechanism
  • You can now edit an existing connection group and easily redeploy it
  • Simplified installation and configuration
  • Control all App-V client settings directly from the agent (single point of configuration)
  • Overall improvement and bug fixes

Below you can find a print screen of the new Central View console:

And below a print screen of the new Central View console in action in a production environment:

You can also configure a different theme depending on your preference:

New machine group options:

Furthermore the Agent is even thinner and faster then before, also the installation and configuration has been simplified:

Please click here for more print screens and here for the full App-V Scheduler 2.6 release blog about all the new features!

MSIX: The platform for all Windows applications

MSIX: The platform for all Windows applications

Intro
As you might know Windows 10 includes an application platform called the Universal Windows Platform (UWP), UWP applications run inside a container and as the term universal implies the goal is to make them run on every Windows platform\device available and to distribute them by using the Windows Store. UWP also comes with a set of API’s to integrate with functionality like live tiles. The file format used by UWP is APPX and software vendors can adopt this format directly or convert their applications to the APPX format by making use of the Desktop Bridge conversion tool.

Sounds clear right? For consumer applications it does but the reality is that there are a huge amount of traditional applications out there and they all have their own unique configuration and requirements. With configuration I mean integrations with the OS, integrations with Office, their own update mechanisms, etc. They often release their software by using MSI files to modify this properties. While software vendors often develop against the latest frameworks they don’t necessarily have UWP and Windows Store integration high on their list.

For a lot of vendors this will not change any time soon and luckily Microsoft is aware of that. That’s why they came up with a new application format called MSIX.

MSIX
MSIX is the successor of the APPX format and the MSI format, MSIX will close the gap between traditional applications and UWP applications by making them both part of the same platform. Clever idea, because when software vendors are leveraging the latest frameworks but don’t use the UWP integrations that doesn’t make them legacy or obsolete. Far from that, they are often the most sophisticated applications with years of development inside. So at the end they are all Windows applications and now fall under one umbrella called the MSIX platform.

Traditional applications are often installed by using MSI files provided by the software vendor, this file format contains the application files and installation properties. This properties can be modified depending on specific needs. While MSIX is different, it has some of the same characteristics as MSI like a method to do customizations.

MSIX facts

    • MSIX is the successor of APPX and inherits all of its features
    • MSIX is the successor of MSI and it inherits features like custom customizations
    • Customizations are separated in a different layer. This makes updates easier.
    • It builds further on the container functionality inside the UWP platform, providing more security options to be compatible with more applications
    • MSIX applications can be deployed from anywhere (when they are signed) not just the Windows Store
    • MSIX will support all Windows applications
    • MSIX is open source (GitHub link)

App-V
When you are using App-V 5 to deploy and manage traditional applications you are already ahead of the game, there are even similarities in the way the applications are running in their own sandbox. A smooth transition from the APPV format to MSIX will be very easy.

We are also looking to integrate the MSIX format in a future release of App-V Scheduler to accommodate a real-time delivery and management solution for both App-V and MSIX for both RDS and physical deployments.

Remote Display Analyzer 2.0 released

Hi all,

I want to begin with a big thank you for all the positive feedback about Remote Display Analyzer (RDA) and also a very big thanks to the members in the sponsor program, this really helps to drive RDA forward and to help balance the amount of time spend in this project by giving something back to the family. So thank you very much for becoming a sponsor!

If you are new to Remote Display Analyzer (RDA), this tool will help you understand your remote display configuration and it’s behavior, it will only show you relevant information and help you decide which setting is the best for your specific use case. It’s also very handy for troubleshooting remote display configurations. RDA is just a portable executable without any installation needed, just run it in your remote session and you will get all relevant statistics and settings right away.

There is a lot of new functionality in RDA 2.0, both under the hood as on the outside. I don’t want to make this a long article so I will just give you a short summary of the new features together with some print screens.

What’s new in version 2.0

  • Support for VMware Blast and PCoIP with also the possibility to change settings on the fly (please note that support for Blast and PCoIP is experimental in this release and not yet tested on different OS and VMware View versions)
  • GPU addon for all protocols: This addon will show basic GPU information and when Nvidia is detected RDA will show GPU usage and (v)GPU information
  • Support for the latest Citrix HDX features like H.265, also the RTT counter has been added and RDA will show you the YUV mode for the active video codec
  • RDA is now multi threaded which means that settings and real-time counters are retrieved on different threads making the tool more snappy and more real-time
  • Counter that indicates the run time of RDA with the option to reset the counter and the total statistics collected during  a specific run time. This is handy for analyzing and comparing workloads
  • Print screen option to easily generate a print screen of the RDA window
  • Multiple improvements for RDP & new statistics information
  • Transparent mode, this option makes the RDA window transparent as you can see in the below print screen

Below you will find some print screens of RDA 2.0

RDA running in transparent mode

RDA support for VMware

GPU addon (available for all protocols) and extended support for HDX

Remote Display Analyzer 2.0 is now available for free on the website where you can also find more information about the sponsor program. Existing sponsors should have received an automatic e-mail about this new release. If you didn’t receive the mail please send an e-mail to info@rdanalyzer.com. Thanks again for your support!

A comparison between display protocols and codecs

Please note this article has been updated.

Intro

18 November I did a presentation on E2Evc in Barcelona with Rasmus Raun-Nielsen (co-member of TeamRGE) about the differences between remote display protocols and codecs. The session was late in the afternoon so there was already some beers involved which made it a very fun presentation. We summarized the major remote display protocols available in the market. Rasmus then explained what NVENC is (a way to offload the display encoder process to the GPU) and which Nvidia cards supports this technology. I continued with an overview of the available codecs for each protocol and showed the latest Remote Display Analyzer (RDA) 2.0 version (which will be released soon!).

Before the presentation I performed some comparisons with RDA 2.0 in combination with the video codecs found in Microsoft RDP, Citrix HDX and VMware Blast. This blogpost is a small recap of the presentation. Please note that this comparison is an independent view and that conclusions are based on my own observations.

Before I continue: there is some fast progress being made in this space, so it’s important to include the version numbers which are used in this blogpost (I prefer to post updated blogs later instead of updating the same one). The versions used are in the table below:

Codecs used by this protocols

Basically all of the above display protocols consists of 2 types of codecs:

  • Bitmap codecs (JPG\PNG\BMP)
  • Video codecs (H.264\AVC & H.265)

While the bitmap codecs are great for text and static content, the video codecs are more efficient for the more graphic intense workloads. The video codec is based on the industry standard H.264 codec (which we also find in video streaming services like Netflix and YouTube). The use of this codec brings 2 other great advantages:

  • The fast majority of clients have video codec decoding capabilities
  • GPU can be used to accelerate and optimize the encoding process (like Nvidia NVENC)

This results in a very bandwidth efficient way to deliver remote display content to the client, but it comes with a down side: The video codec is by default not optimized for text, because it uses a 4:2:0 chroma subsampling algorithm. This breaks down the quality of text and users often perceive this as blurry (this depends on the user and type of workload, I have seen users working with it every day without complaining). But for text to become really sharp an optimization technique on top of 4:2:0 is needed or a codec operating in pure 4:4:4 mode. This is where the display protocols differentiate from each other like you can see in the below table:

RDP
With RDP you basically have one option when it comes down to the video codec and that is the AVC codec in 4:4:4 mode. It’s enabled by default in the latest Windows versions and you can switch back to the previous codec combination with policies. You can’t really configure this AVC 4:4:4 codec, for example you can’t switch to 4:2:0 mode or change quality levels manually. I must say that the latest RDP versions improved a lot compared to the older RDP versions found in previous Windows versions. While the protocol is still quite bandwidth intense, it offers a very good remote experience. The AVC 4:4:4 mode really delivers a very sharp (near local) experience. They don’t support hardware capabilities like NVENC for their video codec implementation, hopefully this will change in the near future as GPU’s are becoming more mainstream in remote display solutions. RDP together with RDSH (and the upcoming modern infrastructure) is a very cost effective remote display solution, especially with the latest RDP improvements.

Blast
Blast is a fairly new protocol compared to the others and it’s impressive to see how quick they are making progress with it. As you can see in the above table they do not yet offer a technique to achieve 4:4:4 quality for their video codec. They might be waiting for GPU’s to natively support 4:4:4 so they don’t have to build a software based optimization mechanism for this. They also have a bitmap encoder which you can switch on (Blast uses H.264 by default), but a combination of this codecs is not yet possible. Time will tell if they are focusing on a combination of codecs or optimizing their video codec for 4:4:4 quality. I think the latter makes more sense because currently their bitmap encoder isn’t that optimized compared to the others. Nevertheless I was impressed by the performance of their H.264 codec, as you can see in the comparison below.

HDX
As you can see in the above table HDX has 2 combinations available to address the H.264 4:2:0 limitation. 1: The video codec with a text optimization technique (which is software based and done in CPU). 2: A combination of the bitmap and video codec, this is also known as the “Use Video codec for active regions” setting. For Citrix this makes sense because their bitmap encoder is really optimized throughout the years. In this combination of codecs the video codec is only used for parts of the screen that are changing rapidly, like playing a video for example. I wrote about the differences between the display modes available in HDX here. But there are some limitations, for example you can’t use NVENC in combination with this optimization techniques as of today. I hope to see expanded support for this in the near future. In version 7.16 Citrix has added support for the H.265 codec, this codec is so awesome in many ways as it can massively reduce bandwidth consumption by leveraging a new intra prediction mechanism. This first implementation of H.265 is 4:2:0 only for now (and only when you have a supported GPU), but hope to see more available options in the near future.

All 3 protocols have ways to handle network congestion’s and changes in available bandwidth, they often refer to this with the term “adaptive transport”. They all standardized on UDP by now as the primary transport protocol for sending remote graphics down the wire.

Video codec comparison between RDP, HDX & Blast

Ok let’s continue with the comparison. As you might understand by reading the above it’s not easy to perform direct comparisons. You can just compare the default settings to each other and say how good one is and the other not or vice versa. But in my opinion a comparison only makes sense when you compare apples with apples. Because this comparison will only focus on the video codec I decided to compare the AVC\H.264 codecs to each other. In this comparison the H.264 codec is used for the entire screen and offloaded to the GPU (NVENC). There is one exception and that’s for RDP because we can’t turn off the AVC 4:4:4 mode. Please find the video codecs that are compared in the below table:

Important aspects of the test environment:

  • Agents on Windows 10 with identical specs running on the same hardware placed in a Datacenter in The Netherlands
  • Connection over internet directly to the agent (no connection brokers or gateways)
  • Connection from the same client with same internet conditions and latest client versions
  • All 3 protocols are UDP enabled
  • HDX and Blast use NVENC (Entire screen H.264)
  • Default encoder quality levels are used
  • Test is performed multiple times to verify results
  • Remote Display Analyzer is used to verify display settings and behavior

I separated the RDP comparison movie from the others to highlight even more that the operating mode is different between the video codecs (HDX\Blast operates in 4:2:0 mode in this comparison and RDP operates in 4:4:4 mode).

Please note that this video codec comparison was made for indication purposes only, it’s not reality that users play full screen videos often (while they can do this from time to time). The comparison is based on a manual testing approach while using screen recording software which will also do it’s own compression on the end result. This will affect the frame quality of the resulting movie. This is not comparable with a professional way of benchmarking with for example frame grabbers. For this type of benchmarks I recommend using REX Analytics (developed by co-members of TeamRGE). REX Analytics also leverages Remote Display Analyzer for remote display protocol insights.

The results of the above comparison is displayed below (please note that the Nvidia GPU utilization counter was turned off in this build of RDA, so that’s the reason it shows 0%. The total CPU time consumed is a cumulative of the %CPU usage of the encoder process).

 

My observations and conclusions from the HDX and Blast (pure H.264) video codec comparison:

  • The available bandwidth detected varies between the display protocols. It seems they use a different mechanism of calculating the available bandwidth. It’s interesting to dive deeper into this. This also made me think to add an average available bandwidth counter in RDA so there is an overall indication of the average available bandwidth during a specific run time
  • Observed higher frame compression while playing a full screen movie with HDX compared to Blast, this might be one of the reasons the lower bandwidth usage compared to Blast and the higher amount of frames send to the client (although the difference is not really shocking over a 1:30 minute during full screen movie)
  • With the default encoder quality settings, I observed a sharper frame quality with Blast. But at the cost of more bandwidth and CPU resources compared to HDX
  • Based on the above observations it’s key to compare frame quality to each other and also compare this with a local situation!

Below is an indication movie of the RDP AVC Video codec operating in 4:4:4 mode:

You can find the result below:

My observations and conclusions from the RDP video codec in the above test:

  • RDP can’t really be compared with the others in this video codec comparison because it operates in 4:4:4 mode by default. Perceived quality was very good but high bandwidth usage and some lagging was observed as you can see in the above movie
  • Really sharp images and text, perceived a near local experience with this video codec implementation. Great for office work with a lot of text reading
  • RDP leverages as much bandwidth as needed to achieve the best quality. Not sure what is best: A protocol that’s from itself as low on bandwidth as possible to give the user the best experience or a protocol that uses as much bandwidth needed to achieve the best experience. There should be some form of bandwidth limit or throttling per RDP session to prevent pipe exhaustion or noisy neighbors.  Scalability tests should point out, interesting topic for future testing

Overall conclusion

The above remote protocols aren’t build for remote streaming and remote gaming scenarios (while video and graphical content is increasing). They are build to accommodate a mix of different type of user profiles. That’s why I think it’s very important to have options based on this different type of users, because ones size doesn’t fit all. The display protocol is becoming more intelligent, it can switch codecs and settings by itself based on different content, it would be interesting to see if this will also happen based on the user type or even per application. Because this is not the case for now it’s good to have options!

For now I would say HDX has an advantage over the others because it has the most options available to accommodate a lot of different remote display scenarios. As you can see in the above results the difference between HDX and Blast is not that big when you compare the pure H.264 codec implementations to each other. They both performed really well in this test. The video codec implementation in RDP didn’t disappoint me either, well the bandwidth usage does but the experience was really good.

It’s very interesting to see how they all keep progressing in the near future, expecting to do more 4:4:4 mode comparisons in the future when this is becoming more mainstream. Remote Display protocols are still awesome technology with a lot of advantages, possibilities and use cases.

This blogpost comes without warranty of any kind and observations are based on my own interpretation. Always test and analyze by yourself with a workload that is similar to reality for your environment!

Comparison between display settings in Citrix HDX

Hi everybody,

Last Citrix Synergy (2017) in Orlando, Benny Tritsch and Ruben Spruijt presented the following session:

SYN303: Independent Citrix experts deep dive on Remote Graphics, user experience and GPUs.
This session was among the top 10 of most popular sessions of Synergy 2017, if you didn’t see the presentation you can watch it on-demand here.

In this presentation the new Remote Display Analyzer (RDA) version 1.6 was announced which will be released soon. This version includes numerous new features like a screen capture button and a GPU add-on (available for all display protocols Remote Display Analyzer supports). More about this new RDA version soon.

Also shown in this presentation where the results of a short comparison between 3 major display settings currently available in Citrix HDX. In this blogpost I will show you how this comparison was made together with some key findings. The display settings where evaluated in real-time by playing the exact same video three times while live switching between the following settings:

  • Video codec not in use
  • Video codec for the Entire screen
  • Video codec for Actively changing regions

You can watch the comparison here:

(Test video source: Aswanth Mohan (www.youtube.com/watch?v=668nUCeBHyY))

The result of each setting is shown below:

Some key findings from this short comparison:

  • The total send frames where nearly the same
  • During the test I noticed no big difference in user experience while playing this short 720p HD video
  • Video codec not in use has the lowest impact on CPU but as you can see the bandwidth consumption is higher then the other two
  • Video codec used for the entire screen (with text optimization) gives the best result on bandwidth consumption, but this comes with a higher CPU usage
  • Video codec used for Actively changing regions results in a very good balance between both CPU and bandwidth consumption

Disclaimer:
Please note that this results come without warranty of any kind and are my own interpretation based on above test. The results may vary based on factors like workload, bandwidth and the infrastructure you are using. Please always test settings in your own environment to decide which configuration fits best in your scenario.

Remote Display Analyzer 1.5 released

rda

Hi all,

I want to begin with a big thank you for all the positive feedback about Remote Display Analyzer (RDA) and also a very big thanks to the members in the sponsor program, this really helps to drive RDA forward and to help balance the amount of time spend in this project by giving something back to the family. So thank you very much for becoming a sponsor!

If you read about Remote Display Analyzer for the first time, please click here and here to read more about the project and previous releases of RDA.

What’s new in version 1.5

  • Remote Display Analyzer is now consolidated into one version, this means you can use the same executable for RDP and HDX. RDA will automatically detect which protocol and settings are in use, you don’t have to configure anything.
  • Support for the latest changes in HDX: Support for the latest video codec optimizations like actively changing regions (and ability to live switch between video codec settings), detect hardware encoding, support for 8-bit color depth, etc
  • Numerous fixes and improvements for both RDP and HDX

What’s coming

  • NVIDIA addon
  • VMware support (this means RDA supports all major display protocols within one consolidated version)
  • Further improving RDP and HDX functionality

Remote Display Analyzer 1.5 is now available on the website and sponsors should have received an automatic e-mail which contains more information. Thanks again for your support!

App-V Scheduler 2.5 released

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Intro

If you are reading about App-V Scheduler for the first time: App-V Scheduler is a purpose build deployment tool for App-V 5 and provides features that allow you to perform all actions that are crucial in every application life cycle management process. The power of App-V Scheduler is the amount of fine grained control, instant package delivery and real-time visibility over your App-V 5 deployment.

What’s new in App-V Scheduler version 2.5

  • Full support for the embedded App-V client*
  • Performance improvements in the Central View console
  • New search and filtering options in the Central View console
  • New machine group funtionality for even better management and control over your deployment
  • Enhanced deployment method for large scale VDI environments
  • New publishing tasks features (adding packages on the fly and publish packages globally when no user publishing task exists feature)
  • Import package options directly from the content share

* Since Windows 10 anniversary update and Windows Server 2016 the App-V Client is embedded in the Operating System, this makes your application deployment even easier and more reliable as ever before! And to make it even more a no-brainer to leverage this application deployment method, App-V is now also free to use!

For more information about the above new features, please visit the App-V Scheduler website and read the latest release blogpost.
Thanks for reading.