Finetuning a Citrix StoreFront deployment

Finetuning a Citrix StoreFront deploymentFinetune

In this short blogpost I gathered some fine tuning tips I came across with when migrating a Webinterface deployment to Storefront with Netscaler Gateway. The deployment had the following main goals :

  1. Access from Receiver for Web and all the Native Receiver versions (Windows, IOS, Android, etc)
  2. Security on the client side is important, access takes place from unmanaged and public devices
  3. Performance needs to be comparable with the Webinterface deployment
  4. Customized branding for each Netscaler VIP

In this blogpost I will cover the following :

  • Prevent users from saving passwords
  • Shorten the login token lifetime
  • Increase performance (page load times, etc)
  • Modified homepage for different VIPs on the Netscaler
  • Workspace Control in combination with XenApp published desktops

Prevent users from saving passwords
Saved passwords may give users easy access to the environment, but it decreases the security of the environment, especially on unmanaged and public devices where it’s unknown how the devices are used and by who. To turn password saving off :

For Receiver for Web :
This is done automatically by the login page from Netscaler by telling the browser not to use the autocomplete feature. Most browsers respect this setting but IE 11 ignores it, you can read more about this here. It is recommended to always use 2-Factor authentication for external access when possible. To expensive? Take a look at SMS2, it’s free and the RADIUS extension works pretty neat in combination with Netscaler Gateway.

For Native Receivers :
Open the Authenticate.aspx file (default location : C:\inetpub\wwwroot\Citrix\Authentication\Views\ExplicitForms) and comment the SaveCredentialsRequirement statement like this :

SaveCredentialsRequirementThis will prevent the save password option from showing in the Native Receivers.

Shorten the login token lifetime
When a user logs on through the Native Receiver, the credential wallet service of Storefront will keep your token alive for 20 hours by default. When a user closes his application or desktop but doesn’t logoff the Receiver, it’s possible that someone else can click on the icon to log back on within this time period. This is not really secure when users are sharing devices or leave them unattendant. Receiver for Web is somewhat resticter, by default the page will timeout after 20 minutes idle time.
If you only publish a desktop and your users doesn’t need to click on published application icons the whole day, you can make the life time as short as possible without affecting the user experience. In the following example I will change the token life time to 5 minutes for both Native Receiver and Receiver for Web.

For Receiver for Web :
Open the web.config file in the Receiver for Web site folder (default location : C:\inetpub\wwwroot\Citrix\yourwebstore) and search for the session state timeout.
The value is in minutes :

Receiverforweb_Timeout

For Native Receivers :
Open the web.config file in the authentication folder (default location : C:\inetpub\wwwroot\Citrix\Authentication) and search the maxLifetime values till you found the correct one, see this example :

NativeReceiver_tokenlifetime

After making this changes, users have to authenticate again after 5 minutes idle time.

Increase performance (page load times, etc) 
After some tweaking the Storefront performance is good and acceptable, but it will not be as quick as Webinterface. I also think this isn’t possible because of the design differences. I changed 2 things to speed up Storefront : Enable socketpooling and disable signature verification (the latter will lower the security a bit).
On Marius Sandbu’s and Richard Egenas blog you can read more Storefront performance tips.

Modified homepage for different VIPs on the Netscaler
This deployment needed a customized branding for each Netscaler VIP, I will not go into detail how to configure this because there is already a very detailed article from Citrix here. It comes down to redirecting users based on the entered FQDN with Responder policies, while this works great the article doesn’t mention that it will break the access from the Native Receivers to the VIP where the responder policy is active. To prevent this change the responder policy expression to include :

Responder_Policy

When you create this exclusion, the Responder policy will not kick in when the User-Agent contains CitrixReceiver, allowing the Native Receivers to successfully connect.

Workspace Control for XenApp published desktops
When you publish a desktop through XenApp you will notice that Workspace Control isn’t working like expected in Storefront. This is because the desktop is shown on the Desktop tab and Workspace Control isn’t enabled there. Instead autolaunch is enabled which is also killing for single session control. If you want to use Workspace Control you need to treat the desktop as application by using the TreatAsApp keyword. You can read more about Workspace Control in combination with Storefront in great detail in a previous blog post : Deeper look into Workspace Control and it’s challenges.

Conclusion
I must say I like Storefront, it’s stable (talking about the latest versions of course), looks good and gives users an unified login experience, but I have some wishes left so in case someone from Citrix read this, here are my feature requests for Storefront :

  • More options in the GUI, manual editing the web.config files feels a little silly and can be error prone. If the goal is to keep the console simple, then I would suggest an option to switch to advanced view
  • More informative messages for the users, for example Webinterface shows when a Desktop is (re)starting and cleaner messages when applications are disabled etc
  • Redirect users to a specific Store (when using Native Receiver), now the user gets a popup to select a store but it will be nice to control this in a session policy or directly in Storefront

Please note that the information in this blog is provided as is without warranty of any kind.

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A Deeper look into Workspace Control and its challenges

Table of contents :

1: Introduction
2: The Workspace Control process in UML
3: Workspace Control and Auto launch usability
4: Special note : Using Workspace Control with Receiver for Web
5: Special note : Using Workspace Control with Linux Receiver
6: Special note : Using Workspace Control with Native Receiver and Mobile Receivers
7: Conclusion

1: Introduction :

In this blog post I will dive a little deeper into the Citrix Workspace Control functionality, I will show you how the Workspace Control process works and what kind of challenges it can bring to the table. For those not familiar with Workspace Control, it’s the mechanism in Webinterface and Storefront that lets users (automatically) reconnect to existing sessions when they are roaming. To start with some basics : Workspace Control can reconnect two types of sessions, Active sessions and Disconnected sessions.

The Workspace Control process is triggered in the following 2 scenarios :

– The Automatic reconnect process when a user logs on to Webinterface or Storefront
– The Manual reconnect process when a user clicks on the reconnect button in Webinterface or Storefront

Workspace Control isn’t triggered in the following scenarios :

– When a user clicks on an application or desktop manually
– When Auto launch is enabled
– When you connect straight to a XenApp server, without using Webinterface or Storefront
– When Workspace Control is disabled, either by admin or user
– When points apply that you will find in the following UML flow diagram in the following chapter

2: The Workspace Control process in UML

Below you will find an UML diagram that will show you the Workspace Control process based on the Automatic and Manual reconnect process. (click to en large)

3: Workspace Control and Auto launch usability

Auto launch is a feature you can configure in Webinterface or Receiver for Web to launch a specific Application or Desktop after a user logs on, this functionality is especially useful when you have only one published desktop.  In this way the user doesn’t have to click the desktop icon, but instead it launches directly after the user authenticates. The downside of auto launch however is that it disables the Workspace Control functionality at logon. This isn’t necessarily a problem when using XenDesktop, but for XenApp this can result in multiple sessions being launched by the user and this is something you often want to prevent, it’s getting more worse when you have session limits in place because this can even prevent the user to login when there is already an active session. To overcome this I often use one of the below two methods, please leave a comment when you use other methods to solve this challenge for XenApp.

1: Restrict users to a single session, Enable Workspace Control and Disable Auto launch
In this scenario the user logs on to Webinterface or Storefront, when there is no active\disconnected session the user clicks on the Desktop or Application and launches his session. When the user logs on from another device, Workspace Control kicks in and reconnects the session immediately after the user authenticates. The user can also choose to manually disconnect and reconnect the session through Workspace Control. In this scenario Workspace Control in combination with Session limits is used to control the number of sessions on the XenApp farm.

2: Allow multiple sessions, Enable Auto launch and use RES session guard
If you have RES Workspace Manager in place, you can leverage the RES session guard feature to notify users of already active sessions and let them disconnect them on the fly. If you educate the user how to use this, session guard can be a real handy feature to simulate a Workspace Control alike functionality. Plus you can also define a group of users (through a dummy  administrative role) that can login multiple times. This is especially handy when you have shared accounts or a couple of users that needs to logon multiple times concurrently. The only down side of this method is that the user needs to login twice when an active session is detected, one time to disconnect the session and one time to reconnect to the disconnected session. The plus side is that you can enable Auto launch to immediately launch the Desktop after the user authenticates, because RES session guard will control the amount of sessions and you don’t have to use Workspace Control in combination with Session limits anymore.

Below is a printscreen of the RES Session guard in action when multiple sessions are detected :

Session Guard detects multiple sessions by creating a lock file (guard.lock) inside the homefolder , the above message is displayed when the file is detected, after the user logs off the lock file is removed.

4: Special note : Using Workspace Control with Receiver for Web

From Storefront version 1.2 the Auto launch feature is enabled by default in Receiver for Web when there is only one published Desktop available for the user, this also means that Workspace Control is disabled by default, but the most important thing to note is that since the separation of Apps and Desktops in Receiver for Web, the Workspace Control functionality is completely disabled in the Desktops section (see below screenshot for clarification). This makes sense when using XenDesktop, but you may still want to use Workspace control for your published XenApp desktops. To enable Workspace Control for published XenApp desktops, you can put a keyword in the published XenApp desktop description field (KEYWORDS:TreatAsApp) so Receiver for Web will treat it as Application instead of Desktop, thus enabling Workspace Control again.

Workspace Control (for the Apps section) can be configured by editing the web.config file in the inetpub directory of the Storefront server, this is a little step backwards because with Webinterface you could do this through the GUI.

5: Special note : Using Workspace Control with Linux Receiver

Linux Receivers found in linux based Thinclients often use the PNAgent site to request and launch published applications and desktops, the key component used here is the PNABrowse utility. PNABrowse is often scripted by the Thinclient manufacturer and embedded in the customized Thinclient OS, like the HP ThinPro and HP Smart Client series. PNABrowse uses the –WR parameter to leverage Workspace Control and connect to active and Disconnected sessions. You can control Workspace Control behavoir for this clients by editing this parameter in the following way :

-WR = Connect to Active and Disconnected sessions
-Wr = Connect to Disconnected sessions only
– Remove –WR = don’t use Workspace Control

There will be a new Linux Receiver released by the end of the year that can connect natively to Storefront without using Legacy PNAgent.

6: Special note : Using Workspace Control with Native Receiver and Mobile Receivers

For the Windows Native Receiver and Mobile Receivers connecting to Storefront, there is currently no good way to configure Workspace Control, it’s always enabled by default. Native Receivers are a good launch platform for published applications and data, but it lacks the option to fine tune them for different access scenarios like Workspace Control or Auto launch, you have to use the Receiver for Web or Webinterface if you want to control this. Also the native Receivers doesn’t make a difference between applications and desktops yet (only apps and data), so Workspace Control will be enabled for both by default which can be a problem. Hopefully Citrix will add more options to control this behavoir in future releases of Storefront.

7: Conclusion

The main goal of Workspace Control is to reconnect published applications when users are roaming, but it’s also often used in combination with session limits to control the number of user sessions and optimize the user experience. It’s clear that Citrix is moving away from Workspace Control when using published Desktops and rather use Auto launch instead, but for XenApp this can be a challenge. You can still leverage Workspace Control in newer versions of StoreFront by treating the published XenApp desktop the same as an published application. Maybe the new Flexcast Management Architecture (FMA), which is part of the upcoming Excalibur release, will change the way how we deliver and reconnect to XenApp published desktops so Workspace Control isn’t necessary anymore to control the user sessions, in the mean time you can either use Workspace Control in combination with session limits or RES session guard to optimize the user experience and control the amount of user sessions in your XenApp farm.

Please note that the information in this blog is provided as is without warranty of any kind.

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!

If you want to know more about Fine-tuning Adaptive Display, please read my previous blog post and follow me on twitter or subscribe on this blogsite if you want to be notified when a new blog post is available! thanks!

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.