Farewell Smart Scale, Hello Autoscale…

In some cases, ‘farewells’ can carry a little sadness and it’s no different in the land of technology when a product or service that brought value, gets sent to the chopping block via a decision made by the vendor for the greater good (in most cases…)

Citrix announced last year that the Smart Tools cloud service would be no more as of the 31st of March 2019. As this solution was used by several of our clients and partners, I was very keen to understand what Citrix had in the pipeline as a replacement or alternative. Before we get into that, here’s a quick recap of what this service was all about…

As more businesses started moving their Citrix workloads to public cloud circa 2015, we needed something a little sharper than rudimentary VM start / stop management via scripts to minimize cloud spend. Smart Scale was released in May 2016 to address the challenges associated with running workloads full time regardless of their utilisation, and the cost associated with doing so. Citrix VDA’s (the guys that take the user load) would intelligently scale up or down based on a schedule, system load or a combination of both. This ensured the running costs were kept to a minimum without hindering availability or user experience. The dashboards and reports that showed how much cash had been saved by leveraging the service was a sight for sore ‘opex’ eyes!

All good things come to an end and unfortunately, Smart Scale is one of them.

That said, it’s not all doom and gloom as Citrix has developed a tidy replacement for our beloved buck saving brother – aptly named: Autoscale

Hello Autoscale!

Autoscale is a completely new feature and is considered the successor of Smart Scale delivering the same core functionality:

  • Load based scaling
  • Schedule based scaling
  • Cost saving reporting and insight

There are a few key differences to point out when comparing Smart Scale and AutoScale. Autoscale is built into Citrix Studio and is configured via Delivery Group(s), as opposed to Smart Scale which was configured and managed via the Citrix Cloud web portal:

Machine usage and cost saving reports are now visible in Citrix Director with Autoscale being tightly coupled with the same system that provides end user and machine analytics:

A short walkthrough and demo of Autoscale in action can be found here:  

Autoscale Overview 

Further details on the setup and cost alerts can be found here: 

Autoscale Machine Management

How to migrate to Autoscale?

Migrating from Smart Scale to Autoscale is quite simple, Citrix has even provided a tool to assist with this migration for larger deployments with a high count of delivery groups. 

To be more specific on the Delivery Group number guidance, Citrix recommends that deployments containing less than 10 are migrated manually.  

There are 11 steps to go through for each Delivery Group, but it’s straightforward and outlined in the above article. I recently migrated seven Delivery Groups using the manual method and it took around 30 minutes (excluding planning and testing). Not bad really.

There’s always a Gotcha!

Autoscale is only available to customers using the Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops Service via Citrix Cloud.

To be clear, if you are running your control layer in Citrix Cloud then you’re sorted. All you need to do is configure Autoscale or follow the migration steps.

NOTE: Smart Scale will still function for sites using the Virtual Apps and Desktops service until July 31st, 2019

This obviously presents a challenge for customers leveraging Smart Scale currently, who do not have the Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops Service, in other words, like the majority of the world, they run their own Citrix Infrastructure, whether that be on-premises or in public cloud. The service ceased to function on May 31st, 2019. So what are the options?

  • Migrate to Citrix Cloud (Virtual Apps and Desktops Service)
  • Implement automation runbooks / scheduled for VDA start-up and shutdown
  • Develop your own complex code to address your basic requirements of simply shutting things down when they aren’t in use

All options listed above come with a number of pros and cons, here are a few things to consider:

Migrating to Citrix Cloud (Virtual Apps and Desktops)

  • Enables the option of Autoscale ✔
  • Supported power management solution ✔
  • Easy to enable and configure ✔
  • Provides rich reporting and dashboards for cost analysis and alerting ✔
  • Introduces a change in TCO and licensing (which may not fit the business requirements) ✘
  • Introduces cost implications for migration and training ✘

Implementation of automation runbooks / scheduled for VDA start-up and shutdown

  • Next to no cost to implement ✔
  • Relatively simple to set up – an Azure setup example can be found here
  • Lack of load-based power management (without intense complexity) ✘
  • Lack of reporting and alerting ✘

Developing your own complex code to address your basic requirements of simply shutting things down when they aren’t in use:

  • Requires pretty handy development skills ✘
  • Will be unique to your organisation and might meet specific requirements you, and only you have ✔
  • Will introduce potential challenges as and when code changes and behaviour changes in your Citrix deployments ✘

Autoscale is in its first release phase, so expect things to change over time. At the moment there are slight limitations around multi-resource location deployments, zone assignments and the ability to control which workloads spin up in which resource locations, but if you aren’t complex, this might not be an issue, and no doubt Citrix will continue to build on the solution. 

There is, however, an additional, awesome option for you to consume:

Enter PowerScale!

PowerScale is a community driven effort lead by Leee Jeffries (@leeejeffries), an independent Citrix consultant and tech guru based in the UK. Leee took it upon himself to build a solution to fill the gap for customers impacted by the demise of Smart Scale.

PowerScale is a PowerShell based solution and was pretty much at feature parity with Smart Scale by the end of May 2019. Here’s a list of what it can currently do:

  • Scheduled Machine Management 
    • Working Hour Schedule 
    • Outside Working Hours Schedule 
      • Power On Machines 
      • Power Off Machines 
      • Scale Machines based on performance metrics 
        • CPU 
        • Memory 
        • Load Index 
        • Session Limits 
  • User Logoff 
    • Forced User Logoff 
    • Two Messages sent to users at specified intervals before shutdown 
  • Graceful User Logoff 
    • Wait for sessions to drain before shutdowns complete 
  • Email on critical error 
  • Testing only mode 
    • Logfile generated on every run 
    • No farm actions performed during test mode 

PowerScale version 1.6 is now available and it includes an activity dashboard which presents a graphical representation of the machine status and configuration:

The project is managed via GitHub so if you’re handy with Powershell and would like to get involved hop over and check it out.

There’s also some valuable user chatter here

More information can be found on Lee’s blog

Thanks… and Happy Scaling!

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