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  • Integration Matters! The Emergence of DevOps in the Citrix Community


    johnsmith.png by John Smith, CTP

    In the last 5-6 years, Citrix community members (Jason Conger, Carl Webster and Brandon Shell among others) have contributed significantly to assuaging the challenges of numerous under-staffed skeleton crews managing large Citrix implementations.  As the DevOps craze begins to take hold in the IT space, this is not something that is entirely new to the Citrix community as most Citrix teams have had exposure to POSH scripts since 2007.  Citrix, as a company, has supported DevOps with numerous APIs, WSDLs, the Nitro API on the NetScaler, as well as being pioneers in supporting PowerShell from the start.  So much was Citrix’s enthusiasm around DevOps that in 2014, they acquired a company called Octoblu.  While many of us know Octoblu as the company that delivers really cool IoT solutions, it offers a very easy DevOps platform that can be leveraged by any Citrix team to do much more than just make an alarm sound or make a light flash.  The truth is, the use cases for Octoblu are staggering and investing your own time and effort into DevOps and open architectures is time/money well spent, not just for your team, but for your career.  In this article, I want to cover some topics about DevOps as well as open architectures and what they can mean to your job/workplace, what they can mean to your company and what they can mean for your careers.   

    For your Career:


    During the opening geek speak during Synergy 2014, I gave a talk about the return of the generalist.  Sadly, this recording appears to have disappeared off the internet but the subject was around how changes in DevOps and SDN Architecture were forcing teams out of their comfort zones and forcing them to learn new skills (see my sad attempt at a meme above).  I also talked about how the rise of APIs were going to make adding a language to your skills portfolio advantageous for your career as well as for your ability to leverage the next generation of technologies.  In addition to the Octoblu acquisition, few engineers know that the NetScaler Nitro API is, far and away, the most mature API of ANY ADC vendor on the market today.  Citrix also supports and oData API to get access to numerous monitoring metrics that can be leveraged via Python or PowerShell.  The truth is, open architectures that leverage APIs have arrived, not just with Citrix but with the tools you use and the vendors that they partner with.  Increasing your skills around supporting them can only enhance your ability to work with tomorrow’s technology and, down the road, further your career.

    The numbers:

    While it is hardly scientific, I have ALWAYS used job ads as my method for staying relevant in IT.  I am fast approaching 50 and I have managed to remain an engineer for all of these years by knowing what skills I need to have to stay relevant (this could also mean that I am simply too much of a jackass to get promoted…likely, it’s a combination of both).  That said, job ads can be very telling in gaining an understanding of the kinds of skills you will need to stay relevant.  Any engineer with over 15-20 years has SURELY had to re-invent themselves once or twice.  With today’s tightly constrained org charts, this can be much more difficult for the new generation of experts.  It is important that you take it upon yourself to “get hip” to the next generation of technologies. 

    With that, let’s look at some numbers.  Most of us on this forum are Citrix experts, using Indeed.com as my unofficial, unscientific SWAG, I noted that searches for Citrix expertise yielded 7,103 job postings.  This is a very nice number that makes many of us feel pretty comfortable.  But then, let’s look at some job postings around DevOps skill sets.  When I look for Python I see 43,836 job postings, now some of these are for actual developers but you have to take note that number is 6x of what the Citrix search results were.  The same with JavaScript, and while the majority of these jobs are for proper developers, you have to understand that these languages are the languages that open architectures use to communicate and integrate with one another.  Also worth noting is the 8,641 job postings asking for PowerShell expertise.  This is quite telling as PowerShell is almost always leveraged as an automation tool and is normally a subset of an existing system administration skill set.  Having a language within your skills portfolio will be imperative for you and your team’s future. 

    On a rather sobering note, this week Cisco announced that they are laying off 7% of their Routing and Switching workforce.  I am certain that those with Python/JavaScript and DevOps backgrounds WERE NOT among them!  Just as your NetScaler has, tomorrow's Routers, Switches and Firewalls will have APIs and your ability to leverage those APIs will separate you and your team from the rest of the pack. 

    Indeed SearchJob Postings
    Citrix or XenApp or XenDesktop or Netscaler7103
    GO Programming6523

    Demand from your vendors what the industry is going to demand of you:

    When I first started using Syslog Servers, I started telling vendors that if they could not syslog, or they could not install a forwarder allowing them to syslog, they were out of luck.  There are a myriad of tools, solutions and off-the-shelf products available to Citrix teams today and sadly, many of them are closed architectures.  Systems that do not support open architectures like RESTFUL APIs, Sysloging or that force you into appending its UI onto the rest of the consoles that you are currently supporting are doing so at their own risk.  At ExtraHop, we pride ourselves in the fact that we do not force our UI onto our customers and you can derive the same value from the system via integration and never use the UI.  Just as tomorrow's next generation hardware technologies will support open architectures, so too should the vendors/tools and platforms that you leverage within your environment.  Splunk has made the DevOps “Mash-Up” a religion in some organizations, making the single pane (not “single pain”) of glass a reality.  Mark Templeton introduced the concept of “Synergy” in, I believe, 2007.  Synergy is defined as the interaction or cooperation of two or more items to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate entities.  No open architecture means no integration, no integration means no synergy, demand synergy!

    Augmentation through Automation:


    A funny thing happens when you Google “IT Talent”….it auto populates with “Shortage.”  I have been a vendor for 3 years now after the previous 18 in operations/architecture.  As a vendor, I am now exposed to other Citrix teams like never before.  In every, and I mean 100%, single interaction I have with a Citrix team, they are spread very thin and have a rather large, staggering workload.  Automation has become a significant asset in the Citrix community today thanks in large part to PowerShell and Citrix’s willingness to support it.  From Webster’s documentation scripts to staggered reboots, PowerShell has become an integral tool for the Citrix community at large.  The ability to create simple and automated tasks can be leveraged to save Citrix teams dozens of hours a month or even a week.  In the Quality, Time and Cost triad the one entity that is ALWAYS at a premium is time.  Even organizations who are willing to hire enough people have a hard time finding them.  Solutions that can give a team back some time will always have value and there will always be a market for it.  When you are looking at a solution, ask yourself, “Can I thread this into my existing automation strategy?”  (And if you don’t have an automation strategy, create one.) Throughout my career, budgets have been good, great and, sometimes, bad but over the last 18 years, human capital has remained a constant struggle regardless of budgets.  Automation solutions help with this struggle and the more a system can integrate, the better chance it has of being threaded into your automation strategy.


    As DevOps continues to take shape in IT overall, not just the Citrix community, the tools, solutions and platforms we leverage will need to adapt just as the personnel in the industry will need to adapt.  While it is fine for a solution to stand alone, it is important that it also have the ability to integrate with other solutions, products and platforms.  If the solutions you leverage are the shaft, DevOps and Integration are the tip of the “operations” spear.   If a product you are investing in is solely stand alone, lacking the ability to leverage DevOps or Integration, you’re just getting the shaft.  Just as increasing your ability to leverage DevOps with a multitude of platforms will certainly increase your market worth, embracing open architectures will give you considerable synergy moving forward into tomorrow’s technologies.

    Thanks for reading.

    John M. Smith

    Solutions Architect, ExtraHop Networks

    CTP Alumnus

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