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Citrix's new NetScaler CPX brings container technologies to developers

Putting NetScaler into containers allows for easy deployment of container technologies. Expert Michael Otey drills down the product features for development and cloud applications.

With the addition of container support in Windows Server 2016, IT administrators and developers have really taken a serious interest in evaluating and moving toward container technologies. Not to be left behind, many IT vendors are leading the container movements by containerizing some of their core products. Being lightweight, easily portable and updateable, container technologies are a natural fit for cloud applications. Citrix recently announced a new containerized version of their Application Delivery Controller, NetScaler. Putting NetScaler into a container will make it possible for developers to easily deploy, run and dispose of their own personal NetScaler containers.

I met with Abhishek Chauhan, Citrix vice president and CTO of Delivery Networks at Synergy 16. Abhishek is responsible for the NetScaler product. He explained that moving NetScaler into a container was an important step to enable IT to take advantages of the new microservice application architecture and that it enables developers to take more ownership of operations. Containers enable developers to easily spin up and later discard CPX instances that they need to work with.

What is NetScaler?

NetScaler is one of the best kept secrets of the Citrix product line. NetScaler is an application delivery controller (ADC). The ADC sits between a business' applications and its end users and plays a critical role in the secure and reliable delivery of applications. NetScaler doesn't run in isolation. Instead, it's a piece of your network fabric and can perform a number of critical network tasks like load balancing, application firewall, SSL encryption and back-end database acceleration.

There are now four versions of NetScaler:

  • NetScaler MPX -- The NetScaler MPX line is at the top of the NetScaler product family. It's a hardware-based application that's implanted at the data center level. It delivers 500 Mbps to 160 Gbps of network throughput.
  • NetScaler SDX -- The SDX line is also a hardware-based appliance. It provides virtualization capabilities for up to 115 NetScaler instances. This version is intended for data center consolidation and multi-tenancy. SDX can also provide up to 160 Gbps of network throughput.
  • NetScaler VPX -- Unlike the previous two members of the NetScaler family, NetScaler VPX is a software-based application that is implemented as a virtual machine. It's intended for smaller business or architecting private and public cloud infrastructures. VPX provides 10 Mbps to 40 Gbps of network throughput.
  • NetScaler CPX -- The new NetScaler CPX is a containerized microform of NetScaler. It is designed for cloud and microservice applications, as well as development and test scenarios. Being a brand new product, Citrix has not stated the total possible throughput of the CPX version of NetScaler at this point.

Abhishek told me that Citrix has been moving down the path of making things smaller and more Agile. With MPX, you might have one appliance per data center. With VPX, you would have one per application. With CPX, you can have one per instance of the application or developer.

There are also versions of NetScaler that run on Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure that are available in their respective marketplaces.

NetScaler for developers

NetScaler CPX is very lightweight, which makes it easier to use in development than the larger scale NetScaler versions. NetScaler CPX is built from the same code base and uses exactly the same management interface and APIs as the larger scale NetScaler versions. NetScaler CPX can be used by application developers in a container right on their own development systems. NetScaler CPX container technologies can be provisioned and deployed using Docker. This enables developers to deploy and configure their own individual NetScaler container instances. Using NetScaler CPX, developers have the ability to code for the same functionality on their own systems that is provided by the enterprise-grade ADC MPX and SDX appliances. This gives developers a unified set of services, APIs and policies from the desktop to the enterprise. Applications developed using CPX can be readily deployed to the production enterprise infrastructure.

Using containers to modernize cloud applications

As Abhishek explained, containers like NetScaler CPX are an important component in the modernization of IT and cloud services. IT is beginning to make the transition from Mode one development, which is embodied by traditional monolithic web applications, to what has been called Mode two development -- a more modern and Agile service-oriented model. Mode two typically uses Agile development methodologies and DevOps practices to build and manage applications using a scale-out microservices application architecture. These applications often utilize both on-premises and off-premises computing resources in a hybrid cloud architecture. In a DevOps type of operating environment, the use of containers enables developers to take more ownership and control of the applications they develop and support.

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