Citrix::Outlook::PDA's::T1 Communication:: and Life In General

A glimpse into my life.
We use Citrix MetaFrame machines to serve our remote offices. This saves the money and administrative pain of remotely administering application servers, domain controllers, etc for an office of 15 people. We have some issues. Most surrounding large print jobs. But it was a decent plan with tradeoffs supposedly made clear up front and users were "trained" how to act for this all to work out fine over a T1 connection. I am told after the users logon they open a Citrix session that is maximized on their screen and they were trained not to work outside of Citrix. Now, 18 months into it people forget (or don't care) what they swore to and want to fit a round peg into a square hole.
User Issue
Below is an e-mail thread quoting an IT manager, me, and a user. All of us will go nameless to hide the shameful stupidity that is their lives and is becoming mine.
From: [IT Manager]
To: [Me]
CC: [about 10 other people, 2 of which might actually care or be remotely involved....]
Mr. _________ has reported the following issue.
He has a laptop and opens his Outlook on the local PC. (For
a reason that I can not remember, I believe we instruction
the [remote] office LAPTOP users to open e-mail on
their local PC.)

He is the local counsel for [blah blah] in the [blah blah]
case, so he is getting e-mails with 2MB to 5MB attachments.
It is taking a long time (35 seconds in above e-mail, up to a
minute on others) to open just the e-mail, not the attachment.

When he opens the e-mail at home (or in the office) on
Citrix, it opens immediately.

Is there a setting on his e-mail system that would improve
this response time? Is there a cause for this slowness.

[He] also had an e-mail in his inbox that showed as being 5MB.
When he forwarded that same e-mail to me the size showed as
only 2MB. This defies my explanation.

From: [me]
To: [them all]
1. Regarding the size difference you observed:
- Exchange 2000 accepts and stores internet messages in "internet mail format" to save time converting the message to "microsoft mail format." Internal messages are created in and stored in "microsoft mail format" so when you forwarded the message it was converted from one format to the other and compressed some as a result.
- I sent test messages to myself from internet accounts and recreated a similar size reduction when I forwarded the message to an Outlook/Exchange recipient.

2. Regarding the speed of opening an attachment:
- When opening an e-mail the entire message (2MB or 5MB) must be transferred to the machine where it's being opened. So regardless of whether you open the attachment or not, the whole thing, including the attachment is copied to your computer.
- So when a message is opened from Outlook running on the laptop across the interoffice connection the whole thing must be transferred over the slower link. At the best possible connection speed sharing the connection with noobody else 5MB will take about 54 seconds to be transferred. At an average connection rate (about 70% of max) 5MB would take about 76 seconds to transfer.
- Also during the time Outlook is downloading this message and it's attachment across the network link performance is degraded. The larger the file, the longer the download time, and the more noticable this diminished performance will be to the other users. This drop in performance would also be apparent if laptop users forget and use the laptop window to browse the internet, download internet documents, etc. Using the Citrix server to perform these operations reduces the amount of information that must be transferred over the network link. In the case of the Outlook message, the Citrix machine opens the message and only shows you it's screen, it doesn't have to transfer the entire message file over the network link to the laptop.
- I was not aware laptop users were instructed to use Outlook from their laptop computer intstead of Citrix. If anyone uses offline folders or is synchronizing Palm pilot, that is possibly the reason for this recommendation - because those operations require transferring the data to the laptop. However, once these synchronizations have completed, it is not necessary to continue working in Outlook off the laptop the entire day - only at the beginning or end of the day to synchronize. I realize that can be confusing and also easy to forget.

User Response:
Thank you for the response and I think I understand. I'll try not to shoot the messenger, but now I remember why I didn't like this rigged-up system for the satellite offices at the inception of the conversion. If I'm sitting at my desk working on the Citrix screen and somebody calls to schedule a conference call for next Thursday and I put it in on my calendar and then an hour later I leave to go to a meeting at another firm and they ask if I'm available next Thursday for another meeting, unless I remembered to go back to my blue screen and sync my PDA (which now automatically syncs to Outlook whenever I enter a change on my desktop), I run the risk of double booking meetings. You may think this is a remote possibility, but I'm here to tell you that it's not.

For a firm our size with our resources, I can't believe we can't come up with a better plan.

This brings out a lot of issues. One is that no matter what "management of expectations" you do, it wears off over time. And another is the total disconnect in how things, big things, run in a medium size company. One group of penny-pinchers runs the up front part of a project and then dumps it off on people who do the real work. Somehow everybody agrees to it all in the beginning. Then people start complaining about "the level of support" they get. Forget that my "level of support" is greatly dependant on how the big picture was conceived and implemented. Then people start asking why this and why that and how much would be if we just . . . . . .
And on it goes until people just start whining behind our backs and drop it or we spend the money to do it right.
On the technology front, it would be nice if I had time to research Microsoft Mobile Information Server and get a straight answer on when it will support "pushing" updates to wireless clients. (I was told it would by a MS rep.) And if this guy would get a Blackberry I think we can get him setup so his calendar syncs wirelessly, but not his contacts. But this guy has had about 8 different PDA's in the past 20 months so he's probably got some whiner reason not to use it. And Good Technology has some decent looking devices that will wirelessly sync everything.
Another thought would be to block traffic on the routers to *only* allow them to get to Citrix. This would undoubtedly lead to a lot of other apps being blocked that nobody else knows are going on.
This also brings to the front of my mind that when users (or worse management) asks a direct question like "would it work if..." or "how much would it cost to _____" they don't *really* want the truth. Every one of these questions I get 10 times a day really requires a day of consulting (and possibly therapy) to get to the true need behind the question. But the few times that happens they don't like the answer. They a) don't believe you and move on to another sucker b) can't make it fit into a scenario in which they can resolve a big problem and take credit so they drop it (costs too much, requires actually committing to a list of desired deliverables, and/or they can find a bigger sucker to allow a piddly question to scope creep into a nightmare and get blamed for failure)
I've got to work on my mind reading skills.

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