Category Archives: Xendesktop

What Licenses Do I Need….

Earlier this week, I had a long discussion with a client (you know who you are) about what licenses they would need for a deployment of “zero client” devices. We’ve written a lot about Microsoft and Citrix licensing, about XenDesktop and XenApp, about the Citrix trade-up, etc., but it occurred to me that it might be beneficial to pull all the licensing information together into one post instead of expecting you, gentle reader, to have to sort through multiple posts to pull it all together.

So, let’s discuss Citrix licensing first, then move on to the Microsoft licensing.

First of all, if all you want to do is to deploy VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure), and you have a limited number of users, then you should probably purchase VDI-in-a-Box.

If you decide that VDI-in-a-Box is not the right fit foryou, the next question you need to answer is whether to use XenApp licenses or XenDesktop licenses. Beginning with the introduction of XenDesktop v4.0, Citrix concluded, reasonably enough, that an organization that was deploying VDI probably wouldn’t get much leverage from a concurrent-use licensing model, because their concurrency ratio (by which I mean the ratio of total users to concurrent users) would be pretty close to 1:1. So XenDesktop v4.0 was introduced with a per-named-user or per-device license model. These licenses were roughly half the cost of the comparable XenApp concurrent-use license: XenApp Enterprise Edition, for example, carries an MSRP of $450 per concurrent user. XenDesktop Enterprise Edition carries an MSRP of $225 per user/device.

At the same time, Citrix made the decision to include XenApp rights in the XenDesktop license. So if you buy XenApp, you get only XenApp. But if you buy XenDesktop, you get both XenDesktop and XenApp – so you can use XenApp to stream applications to your virtual desktops, or have your virtual desktops function as client devices that run published applications that execute on the XenApp servers, or simply deploy a mixture of XenDesktop and XenApp to your user community depending on what delivery method is best for a particular use case. This is what Citrix refers to as the “FlexCast” delivery model.

This created the interesting situation where, because of the difference in license cost, if your concurrency ratio was less than 2:1, you were better off financially to purchase XenDesktop licenses even if all you really wanted to run was XenApp. And, since delivering what Citrix calls “hosted shared” desktops from XenApp servers makes more efficient use of the underlying hardware and storage infrastructure, the bias should probably be toward XenApp unless there is a clear use case for why users need to connect to individual desktop OS instances rather than a shared XenApp desktop (and it isn’t just appearance, because with XenApp v6.5 on Windows Server 2008 R2 we can deliver a XenApp desktop that looks and feels like a Windows 7 desktop). But, for the sake of this discussion, let’s move on down the XenDesktop trail.

Citrix has re-introduced a concurrent-use license option for XenDesktop, which is a better choice for organizations who want to deploy both XenDesktop and XenApp, but have a concurrency ratio greater than 2:1, but so far, I haven’t seen very many use cases where that license model made sense.

If you already have XenApp licenses, and want the ability to deliver VDI as well, you can take advantage of the Citrix trade-up program to transform your XenApp licenses into XenDesktop licenses. And if you trade up all of your XenApp licenses, you can get two XenDesktop user/device licenses for each XenApp license. So 250 XenApp licenses would become 500 XenDesktop user/device licenses. If you want more information on how the trade-up program works, and what your trade-up options are, check out the handy Citrix Trade-Up Calculator.

As of the release of XenDesktop v5.0 Feature Release 1, the license service got pretty smart in terms of how it managed those user/device licenses. This is good news for, say, a hospital, which may have devices that are used by multiple users and other users who use multiple devices. The license server can intelligently and dynamically reassign licenses between users and devices to make the most efficient use of the available licenses. For example, consider the following scenario for a brand-new environment where no licenses have yet been assigned:

  • User 1 logs on from client Device 1. The license server will, by default, check out a license to User 1.
  • User 1 logs off, and User 2 logs on from the same client device. The license server, now sensing that two different users have logged on from the same device, will take the license that was assigned to User 1, and reassign it to Device 1. Any subsequent users who log in from Device 1 will not cause any action by the license server, because Device 1 is already licensed.
  • If User 1 logs on again from a different client device, the license server will again check out a license to User 1 (so, at this point, two licenses are checked out: one to Device 1 and one to User 1). Since User 1 has logged on from two different devices, the license will remain assigned to User 1 unless/until manually released by an administrator (e.g., in the case of the employee leaving the organization), or unless User 1 doesn’t log on for a period of 90 days, in which case it will be automatically released due to inactivity.
  • Likewise, since two different users have logged on from Device 1, that license will remain assigned to that device unless manually released or automatically released due to 90 days of inactivity.

So…how do you know how many licenses you really need? There is actually a formula that will tell you that. You need to know how many total users you have (let’s call that number “A”), how many shared devices you have (let’s call that “B”), and how many of your users will use only shared devices (let’s call that “C”). The formula is A – C + B. So, if you have 1,000 total users, 300 shared devices, and 600 of your users will use only shared devices, you need 1,000 – 600 + 300 = 700 total licenses.

For more information on exactly how this works, see the Citrix Community Blog post by Christophe Catesson, which in turn links to a recorded session from Synergy 2011 that was a deep dive discussion of XenDesktop licensing.

Now for the Microsoft licensing component.

If you have users who will be executing applications on a XenApp server, you will need a Remote Desktop Services (RDS) CAL for that user, or for the client device that user is using. It is very difficult to manage a mixture of user CALs and device CALs in a Remote Desktop Services environment, so, in most cases, you’re going to be better off purchasing user CALs.

If you have users who will be attaching to a virtual desktop instance, the licensing requirements are different, depending on the client device. If the client device is a Windows PC whose Operation System is covered by Software Assurance, you do not have to purchase any additional Microsoft license to use that PC to connect to a virtual desktop. If the client device is not a Windows PC, or that copy of Windows is not covered by Software Assurance, you need a Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) license for that client device. VDA licenses are only available under the Open Value Subscription license model at present, meaning that you will continue to pay for them every year. Forever.

But wait! That’s not all! As Gabe Knuth outlines in a recent article on Techtarget.com, there is a very strange loophole in the VDA license terms. If you have a VDA license for your primary device (or if it’s covered by Software Assurance), you have what Microsoft calls “Extended Roaming Rights,” which allow you to also use your home computer to access your virtual desktop, or use your iPad when you’re at home or traveling. But, technically, it does not entitle you to bring your iPad into the office and use it there! To solve that (using the term “solve” loosely), Microsoft recently announced something called a “Companion Device License” (CDL) which allows you to use up to four other devices (in addition to the primary licensed device) to access your virtual desktop. No word yet on what the CDL will cost.

So let’s see if we can summarize what our client would need for a deployment of “zero client” devices (like, for example, the Wyse Xenith thin client).

  • You’re going to need some kind of Citrix license, either VDI-in-a-Box, XenDesktop, or XenApp.
  • Since the thin client is not a Windows PC, and therefore cannot be covered by Software Assurance, you would need to purchase a Microsoft VDA license for it.
  • If the thin client will be used only to attach to a virtual PC desktop and execute applications within that desktop OS environment, no additional Microsoft license is needed. However, if the thin client will also be used to attach to applications that are executing on a XenApp server – either directly or indirectly by having the Citrix client baked into the virtual PC desktop – you will also need a Microsoft RDS CAL.
  • You do not need an RDS CAL if you are only using XenApp to stream packaged applications to a virtual (or physical, for that matter) desktop for execution there. Since you are not actually utilizing Remote Desktop Services by executing code remotely on a Remote Desktop Server, no RDS CAL is required.
  • If you want to institute a BYOD program, where users can bring whatever client device they wish into the office and use it to access your VDI, you’ll probably need some of the new Microsoft CDL licenses.

If I’ve overlooked anything, feel free to submit questions via comments on this post, and we’ll try to get them answered. Let the discussion begin!

Best Practices for Provisioning XenDesktop

We’ve written a lot here regarding XenDesktop’s two provisioning methods: Provisioning Services and Machine Creation Services. Earlier this week, at the Citrix Synergy Conference in San Francisco, there was a session specifically devoted to discussing those two provisioning methods, providing a high level overview of how they worked, the best practices for deploying each of them, and even some guidelines for how to determine which approach is best for your organization. For the benefit of those who couldn’t make it to Synergy – or those who did make it, but would like a better way to share that information with others in their organizations – that session was recorded and is available on Citrix TV. You can view it below:

Beware of Vendor-Sponsored “Analysis” Reports

Mark Twain allegedly came up with the famous line: "Figures don’t lie, but liars figure." That’s a good thing to keep in mind any time you’re looking through a report that was sponsored ("sponsored" = "paid for") by a vendor that concludes that their product is better than the other guy’s.

Maybe it is better than the other guy’s. But you might want to look closely at what was tested, how it was tested, and whether they were, shall we say, selective in the facts they present.

Case in point: The Tolly Group’s report, released May 27, comparing VMware View 4.6 Premier Edition to Citrix XenDesktop 5 Platinum edition. There are several interesting aspects to this report, which are dealt with in detail in Tal Klein’s blog over on the Citrix Community blog site. Here are a few of the more egregious items:

  • VMware View 4.6 Premier licensing costs less than XenDesktop 5 Platinum. Absolutely true, and absolutely irrelevant. That’s like pointing out that if you load every possible dealer option onto your new car, it’s going to cost more than the basic model. Thank you, Captain Obvious. If you want an "apples-to-apples" comparison, you need to compare VMware View to the XenDesktop VDI Edition. But wait, if you do that, XenDesktop is actually less expensive, and that would be an awkward point to publish in a paper that’s being paid for by VMware.
  • VMware’s PCoIP provides a more consistent multi-media experience than XenDesktop 5. (Over a LAN. Using a single thin client device that did not support any of the Citrix HDX media acceleration features.) Sorry, guys, but once again this is not an apples-to-apples comparison. And did they publish any results of testing across a WAN link? Nope…and for the same reason they didn’t use XenDesktop VDI Edition for their price comparison.
  • It’s easier to upgrade View 4.5 to View 4.6 than it is to upgrade XenDesktop 4 to XenDesktop 5. Once again, both true and irrelevant. It’s easier to give your kitchen a new coat of paint than it is to rip out the cabinets and completely remodel it. Anybody surprised by that? There are significant architectural changes from XenDesktop 4 to XenDesktop 5. It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that this will involve more effort than a "dot release" upgrade.

I’ve always been skeptical of vendor-sponsored "analysis" reports, and, to be fair, Citrix has used the Tolly Group in the past for its own sponsored reports – but it seems to me that this one is just over the top. Apparently, former Gartner analyst Simon Bramfitt agrees. His pithy assessment of the report: "There are undiscovered tribes lost in the darkest parts of the Amazon jungle that would know exactly what to do if a vendor airdropped a pile of competitive marketing literature authored by the Tolly Group; send it back, and asked [sic] that it be re-printed on more absorbent paper."

What do you think?

IntelliCache and the IOPS Problem

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know that we’ve written extensively about XenDesktop, and spent a lot of time on best practices and problems to avoid. And one of the biggest problems to avoid is poor storage design resulting in poor VDI performance.

In a nutshell, the problem is that a Windows desktop OS uses disk far differently than a Windows server OS. Thanks to the way Windows uses the swap file, disk writes outnumber disk reads by about 2 to 1. You can build your virtual desktop infrastructure on the latest and greatest server hardware, with tons of processing power and insanely huge amounts of RAM, but if all of the disk I/O for all of those virtual desktops is hitting your SAN, you’ve got a scalability problem on your hands.

Provisioning Services (“PVS”) can help to mitigate this in two ways (assuming for sake of argument that you’re provisioning multiple virtual systems from a common, read-only image): First, if you build your Provisioning Servers correctly, you should be able to serve up most of the OS read operations from the Provisioning Server’s own cache memory. Second, you can use the virtualization host’s local disk storage as the required “write cache” – because all of those write operations have to go somewhere while the virtual system is running.

But XenDesktop 5 introduced a new way to provision desktops called “Machine Creation Services” (“MCS”). We wrote about this in the April edition of our Moose Views newsletter, so if you’re not familiar with all the pros and cons of MCS vs. PVS, I’d encourage you to take a brief time out and read that article. Suffice it to say that, despite all the advantages of MCS, the biggest downside of using MCS to provision pooled desktops was that all of the IOPS hit your SAN storage, which limited the scalability of an MCS-provisioned VDI deployment.

But all of that just changed, with the release of XenDesktop 5 Service Pack 1, which was made available for download a week ago (May 13). With SP1, XenDesktop 5 is now able to take advantage of the “IntelliCache” feature that was introduced as part of XenServer v5.6 Service Pack 2. Using MCS with the combination of XenDesktop 5 SP1 and XenServer SP2…

  • The first time a virtual desktop is booted on a given XenServer, the boot image is cached on that XenServer’s local storage.
  • Subsequent virtual desktops booted on that same XenServer will boot and run from that locally cached image.
  • You can use the XenServer’s local storage for the write cache as well.

The bottom line is that you can move as much as 90% of the IOPS off of the SAN and onto local XenServer storage, removing nearly all of the scalability limitations from an MCS-provisioned environment.

With most of the IOPS for running VMs taking place on local storage, it’s pretty straightforward to figure out how many VMs you can expect to support on a given virtualization host. Dan Feller’s blog post does a great job of walking through the process of calculating the functional IOPS that your local XenServer storage repository should be able to support, and inferring from that number how many light, normal, or power users you should be able to support as a result.

This also means that using XenServer as the hypervisor for your XenDesktop 5 deployment is going to yield a significant performance advantage over any other hypervisor, unless or until the other guys come out with similar local caching features. So, if you’re a VMware shop, my advice is this: Go ahead and virtualize all of the supporting XenDesktop server components on your VSphere infrastructure. Run your XenDesktop 5 VMs on XenServer hosts, and just don’t tell anyone! If you’re asked, just say, “Oh, yeah, these are my XenDesktop host systems – they’re completely separate from our VSphere infrastructure, because we don’t need the (insert favorite VSphere feature) function for these systems.” Your infrastructure will run better, and no one will know but you…

Top Ten VDI Mistakes (According to Dan Feller)

Dan Feller is a Lead Architect with the Citrix Consulting group, and has written extensively about XenDesktop. We found his series on the top ten mistakes people make when implementing desktop virtualization to be quite enlightening. In case you missed it, we thought we’d share his “top ten” list here, with links to the individual posts. We would highly recommend that you take the time to read through the series in its entirety:

#10 – Not calculating user bandwidth requirements
Back in the “good old days” of MetaFrame, when we didn’t particularly care about 3D graphics, multimedia content, etc., we could get by with roughly 20 Kbps of network bandwidth per user session. That’s not going to cut it for a virtualized desktop, for a number of reasons that Dan outlines in his blog post. He provides the following estimates for the average bandwidth required both with and without the presence of a pair of Citrix Branch Repeaters (which have some secret sauce that is specifically designed to accelerate Citrix traffic) between the client device and the virtual desktop session:

Parameter XenDesktop Bandwidth without Branch Repeater XenDesktop Bandwidth with Branch Repeater
Office Productivity Apps 43 Kbps 31 Kbps
Internet 85 Kbps 38 Kbps
Printing 553 – 593 Kbps 155 – 180 Kbps
Flash Video (with HDX redirection) 174 Kbps 128 Kbps
Standard WMV Video (with HDX redirection) 464 Kbps 148 Kbps
HD WMV Video (with HDX redirection) 1812 Kbps 206 Kbps

NOTE: These are estimates – your mileage may vary!

One thing that should come across loud and clear from the table above is what a huge difference the Citrix Branch Repeater can make in your bandwidth utilization. And as we’ve always said: you only buy hardware once – bandwidth costs go on forever!

#9 – Not considering the user profile
It should go without saying that user profiles are important. But if it’s number 9 on the list of things people most often screw up, then apparently it doesn’t. In a nutshell: If you mess up the users’ profiles, the users won’t be happy – logon/logoff performance will suffer, settings (including personalization) will be lost. If the users aren’t happy, they will be extremely vocal about it, and your VDI deployment will fail for lack of user buy-in and support. There are some great tools available for managing user profiles, including the Citrix Profile Manager, and the AppSense Environment Manager. AppSense can even maintain a consistent user experience across platforms – making sure that the user profile is the same regardless of whether the user is logged onto a Windows XP system, a Windows 7 System, or a Windows Server 2008 R2-based XenApp server.

Do yourself a favor and make sure you understand what your users’ profile requirements are, then investigate the available tools and plan accordingly.

#8 – Lack of an application virtualization strategy
How many applications are actually deployed in your organization? Do you even know? Are the versions consistent across all users? Which users use which applications? You have to understand the application landscape before you can decide how you’re going to deploy applications in your new virtualized desktop environment.

You have three basic choices on how to deliver apps:

  1. You can install every application into a single desktop image. That means that whenever an application changes, you have to change your base image, and do regression testing to make sure that the new or changed application didn’t break something else.
  2. You can create multiple desktop images with different application sets in each image, depending on the needs of your different user groups. Now if an application changes, you may have to change and do regression testing on multiple images. It’s worth noting that many organizations have been taking this approach in managing PC desktop images for years…but part of the promise of desktop virtualization is that, if done correctly, you can break out of that cycle. But to do that, you must…
  3. Remove the applications from the desktop image and deliver them some other way: either by running them on a XenApp server, or by streaming the application using either the native XenApp streaming technology or Microsoft’s App-V (or some other streaming technology of your choice).

Ultimately, you may end up with a mixed approach, where some core applications that everyone uses are installed in the desktop image, and the rest are virtualized. But, once again, it’s critical to first understand the application landscape within your organization, and then plan (and test) carefully to determine the best application delivery approach.

#7 – Improper resource allocation
Quoting Dan: “Like me, many users only consume a fraction of their total potential desktop computing power, which makes desktop virtualization extremely attractive. By sharing the resources between all users, the overall amount of required resources is reduced. However, there is a fine line between maximizing the number of users a single server can support and providing the user with a good virtual desktop computing experience.”

This post provides some great guidelines on how to optimize the environment, depending on the underlying hypervisor you’re planning to use.

#6 – Protection from Anti-Virus (as well as protection from viruses)
If you are provisioning desktops from a shared read-only image (e.g., Citrix Provisioning Services), then any virus infection will go away when the virtual PC is rebooted, because changes to the base image – including the virus – are discarded by design. But you still need AV protection, because the virus can use the interval between infection and reboot to propagate itself to other systems. The gotcha here is that the AV software itself can cause serious performance issues if it is not configured properly. Dan provides a great outline in this post for how to approach AV protection in a virtual desktop environment.

#5 – Managing the incoming storm
In most organizations, the majority of users arrive and start logging into their desktops at approximately the same time. What you don’t want is dozens, or hundreds, of virtual desktops trying to start up simultaneously, because it will hammer your virtualization environment. There are some very specific things you need to do to survive the “boot storm,” and Dan outlines them in this post.

#4 – Not optimizing the virtual desktop image
Dan provides several tips on things you should do to optimize your desktop image for the virtual environment. He also has specific sections on his blog that deal with recommended optimizations for Windows 7.

#3 – Not spending your cache wisely
Specifically, we’re talking about configuring the system cache on your Provisioning Server appropriately, depending on the OS and amount of RAM in your Provisioning Server, and the type of storage repository you’re using for your vDisk(s).

#2 – Using VDI defaults
Default settings are great for getting a small Proof of Concept up and running quickly. But as you scale up your VDI environment, there are a number of things you should do. If you ignore them, performance will suffer, which means that users will be upset, which means that your VDI project is more likely to fail.

#1 – Improper storage design
This shouldn’t be a surprise, because we’ve written about this before, and even linked to a Citrix TV video of Dan discussing this very thing as part of developing a reference architecture for an SMB (under 500 desktops) deployment. We’re talking here about how to calculate the “functional IOPS” available from a given storage system, and what that means in relation to the number of IOPS a typical user will need at boot time, logon time, working hours (which will vary depending on the users themselves), and logoff time.

Just to round things out, Dan also tossed in a few “honorable mentions,” like the improper use of NIC teaming or not optimizing the NIC configuration in Provisioning Servers, trying to provision images to hardware with mismatched hardware device drivers (generally not an issue if you’re provisioning into a virtual environment), and failing to have a good business reason for launching a VDI project in the first place.

Again, this post was intended to whet your appetite by giving you enough information that you’ll want to read through Dan’s individual “top ten” posts. We would heartily recommend that you do that – you’ll probably learn a lot. (We certainly did!)