I was lucky enough to receive a new HP EliteBook 8440p laptop last week and quickly realized it was a vPro machine. First thing that popped into my mind was ‘Is this on the HCL for XenClient?’ Sure enough it was, so I proceeded to download, format my laptop, install XenClient, and explore this new technology. I have been running this for almost two weeks now. Here are my thoughts so far.
First, for those not familiar with XenClient, it is a Type 1 Hypervisor from Citrix that runs directly on your laptop. I wont go into too many details as many people have written on it, including myself. Along with most people, my first post discussed how it seemed that this product was rushed when it was released at 1.0. Have things changed with SP1? That’s what I wanted to find out.
Installation was fairly simple. I downloaded the ISO from Citrix’s website, burned and was off. Well, or so I thought. First error I got was about my BIOS not being configured properly with VT. Reboot and into the BIOS I go to correct it. Once that was fixed however, things went off without a hitch. Installation was a simple text-based installer similar to any Linux-based Distro.
For the initial installation, I decided to forgo Synchronizer and just install XenClient and create VMs locally. I started off creating a Windows 7 x64 Professional box to house my work environment. Everything ran smoothly. The only caveat is peripheral devices such as Webcam and Fingerprint Scanner need to be added to the VM post boot. Webcam works fine, however FP scanner is still giving me some issues, but its more on the Windows side, so I need to tinker with the drivers some more. XenClient itself recognizes the FP Scanner.
Next I built another Win7 VM for personal use. Again, no issues. Then I decided I wanted to play outside of the box a bit. Currently, only 4 Guest OSes are supported: Win7 32bit, Win7 64bit, Win Vista SP2 32bit, and WinXP SP3 32bit. I’m sure Citrix is planning on expanding the support OSes, but until then, anything outside of that is unsupported. Well, I figured it couldn’t hurt to see what was capable.
I decided to build a Fedora 14 x64 Desktop Edition VM. Things went rather smoothly, aside from the large orange error triangle over the VM icon due to a lack of tools being installed. System runs fine and finds most of my items. The only thing not functional is the webcam and fingerprint reader, but issues are to be expected with unsupported technology. That said, none of the issues I found were major showstoppers. The VM runs great and I can certainly use it on a day-to-day basis. I hope this is a sign that Linux support is on the way since they are very close as it sits now with XenClient 1.0 SP1.
Day to Day Use:
Since I didn’t have as much time to complete this article in the time I wanted to, due to work and personal obligations, it did give me much longer hands on time with my XenClient laptop prior to publishing this. All and all this is a very viable solution. I did have to upgrade my memory as the standard 2GB just wasn’t enough. After installing 8GB of RAM, this became a lot more viable day-to-day product. I am now able to run 3 VMs at once with no issues. This allows me to run my work image, which consist of a Windows 7 VM, my personal desktop image, the Fedora 14 Desktop, as well as a test VM, usually an XP or Win7 machine, to install new products and lab stuff out as needed.
Swapping between VMs is a simple as pressing Ctrl + the number key corresponding to the proper VM. Pressing Ctrl+0 allows me to go back to the XenClient landing area and select between my VMs, modify them, or edit XenClient settings.
Overall performance of the VMs were excellent. Keep in mind my day-to-day work involves no crazy 3D graphics, or insane amount of CPU intensive applications. Things certainly perform up to my expectations for my day-to-day work. Office 2010 runs great on my Windows 7 VMs. Browsing is fast and responsive, and blogging works with no issues. I don’t notice any stuttering with watching videos online or listening to music.
On my Windows 7 work VM, all of my day-to-day items, such as vSphere Client, Office 2010 Suite, AD and Windows Admin tools, as well as all the other items I run throughout the day perform perfectly. I did notice if I enabled the ‘Experimental Feature’ for 3D Graphics Support, the Windows Experience Index went from a 1.0 to a 4.2. If someone performed a more graphically intensive task, this would certainly need to be a feature that they enable.
Issues and Complaints:
While overall I am impressed with XenClient, there are some issues. As I said in my last article, it seems sketchy that most of the good features that one would expect in this current technological climate with virtualization are all labeled ‘Experimental.’ The limited hardware and guest OS support does create few options and shrink the audience of users for this product. Also, the fact that the maximum amount of memory I can devote to a VM is capped at 3GB, which can be a hinderance for VMs with a heavier workload. Another issues I noticed was whenever a secondary VM shutdowns, the primary VM you are using flickers in an out for about 5-10 seconds. Things return to normal, but it is a bit of an annoyance, and caused some panic the first few times it happened. All and all minor issues, but things could certainly be more polished and less ‘experimental.’
After running XenClient for a week, I decided to install Synchronizer and give it a shot. The idea behind Synchronizer is a good one, but I think the execution is a bit off. It’s nice to be able to sync your VMs with a central store, but it seems more like a backup option than anything. Maybe its uses will continue to grow, and more features will be added. I also find it inconvenient that you must build a VM inside XenClient and then sync it up to the Synchronizer, and there is no way around that. It seems like I should be able to P2V a box and dump it right to Synchronizer. Maybe Citrix will add this feature, and hopefully add it soon.
All and all I think XenClient is a great product. It is what Citrix hyped it up to be? No. I think they rushed a product out just to have the bragging rights of being the first major Type I hypervisor on the market. In its current state, I see this as more of a tool that IT professionals, or tech savvy users will fully embrace and use. It certainly isn’t ready for primetime as a Virtual Desktop solution and is definitely more of a niche product in this stage. I hope Citrix continues to grow this product and increase its capabilities, such as more OS support, greater hardware adoption, and increased features, as well as expand the scope of the target audience. Synchronizer could use a bit more thought, work and polish as well. I think this product and technology has a lot of potential, and I do think its something I will continue to use and hopefully continue to upgrade often (hint hint Citrix 😉 )
The target audience of my blog is enterprise virtual admins running deployments of vSphere, XenApp, XenDesktop, View, and other enterprise class virtualization solutions. And while these are each companies flagship products, we often overlook other products that can be used as solutions to scenarios that arise.
My company is going through a merger, and part of that merger is a systems conversion. However, since we are a larger bank, the usual approach of performing conversion of everything on one night cannot be taken. Attempts were made to try to run our applications on their environment, but a few major issues were found and progress was very slow at resolving them. Naturally, with target deadlines approaching fast, other solutions were looked at. My team suggested we look at using some sort of virtualization solution, such as VMware Player or Workstation. We were greenlit to start looking into a solution and gather design ideas, specs, and cost.
After some digging and dealing with volume licensing issues, support from VMware, and centralized management, we stumbled upon VMware ACE. For those who aren’t familiar with ACE, VMware describes it best as:
Deploy and manage secure, portable client PC environments across the enterprise and beyond. With VMware ACE, your organization can combine the power and versatility of virtual machines with the security and control of centrally managed PCs, making it easier to:
Manage virtual desktops from a single point of control, even in remote and branch offices.
Increase security and flexibility for secure mobile computing.
Safely extend corporate resources to 3rd party unmanaged desktops.
Basically its a virtual desktop environment using a secure Type II Hypervisor. ACE allows you to create a VM inside of Workstation, and then package it into an ACE package installer, complete with security and lifecycle policies as well as its own copy of ACE Player to run the VM on the target host. Throw in an ACE Management Server, and you now have a centralized place to manage all of your ACE packages, update and centrally push new policies to packages already deployed, activate or deactivate packages in the field, as well as track which VM is running on what physical host.
ACE includes a host of features including support for Windows 7, 128bit AES Encryption of the VM files, SmartCard Support, Kiosk and Unity modes, all while provide an easy solution to deploy a standardized VM image to multiple PCs. It can be managed centrally, without the need for a large infrastructure investment that more complicated virtual desktop solutions require.
In our case, we were under a time crunch, so while a more in-depth virtual desktop solution would have worked wonders, and cut back on some post deployment management task such as patching, AV deployments, troubleshooting and adherence to a gold image standard for all PCs regardless of user interaction, ACE certainly solved the major hurdles the project team was finding. ACE allowed us to create one image, secure it and deploy it across 2000 machines, all while being able to perform a large degree of centralized management. And if all goes well, it appears we may have created a standard deployment solution for future acquisitions going forward.
I certainly think products like this have a valid existence in enterprise environments given the proper circumstances, yet they are overlooked because they may not be considered an enterprise class solution. In our case we needed a quickly deployable solution, with little financial investment, that contained a central management solution, and could be removed quickly post conversion. ACE fit all those needs, and is a great product that I would recommend highly if it fits your requirements. Remember, just because you are an enterprise level IT shop, doesn’t mean you only can deploy enterprise class productions for all requirements that arise. Its always good to think outside the box and explore all options.
Desktop Virtualization. It’s the hot topic these days. But is it all just hype, or will it revolutionize the workplace? There are many forms of Desktop Virtualization, ranging from Client Hosted Virtual Desktops (CHVD) to Server Hosted Virtual Desktops (SHVD) and even those two categories can be broken down into multiple subcategories, including Type I and II hypervisors, blade PCs, Hosted VDI and Shared VDI. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock in the middle of the Sahara, you’ve heard something about Desktop Virtualization.
And while it seems that every vendor under the sun is scrambling to get a product related to Desktop Virtualization out to market, is this really a technology that’s gonna stick or is it just the next fad destined to fade away when the next thing comes along? Honestly, how many people reading this have deployed some form of this technology on a large-scale rollout? And the more important question, which was recently posed by Brain Madden, ‘If Virtual Desktop is so great, then why aren’t YOU using it?’
I certainly think that this is a viable technology, but it’s not going to be as big as the hype is making it out to be. In my case, the push for this technology came on a whim from upper management in what seemed like an attempt to stay up on current technology and prove we could be on the cutting edge. The problem was, as we got into the project and performing use case, this technology wasn’t a viable option for mass deployment. Sure, we could have deployed it locally at our back office, or at a few locations, but there was no way this was going to be a mass roll out across all the branches and front offices due to current limitations.
And that’s where I draw my opinion from, because those conclusions we drew from our pilot are the same conclusions that a lot of my colleagues at other companies were realizing. I think Desktop Virtualization is a niche technology that has a viable place in part of the over all desktop solution, but it certainly wont be the death of the traditional desktop machine anytime soon. And to end, here’s a strong quote by Brian, who shares the same view:
The collected masses aren’t stupid. If VDI were so cheap, convenient, manageable, flexible, and wonderful then everyone would be using it. Don’t kid yourself: VDI is a niche. 10% max* at best. Mark my words.
*VDI will be 10% max. That might be 10% of all users, or 100% of users for 10% of their apps.
Citrix has released their Type-1 Hypervisor and boy is it a mess. To start things off, a Type-1 Hypervisor is a system that runs on the first layer of a machine, versus a Type-2 that runs on top of an existing OS, such as VMware Workstation or Player.
Back to the product. This thing has more bugs than the rain forest. The release notes show 59 known issues. Why in the world would Citrix release a product outside of the beta stage with 59 known issues? That I’m not sure of, but I’d suspect its a classic case of Marketing dictating product release, not the product dictating it. The release notes listing the Known Issues can be found HERE.
Second, this version requires Intel vPro equipped laptops, dwindling number of compatible systems down to 23. It also only supports VMs running Windows XP, and Vista in 32bit, and Windows 7 is both 32 and 64bit. The list of systems can be found HERE.
Another setback is the fact that major components are experimental features that seem vital to make XenClient successful. The list includes Dynamic VM Image Mode, or the ability to use a gold image shared between multiple users. 3D Graphics Support is also experimental, which HDX is a huge bonus to XenDesktop, so why would it get left out here. Secure Application Sharing, or the ability to stay in 1 VM focus and run apps out of other VMs without having to flip between them. This was an exciting feature for me, and I thought it would be a huge selling point. You can view the list of experimental features and the details about them HERE.
XenClient is available in two flavors. The first is their free version that supports clients called XenClient Express. The full version will be packaged with XenDesktop for free.
Needless to say, I think this is a big step in the wrong direction for Type-1 Hypervisors. It just seems like Citrix was racing to get their product out there and weren’t focusing on making it the best product it could be. I will be looking to avoid deploying this technology from Citrix until a lot of these issues get addressed. I am still exciting about XenClient and where it can go in the future. I just don’t think it’s quite ready for prime time yet. And hopefully, these issues wont give the technology a bad rep.