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XenClient 2.0 Tech Preview: What Xen Client 1.0 Shoulda Been

As Citrix Synergy 2011, Citrix showed off and released the Technical Preview of XenClient 2.0. Full of new features, such as increased memory support for VMs, support for Linux (although experimental and limited to Ubuntu 11.04 x86), Citrix has also added a slew of new systems to the HCL, including a few desktop systems, as well as more laptops. I have installed it and am playing with it and can definitely say that it’s an improvement of 1.0. In fact, part of me wishes Citrix would have held off on releasing XenClient until this version. In my review of 1.0, I expressed these concerns already, but it looks like Citrix is moving in the right direction. There are some bugs, but again, this is a Tech Preview, and hopefully Citrix will iron them out prior to full release.

With that being the case, I’m going to hold off on putting out a review until the full 2.0 is released to the public. The new HCL can be found HERE, and the Release Notes can be found HERE. Lastly, you can download XenClient 2.0 Tech Preview HERE.

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Citrix XenClient 1.0 SP1: First Thoughts

February 2, 2011 Leave a comment

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:

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.

Getting Started:

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.

Performance:

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.’

Synchronizer:

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.

Conclusion:

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 😉 )

Citrix Release XenClient 1.0

October 4, 2010 Leave a comment

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.

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