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Should I upgrade Citrix XenServer 6.2 to XenServer 6.5?

In Short … HELL YES, see this PDF from Citrix with the large list of the improvements in XenServer 6.5

The new console is sleek and quick and a hell of an improvement over the previous with a number of bug fixes (notably for vGPU / VDI settings). It has a couple of new views (similar to the VMware Client), and from rudimentary tests the VMs on 6.5 are performing marginally better than 6.2.

xensrver_6.5_console_view2       xensrver_6.5_console_view1

The in place upgrade tested was flawless and preserved existing VMS on the host, including snapshots and templates. (it does however wipe out the XenServer backup directory so be prepared if you have any backups saved). Overall the entire upgrade process for one host (Dell R720) took around 8 minutes for the upgrade to complete (not including reboot time)

XenServer_6.5_upgrade_prompt

xenserver_6.5_backup-partition-prompt

XenServer6.5_InPlaceUpgrade

Benchmarking for GPU / VDI Passthrough

VM with 4vCPU, 90GB RAM, 150GB Local disk, Client with receiver 4.2 and local resolution of 2 x 1400 x 900, Running XenDesktop 7.6 on a Dell R720 Server. (3 benchmarks were run consecutively to ensure the results were not a one off – Final result was recorded)

  1. Grid K2 GPU in W7 XD VDI Passthrough on 6.2 – Heaven benchmark Score 1631
  2. Grid K2 GPU in W7 XD VDI Passthrough on 6.5 (without tools upgrade) – Heaven benchmark Score 1666
  3. Grid K2 GPU in W7 XD VDI Passthrough on 6.5 (with tools upgrade) – Heaven Benchmark Score 1666 (marginally higher FPS – but every bit helps in the world of VDI right?)

Results

Its worth noting the below results are only really recording the performance of the GPU not the over all VM, its ability to serve applications or open files etc and a load testing solution like Edgesight Load testing or LoginVSI should really be used in a production scenario to determine a more ‘real end user load’. It is nice to see however that even from this rudimentary test the performance is heading in the right direction!

Heaven Benchmark XenServer 6.2 vs 6.5 FPS Min FPS Max FPS
XS 6.2 64.7 19.1 139
XS 6.5 w 6.2 Tools 66.1 19.4 141.6
XS 6.5 w 6.5 Tools 66.2 22.3 142.1

Results Graph

xenserver_6.2-6.5-upgrade_GPU_Performance_Improvement

Note: the VM tools were upgraded with the GPU removed and direct from the Xenserver 6.5 console, I did not remove the VDA or Nvidia drivers first (experience shows that this is a best practice)

 

Brief Comparison of AWS and Azure – IaaS

Introduction

This article was created as a very quick reference between the Amazon’s AWS EC2 and Microsoft’s Azure. There was little in the way of scientific tests carried out, it is purely a list of observations during the testing so these results below are personal opinion / experience only. You should carry out your own scientific testing and ensure that your design and chosen platform meet all the requirements for your business need!

Summary

I find that I typically read these articles like this for the summary only and then read the ‘explanation’ (if I can be bothered!) so with that in mind here is the summary / findings below first, then it is up to you if the rest is worth it!

I personally believe that Azure offers a more simple, friendly (almost familiar) interface to quickly spin up and use cloud based VM’s, however even though the AWS solution seemed more complicated initially, from the initial investigations it has a few more options for flexibility (firewall rules, Private networking etc, VM Images etc.

Regardless of the console used or how the VM’s are deployed it ultimately comes down to VM performance. On both platforms the VMs operated as if they were local and were as quick as each other. In fact most applications opened quicker than locally (I.E Office etc) everything was snappy and ‘near instant’,

Choosing the VM / cloud / IaaS solution is easy so how about integrating it with your existing network? The users data? The users files? The business applications? The users home drive? Personalised settings, favourites? Email etc… This is where the most of the effort, expense and time must be spent so the cloud transition happens automatically and seamlessly for the users and is a winning solution overall.

If I had to personally spend my money and was looking at this for a hybrid cloud solution, server replacement or possibly even DaaS with a very simple setup and easy console I would choose the Azure platform, particularly because of the other offerings around Office 365, One drive, and remoteapps over RDP (Seamless published apps)

Amazon Web Services – AWS EC2

After registration (and providing credit card details and verifying a valid answerable phone number) and logging in you first notice that console is busy and confusing.

As part of the 12 months trial we are offered Windows 2012 R2 server. Plenty of other options to configure like Virtual private networking etc – but I just wanted the quickest VM setup in the shortest amount of time.

Login security of the VM (once provisioned) required a few more steps as you need to create key pairs (pem certificate) then use that pem file to decrypt the password of the VM once its provisioned, however connection to the VM was as simple as downloading an RDP file. There were quite a few other options that would be confusing for ‘non I.T’ savvy users (firewall rules, RDP ports etc)

The instance provisioning and login was quicker than Azure by a couple of minutes. ICMP was allowed with pings out to 4.4.4.4 (google DNS server) at around 6ms from the selected availability zone (AZ). (us-west-2 – only US was selectable during provisioning)

Moving VMs between the availability zones the VM needs to be shutdown and an AMI (Amazon Image) created and then a new VM deployed from another availability zone on that image.

Internet speeds were ridiculously quick but varied greatly depending on the time the tests were run. The trial wasn’t restricted in anyway and on the machine you can literally do whatever you want out of the box. The AWS VM was registered and activated online without any errors or faults.

The configuration of AWS seems more flexible with a myriad of other IT Admin options provided if not initially more complicated and confusing. The VM setup and deployment worked without any error, glitch, or problem and the performance of the VM was snappy responsive and as an end user would come to expect from a local desktop or server.

Microsoft Azure

The console and the configuration of the Windows trial VM, was quite a simple experience.

Login with Microsoft LIVE credentials; provide credit card details, provision instance of VM. The provision to actual login time was slower than that of AWS by around 2 minutes. Connection to the VM was immediate and as simple a downloading an RDP file and providing the original credentials I set during provisioning.

Weirdly during testing of the VM Google ads and the Google site continued to default to Japanese though the server locale was set to US and the Availability Zone was West Europe? Doing a lookup on the external IP address came up as a US based IP address so this was left unexplained.

ICMP out from the VM was blocked so was unable to perform a simple ping latency test. There are quite a few discussions online around this and it seems that it snot yet possible to open it (AWS was more flexible form this point of view)

The Azure management console (manage.windowsazure.com) is far cleaner and simpler to find the right ‘buttons and tools’ than that of the AWS though there are still a number of options and details to get your head around. The entire design of the console feels more like a Windows 8 type page.

Moving VMs between the availability zones doesn’t seem to be as simple as right click ‘move’ however there is a great article here on how to do it.

There is a management portal (portal.azure.com) which seems to be Microsoft’s single pane of glass approach to Azure and it is fantastic, intuitive, simple, and has everything you want to know about your cloud based estate available in a typical Windows 8 ‘tile’ style.

The Windows VM was super quick and snappy, but, rather ironically, during testing Windows reported that it wasn’t activated, nor could it be activated (possibly due to the trial?)

The site is transparent and upfront about its charges and costs the majority of which can be found under the billing section of the portal.

Via my MacBook RDP client there was also integration and configuration for Azure RemoteApps (aka Office 2013 published seamlessly over RDP) though the initial setup of remote app took well over 25 minutes, and launching of the apps was actually slow and rather tedious so more investigation and time required to review this one appropriately.

The Availability Zones at the time of writing are:

Aside from the small annoyances with the configuration of the VM, the console and portal for management of the Azure stack is fantastic and the performance of the VM was snappy, responsive and as an end user would come to expect from a local desktop or server.

Comparison Table

Comparison Table AZURE AWS
Desc Details Details Notes
Setup time for subscription to begin 02:30 01:00  Account Provision time
Timing VM Deployment to login Deploy Deploy Connect icon available after start – but obviously server not yet ready
01:20 VM start 00:52 – Running
03:30 running (provisioning) 02:41 – Password ready
07:00 – Logon to desktop 03:30 Logon to desktop
09:50 – Finished 04:01 Finished
Responsiveness of desktop 9/10 9/10  Both equally as good – rated purely on personal feel
Internet connectivity speed See Below Table for connectivity See Below Table for connectivity  Results varied greatly
Availability zones West Europe  US-West-2
Store / Console ease of use 9/10 7/10 The Azure Console is fantastic, sleek and similar to Windows 8 Look and feel.
The AWS Console looks a little dated, and is confusing with so many options in your face.
Trial Offers 30 Days 12 Months
Ease of connectivity to VM Easy – Direct RDP Easy – Direct RDP
Youtube over RDP! 6/10 6/10 Surprisingly quick on both servers, if not majorly compressed and a bit laggy.

Internet Speed Tests

Internet Speed tests AWS     AZURE  
Ping Down (Mbps) Up (Mbps) Ping Down (Mbps) Up (Mbps)
speedtest.org 1 4.6 35.71 40.07 53.52
speedtest.org 2 9.74 20.83 41.87 56.42
speedtest.org 3 4.18 26.32 38.81 37.25
Ave 6.173333333 27.62 Ave 40.25 49.063333
speedtest.net 1 26 712.62 280.79 151 3.75 1.29
speedtest.net 2 17 701.18 949.91 146 6.61 9.82
speedtest.net 3 18 693.65 950.95 148 194.64 27.16
Ave 702.4833333 727.21667 Ave 68.33333333 12.756667

 

Tested VM Configuations

Tested Configurations  Azure AWS 
OS Windows Datacenter 2012 R2 Windows Datacenter 2012 R2
CPU 2 1
RAM 1.75 1
Disk configs C drive of 110gb C Drive of 30GB Azure temp drive blurb
Advertised Internet connectivity No Limit Low to Moderate
Data persistent YES YES Folder exists and remains across reboots.
Pricing HERE HERE
Other Services / Images / VMs Huge list of preconfigured VMs, Images and templates Huge list of preconfigured VMs, Images and templates
Simple Integration with other Vendor Services YES – easy plug into one drive, Office 2013 Remote app, Office 365
Approx costs PH in $USD $0.09 USD A1 Windows Tier $0.018 USD Windows T2 micro The Windows Pricing seems much simpler and easier, though AWS have far more granulatiry and control*These are the machines that were offered as part of the free trial. They were not selected as an exact like for like.

 

 

 

 

Things discovered whilst implementing a PoC of Citrix HDX 3D Pro

Here is a non exhaustive list of things recently discovered during a PoC of Citrix XenDesktop 7.6 with Nvidia GPU Passthrough from XenServer 6.2 SP1 (i.e Citrix HDX 3D Pro) for the Oil and Gas Industry

The alternative (rather long) heading for this article should probably be “how to deliver 3d graphic intensive Oil and Gas Applications via a Citrix virtual desktop with HDX”

You could say its a general bunch of optimal Citrix Xendesktop 7.6 HDX 3D pro settings or lessons learned

  • It’s awesome and actually works pretty much out of the box!
  • A low network latency is required for uninterrupted performance – ensure you are seeing less than around 30ms from Session to Server (Use the Citrix HDX Monitor 3.x)
  • This can then easily be delivered to iPads, tablets, anything that supports the Citrix receiver which is pretty nifty!
  • Ensure you are using the latest receiver 4.2 on ALL the clients – reconnecting a session to an older client (3.x or 12.x) pretty much renders the live HDX session useless.
  • When installing the NVIDIA drivers in your VM for GPU passthrough you must ensure you have downloaded the driver version for the VM operating system (aka the Nvidia GRID Drivers for Windows 7 if using passthrough) – If you are using vGPU then you must get the NVIDIA GRID Drivers for vGPU XenDesktop
  • Driver version here was important when running applications like Petrel or EDM Landmark that call specific functions from the native GPU, they will open if the driver version is wrong, but certain functions (like seismic Picking will perform poorly, if at all)
  • Racked workstations with only one GPU (Nvidia K5000 etc)  will not be available for passthrough if they are the only video card available in the system. You must have one available for DOM0 / console. Then Xenserver will free up the NVIDIA for passthrough.
  • Of the performance testing we attempted on a host with 2.4GHZ Intel Xeon the performance for smaller resolutions (1440×900) was ok – but on larger resolutions (2560×1600) or for bigger processing – a minimum CPU in the host of 2.8 ghz (3.x better!) *A Faster CPU configuration may not work in some servers with 2 x Grid K2 cards as the power consumption of the cards themselves will be too high. Be sure of the resolutions you are trying to deliver first.
  • Ensure the host system BIOS settings are set for Max Power / Performance mode.
  • XenServer max NIC speed for a VM is 1gb, even with 10GB nic in the host.
  • By default the Citrix policies will only allow for 30fps, you need to apply a policy to increase this to aim for 60fps.
    • Read this article and walk through the settings listed by Jason Southern as they improve the performance of the Citrix session substantially
  • Ensure your VM is getting the correct amount of vCPUS from xenserver, if not you can change the cores per CPU socket via the following commands (workstations are limited to 2 cores per socket)
    • xe vm-list (find the UUID of the vm you want to fix / change)
    • xe vm-param-set platform:cores-per-socket=4 uuid=xxxxxxxxxxxxx (Set the number of available cores per socket assigned to the VM here) Citrix article here
    • Install http://support.citrix.com/article/CTX142095
  • With the right configurations and modest end client resolutions (dual screen 1440 * 900) from a Unigine Heaven Benchmark we were seeing 8min-147max fps, with an average of 65.3fps
  • With large client resolutions (dual screen 2560*1600) from Unigine heaven benchmark we were seeing 11min – 24max fps, with ave of 21.9fps

Drop us a message if you have any questions or leave comments below, we are happy to assist you with your virtualisation solutions!

Big thanks goes out to the teams at NVIDIA (Jason and Sarah) and CITRIX (Mark and John) for their assistance during this PoC – their instant access to knowledge, or – been there done that, meant all niggling issues could be sorted with a simple 30 minute phonecall!

Storefront 2.5 gets mandatory shortcut creation!

With the release of storefront 2.5 we can make published applications mandatory within the Receiver and the storeweb, which is SWEET.

Publish the application and change its description to keyword: mandatory(subsequent keywords can be separate by a space i.e.

“keywords: mandatory featured”

Storefront2.5 with the mandatory keyword

 

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If the mandatory keyword from the published application is removed, the shortcut stays, but a ‘remove’ option appears.

storefront mandatory shortcut removal

 

This also works in conjunction with the older style XenApp / web interface filtering I blogged about here. So I can have our internal PNAgent selectively filtering apps that have a description starting with #, and I can finally force company specific apps under the receiver, receiverweb and in the windows start menu and stop the ‘where have all my applications gone..?’ 🙂

Cheers

Internet Explorer 10 Maintenance in Group Policy Replacement

The Internet Explorer Maintenance options in group policy are no longer enabled or supported in IE 10.

Previously we used this for setting the users homepage, publishing a few company defined favorites and the Proxy server / pac file.

In order to facilitate the same / similar functionality you need to use GPP, but this can only be performed on a Windows 8 or Windows Server 2012 so you get the options for IE 9 and 10

IE10 in GPP

Its worth noting that GPP makes use of f5,f6,f7,f8 keys to enable or disable the entire page of preference etc.

F5 activates all the options you see. (Green)
F6 activates only the current selected setting. (Turning just this option green)
F7 Disables only the chosen setting. (red/white)
F8 Disables all the settings. (red/white)

IE10GPP_GreenvsRed

Publishing Internet Explorer 10 Favorites is as easy as editing the User Configuration > Preferences > Windows Settings > Shortcuts

Action: Replace, Target Type: URL, Location: Explorer Favorites

GPPIE10Favorites

 

Storefront Logon Failure Event ID

Security Log > Audit Failure Event ID 4625

An account failed to log on.

Subject:
Security ID: NETWORK SERVICE
Account Name: SERVER$
Account Domain: DOMAIN
Logon ID: 0x3e4

Logon Type: 8

Account For Which Logon Failed:
Security ID: NULL SID
Account Name: jamesscanlon
Account Domain: DOMAIN

Failure Information:
Failure Reason: Unknown user name or bad password.
Status: 0xc000006d
Sub Status: 0xc000006a

Process Information:
Caller Process ID: 0xa20
Caller Process Name: C:Program FilesCitrixReceiver StoreFrontServicesDefaultDomainServicesCitrix.DeliveryServices.ServiceHosting.WindowsServiceHost.exe

Netscaler SDX not configuring port aggregate channels within VPX instances

SItuation: Channels (LA/x) in the VPX do not exist nor are they passed through when provisioned from the SDX netscaler device.

Resolution: The channels are created only once, so if they are deleted or the devices are restored to another device then you must remove all channels, add a dummy channel like 1.8, reboot the VPX, then reassign the LA/x channels again for the creation of the LA/x channels inside the VPX.