Designing a XenDesktop® Site

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by Craig Thomas Ellrod | April 2014 | Enterprise Articles

In this article by Craig Thomas Ellrod, the author of Getting Started with XenDesktop® 7.x, he starts with defining the pieces or components that make up a XenDesktop Site along with the terminology and concepts involved. We then set out to design a basic XenDesktop architecture, which ends with a network diagram that we will use as a roadmap. In this article, we will cover the following topics:

  • The components of XenDesktop®

  • Terminology and concepts

  • System requirements

  • Designing a basic XenDesktop® Site

  • Common ports used in network communication

(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)

The core components of a XenDesktop® Site

Before we get started with the designing of the XenDesktop Site, we need to understand the core components that go into building it. XenDesktop can support all types of workers—from task workers who run Microsoft Office applications to knowledge users who host business applications, to mobile workshifting users, and to high-end 3D application users. It scales from small businesses that support five to ten users to large enterprises that support thousands of users.

Please follow the steps in the guide in the order in which they are presented; do not skip steps or topics for a successful implementation of XenDesktop.

The following is a simple diagram to illustrate the components that make up the XenDesktop architecture:

If you have the experience of using XenDesktop and XenApp, you will be pleased to learn that XenDesktop and XenApp now share management and delivery components to give you a unified management experience.

Now that you have a visual of how a simple Site will look when it is completed, let's take a look at each individual component so that you can understand their roles.

Terminology and concepts

We will cover some commonly used terminology and concepts used with XenDesktop.

Server side

It is important to understand the terminology and concepts as they apply to the server side of the XenDesktop architecture, so we will cover them.

Hypervisor

A Hypervisor is an operating system that hosts multiple instances of other operating systems. XenDesktop is supported by three Hypervisors—Citrix XenServer, VMware ESX, and Microsoft Hyper-V.

Database

In XenDesktop, we use the Microsoft SQL Server. The database is sometimes referred to as the data store. Almost everything in XenDesktop is database driven, and the SQL database holds all state information in addition to the session and configuration information. The XenDesktop Site is only available if the database is available.

If the database server fails, existing connections to virtual desktops will continue to function until the user either logs off or disconnects from their virtual desktop; new connections cannot be established if the database server is unavailable. There is no caching in XenDesktop 7.x, so Citrix recommends that you implement SQL mirroring and clustering for High Availability.

The IMA data store is no longer used, and everything is now done in the SQL database for both session and configuration information. The data collector is shared evenly across XenDesktop controllers.

Delivery Controller

The Delivery Controller distributes desktops and applications, manages user access, and optimizes connections to applications. Each Site has one or more Delivery Controllers.

Studio

Studio is the management console that enables you to configure and manage your XenDesktop and XenApp deployment, eliminating the need for two separate management consoles to manage the delivery of desktops and applications. Studio provides you with various wizards to guide you through the process of setting up your environment, creating your workloads to host and assign applications and desktops, and assigning applications and desktops to users.

Citrix Studio replaces the Delivery Services Console and the Citrix AppCenter from previous XenDesktop versions.

Director

Director is used to monitor and troubleshoot the XenDesktop deployment.

StoreFront

StoreFront authenticates users to Site(s) hosting the XenApp and XenDesktop resources and manages the stores of desktops and applications that users access.

Virtual machines

A virtual machine (VM) is a software-implemented version of the hardware. For example, Windows Server 2012 R2 is installed as a virtual machine running in XenServer. In fact, every server and desktop will be installed as a VM with the exception of the Hypervisor, which obviously needs to be installed on the server hardware before we can install any VMs.

The Virtual Desktop Agent

The Virtual Desktop Agent (VDA) has to be installed on the VM to which users will connect. It enables the machines to register with controllers and manages the ICA/HDX connection between the machines and the user devices. The VDA is installed on the desktop operating system VM, such as Windows 7 or Windows 8, which is served to the client. The VDA maintains a heartbeat with the Delivery Controller, updates policies, and registers the controllers with the Delivery Controller.

Server OS machines

VMs or physical machines based on the Windows Server operating system are used to deliver applications or host shared desktops to users.

Desktop OS machines

VMs or physical machines based on the Windows desktop operating system are used to deliver personalized desktops to users or applications from desktop operating systems.

Active Directory

Microsoft Active Directory is required for authentication and authorization. Active Directory can also be used for controller discovery by desktops to discover the controllers within a Site. Desktops determine which controllers are available by referring to information that controllers publish in Active Directory.

Active Directory's built-in security infrastructure is used by desktops to verify whether communication between controllers comes from authorized controllers in the appropriate Site. Active Directory's security infrastructure also ensures that the data exchanged between desktops and controllers is confidential.

Installing XenDesktop or SQL Server on the domain controller is not supported; in fact, it is not even possible.

Desktop

A desktop is the instantiation of a complete Windows operating system, typically Windows 7 or Windows 8. In XenDesktop, we install the Windows 7 or Windows 8 desktop in a VM and add the VDA to it so that it can work with XenDesktop and can be delivered to clients. This will be the end user's virtual desktop.

XenApp®

Citrix XenApp is an on-demand application delivery solution that enables any Windows application to be virtualized, centralized, and managed in the data center and instantly delivered as a service. Prior to XenDesktop 7.x, XenApp delivered applications and XenDesktop delivered desktops. Now, with the release of XenDesktop 7.x, XenApp delivers both desktops and applications.

Edgesight®

Citrix Edgesight is a performance and availability management solution for XenDesktop, XenApp, and endpoint systems. Edgesight monitors applications, devices, sessions, license usage, and the network in real time. Edgesight will be phased out as a product.

FlexCast®

Don't let the term FlexCast confuse you. FlexCast is just a marketing term designed to encompass all of the different architectures that XenDesktop can be deployed in. FlexCast allows you to deliver virtual desktops and applications according to the needs of diverse performance, security, and flexibility requirements of every type of user in your organization. FlexCast is a way of describing the different ways to deploy XenDesktop. For example, task workers who use low-end thin clients in remote offices will use a different FlexCast model than a group of HDX 3D high-end graphics users. The following table lists the FlexCast models you may want to consider; these are available at http://flexcast.citrix.com:

FlexCast model

Use case

Citrix products used

Local VM

Local VM desktops extend the benefit of a centralized, single-instance management to mobile workers who need to use their laptops offline. Changes to the OS, apps, and data are synchronized when they connect to the network.

XenClient

Streamed VHD

Streamed VHDs leverage the local processing power of rich clients, which provides a centralized, single-image management of the desktop. It is an easy, low-cost way to get started with desktop virtualization (rarely used).

Receiver

XenApp

Hosted VDI

Hosted VDI desktops offer a personalized Windows desktop experience typically required by office workers, which can be delivered to any device. This combines the central management of the desktop with complete user personalization. The user's desktop runs in a virtual machine. Users get the same high-definition experience that they had with a local PC but with a centralized management. The VDI approach provides the best combination of security and customization. Personalization is stored in the Personal vDisk. VDI desktops can be accessed from any device, such as thin clients, laptops, PCs, and mobile devices (most common).

Receiver

XenDesktop

Personal vDisk

Hosted shared

Hosted shared desktops provide a locked-down, streamlined, and standardized environment with a core set of applications. This is ideal for task workers where personalization is not required. All the users share a single desktop image. These desktops cannot be modified, except by the IT personnel. It is not appropriate for mobile workers or workers who need personalization, but it is appropriate for task workers who use thin clients.

Receiver

XenDesktop

On-demand applications

This allows any Windows application to be centralized and managed in the data center, which is hosted on either multiuser terminal servers or virtual machines, and delivered as a service to physical and virtual desktops.

Receiver

XenApp and XenDesktop App Edition

Storage

All of the XenDesktop components use storage. Storage is managed by the Hypervisor, such as Citrix XenServer. There is a personalization feature to store personal data from virtual desktops called the Personal vDisk (PvD).

The client side

For a complete end-to-end solution, an important part of the architecture that needs to be mentioned is the end user device or client. There isn't much to consider here; however, the client devices can range from a high-powered Windows desktop to low-end thin clients and to mobile devices.

Receiver

Citrix Receiver is a universal software client that provides a secure, high-performance delivery of virtual desktops and applications to any device anywhere. Receiver is platform agnostic. Citrix Receiver is device agnostic, meaning that there is a Receiver for just about every device out there, from Windows to Linux-based thin clients and to mobile devices including iOS and Android. In fact, some thin-client vendors have performed a close integration with the Citrix Ready program to embed the Citrix Receiver code directly into their homegrown operating system for seamless operation with XenDesktop.

Citrix Receiver must be installed on the end user client device in order to receive the desktop and applications from XenDesktop. It must also be installed on the virtual desktop in order to receive applications from the application servers (XenApp or XenDesktop), and this is taken care of for you automatically when you install the VDA on the virtual desktop machine.

System requirements

Each component has its requirements in terms of operating system and licensing. You will need to build these operating systems on VMs before installing each component. For help in creating VMs, look at the relevant Hypervisor documentation. We have used Citrix XenServer as the Hypervisor.

Receiver

Citrix Receiver is a universal software client that provides a secure, high-performance delivery of virtual desktops and applications. Receiver is available for Windows, Mac, mobile devices such as iOS and Android, HTML5, Chromebook, and Java 10.1.

You will need to install the Citrix Receiver twice for a complete end-to-end connection to be made.

Once on the end user's client device—there are many supported devices including iOS and Android—and once on the Windows virtual desktop (for Windows) that you will serve your users. This is done automatically when you install the Virtual Desktop Agent (VDA) on the Windows virtual desktop.

You need this Receiver to access the applications that are running on a separate application server (XenApp or XenDesktop).

StoreFront 2.1

StoreFront replaces the web interface. StoreFront 2.1 can also be used with XenApp and XenDesktop 5.5 and above. The operating systems that are supported are as follows:

  • Windows Server 2012 R2, Standard or Data center

  • Windows Server 2012, Standard or Data center

  • Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, Standard or Enterprise

System requirements are as follows:

  • RAM: 2 GB

  • Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS)

  • Microsoft Internet Information Services Manager

  • .NET Framework 4.0

Firewall ports – external:

As StoreFront is the gateway to the Site, you will need to open specific ports on the firewall to allow connections in, mentioned as follows:

  • Ports: 80 (http) and 443 (https)

Firewall ports – internal:

By default, StoreFront communicates with the internal XenDesktop Delivery Controller servers using the following ports:

  • 80 (for StoreFront servers) and 8080 (for HTML5 clients)

You can specify different ports.

For more information on StoreFront and how to plug it into the architecture, refer to http://support.citrix.com/article/CTX136547.

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Databases

The supported Microsoft SQL Server versions are as follows:

  • SQL Server 2012 SP1, Express, Standard, and Enterprise Edition

  • SQL Server 2008 R2 SP2, Express, Standard, Enterprise, and Data center Edition

The installer deploys this automatically. It can also be found on the XenDesktop installation media in the Support folder.

The following databases are also supported:

  • SQL Server clustered instances

  • SQL Server Mirroring

  • SQL Server 2012, AlwaysOn Availability Groups

Studio

The operating systems that are supported are as follows:

  • Windows 8.1, Pro and Enterprise

  • Windows 8, Pro and Enterprise

  • Windows 7, Pro, Enterprise, and Ultimate

  • Windows Server 2012 R2, Standard, and Data center

  • Windows Server 2012, Standard and Data center

  • Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, Standard, Enterprise, and Data center

System requirements are as follows:

  • Disk space: 75 MB

  • Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 (Windows 2008 R2 only)

  • Microsoft Management Console 3.0

  • Windows PowerShell 2.0 (Windows 7 and Windows 2008 R2) or PowerShell 3.0 (Windows 8.1, Windows 8, Windows 2012 R2, and Windows 2012)

MMC 3.0 and PowerShell are included in the Windows Server.

Delivery Controller

The operating systems that are supported are as follows:

  • Windows Server 2012 R2, Standard or Data center Edition

  • Windows Server 2012, Standard or Data center Edition

  • Windows Server 2008 R2, Standard or Enterprise Edition

System requirements are as follows:

  • Disk space: 100 MB

  • Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 (Windows 2008 R2 only)

  • Microsoft .NET 4.0

  • Windows PowerShell 2.0 (included with Windows 2008 R2) or PowerShell 3.0 (included with Windows 2012 R2)

  • Visual C++ 2005, 2008 SP1, and 2010 Redistributable Package

The installer installs the mentioned software automatically for you. It is also available on the XenDesktop installation media in the Support folder.

Director

The operating systems that are supported are as follows:

  • Windows Server 2012 R2, Standard or Data center

  • Windows Server 2012, Standard or Data center

  • Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, Standard or Data center

System requirements are as follows:

  • Disk space: 50 MB

  • Microsoft .NET Framework 4.0

    The installer deploys this framework automatically for you.

  • Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) 7.0 and ASP.NET 2.0

The supported browsers to view Director are as follows:

  • Internet Explorer 11, 10, and 9 (IE 10 compatibility mode is not supported)

  • Firefox

  • Chrome

The Virtual Delivery Agent (VDA)

The VDA has also been referred to as the Delivery Agent (DA) in this article. It is available for both Windows desktop OSes as well as for Windows Server OSes.

The supported operating systems are as follows:

  • Windows 8.1, Pro or Enterprise

  • Windows 8, Pro or Enterprise

  • Windows 7 SP1, Pro, Enterprise, or Ultimate

  • Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, Data center, Enterprise, or Standard

  • Windows Server 2012 R2, Standard or Data center

  • Windows Server 2012, Standard or Data center

  • Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, Standard, Enterprise, or Data center

The installer automatically deploys the support components such as the Microsoft .NET Framework and the Visual C++ Runtime Library. The Visual C++ components are also available on the XenDesktop installation media in the Support folder.

Multimedia acceleration features for HDX require Microsoft Media Foundation to be installed prior to installing the VDA on the machine.

To use a Windows XP or Vista machine in XenDesktop 7, you will need to install an earlier version of the Citrix VDA, which can be downloaded from the Citrix.com downloads website.

Server host

XenDesktop runs operating systems in VMs. These VMs exist on Hypervisors that run on top of the server hardware.

The supported Hypervisor operating systems are as follows:

  • Citrix XenServer 6.0.2, 6.1, and 6.2

  • VMware vSphere 5.0 update 2 and vSphere 5.1 update 1

  • Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 R2, 2012 SP1, or 2012

To see a list of server hardware that is compatible with XenServer, go to http://hcl.xensource.com. Click on the Servers link and select your XenServer version. I purchased a compatible server on eBay at a cheap price. For creating a production environment and to do anything with HDX 3D, you should purchase a new system with support.

A more exhaustive list of the supported Hypervisors can be found at http://support.citrix.com/article/CTX131239.

Active Directory

The supported operating system is as follows:

  • Windows Server 2003 or higher

Designing a basic XenDesktop® Site

We are just about to get started with installing XenDesktop, but before we do, we need to do some initial assessment of the design. We need to think about what the XenDesktop Site will look like when we are finished, taking into account the number of users we want to service. The resulting design will tell us how much server, hardware, and storage capacity we will need, which FlexCast model to deploy, and which user groups to start with. We will also end up with an architecture diagram of the complete solution which will show how all the components fit together.

Ultimately, you can navigate to the Citrix Project Accelerator that has a handy tool to help you to quickly assess, design, and deploy your XenDesktop Site. It is located at http://project.citrix.com.

The Project Accelerator can be complex and confusing. Don't get caught up in it too much but use it as a general guideline.

Scenario

To help guide you through the process, I have created a fictitious company called Xenpipe.com. For now, there is just one type of user at Xenpipe—normal users who require access to Microsoft Office applications. In future, we can add heavy bandwidth users who require access to design applications (HDX 3D), mobile users who require remote access, and task workers who don't require any personalization, just a locked-down desktop. After plugging this information into the Citrix Project Accelerator, we came up with the following table to help us size our deployment. We chose to implement a Hosted VDI solution because it provides the most common form of virtual computing to any device, such as thin clients, PCs, laptops, or mobile devices.

User group

FlexCast

Users

Servers

Hardware

Storage

Main

HQ

Hosted VDI

10

1 physical

18 virtual

21 cores

72 GB RAM

723 GB HD

400 IOPS

The resulting architecture will look as follows:

Getting Started with XenDesktop® 7.x Deliver desktops and applications to your end users, anywhere, anytime, with XenDesktop® 7.x with this book and ebook
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Common Citrix® communication ports

As you are building your infrastructure, it's important to know what type of protocols will run across your network. Sometimes, system administrators separate devices with network routers, switches, and firewalls that can block the XenDesktop implementation from working. The following is a list of protocols that you should allow through the routers, switches, and firewalls. All the Citrix protocols can be found in CTX Article 101810 at http://support.citrix.com/article/CTX101810.

Citrix product

Protocol

Port(s)

Description

Citrix license server

License Manager Daemon

TCP

27000

Handles license requests

Citrix Vendor Daemon

TCP

7279

Check-in and check-out of licenses

License Management Console

TCP

8082

Browser-based administration console

Common communication ports

Citrix Receiver

TCP

80, 443

Communication with StoreFront or the NetScaler gateway

ICA, HDX

TCP

1494

Desktops and applications flow over this protocol

Session Reliability

TCP

2598

Session Reliability for ICA, HDX

Management Console

TCP

2513

Citrix Management Consoles

XML Server

TCP

80, 8080, 443

Desktop and application requests

STA

TCP

80, 8080, 443

Secure Ticket Authority embedded into XML service requests

Citrix XenDesktop

Citrix XenServer

TCP

80, 443

Communication with XenServer

Microsoft Hyper-V

TCP

8100

SCVMM Administrator Console

VMware vSphere

TCP

443

VMware Web Services communication

Broker

TCP

80, 443

Used for communication with VDA, SDK, and XML service

Active Directory Identity Service

TCP

80

Used for Active Directory communications

Configuration Service

TCP

80

Used by the configuration service

Host Service

TCP

80

Used by the host service

Machine Creation Service

TCP

80

Used by machine creation services

Machine Identity Service

TCP

80

Used by machine identity services

License Configuration Service

TCP

80

Used by the licensing service

Desktop Director

TCP

80, 443

Used by Desktop Director

Virtual Desktop Agent

TCP

80

Communication with the Desktop Delivery Controller

TCP

135, 3389

Communication with the Desktop Delivery Controller for remote assistance

UDP

16500~16509

HDX audio

TCP

80, 5985

Communication with desktop Director

Citrix Desktop Service

TCP

80

Used by the workstation agent to communicate with the Broker

Database

TCP

1433, 1434

Microsoft SQL Server

Citrix XenServer

XenCenter

TCP

22

SSH

TCP

443

Management using XenAPI

TCP

5900

VNC for Linux guests

TCP

3389

RDP for Windows guests

Resource Pool

TCP

22

SSH

TCP

443

Management using XenAPI

Infrastructure

TCP/UDP

123

Network Time Protocol (NTP)

TCP/UDP

53

DNS

TCP

389

Active Directory

TCP/UDP

139

ISO Store: NetBIOS Session Service

TCP/UDP

445

ISO Store: Microsoft-DS

Storage

TCP

3260

iSCSI storage

TCP

2049

NFS storage

TCP

21605

SOAP over HTTP StorageLink

Summary

Now you should have a good grasp of the components, system requirements, and terminology used in Citrix XenDesktop. This article also serves as a good reference to look back on as you move forward. Remember to use the Internet to search for XenDesktop sizing guides and best practices, and don't forget to try out the Citrix Project Accelerator at http://project.citrix.com.

Resources for Article:


Further resources on this subject:


About the Author :


Craig Thomas Ellrod

Craig Thomas Ellrod has more than 25 years of experience in the computer industry and holds a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science from California State University, Chico, and a Master's degree in Business Administration from Pepperdine University. He has held many positions in the computer industry, including software programmer, support engineer, field and corporate systems engineer, technical marketing manager, product marketing manager, and product manager. He has worked for companies such as Celerity Computing, Emulex, Pinnacle Micro, Sync Research, Cisco Systems, Extreme Networks, and smaller startup ventures. Craig currently works for Citrix Systems® as a sales engineer and system architect in the Rockies region of USA. He has authored patent applications and designs and has received an award for innovation while working at Extreme Networks. Craig is a top blogger at Citrix®, has written many deployment guides, and is well-versed with all the Citrix® products. Craig has also written a book, Technical Marketing, Stratequest, and has authored a video series, XenApp® 6.5, Packt Publishing.

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