Getting Started with XenDesktop 7.x

3.5 (2 reviews total)
By Craig Thomas Ellrod
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  1. Designing a XenDesktop Site

About this book

Citrix is an established name in today's Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) era by virtue of their desktop and application virtualization platforms, with the capability to assign applications and contents in a secure manner.

Getting Started with XenDesktop 7.x provides the best way to learn how to build your own virtual desktop and application Site. You may not have a lot of time to read the Citrix documentation, or attend a class, so this step-by-step guide is distilled into fast, concise chapters to quickly lead you through all of the important information to get your XenDesktop 7.x deployment done.

Publication date:
April 2014


Chapter 1. Designing a XenDesktop® Site

In this chapter, we start 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 for the remainder of the book. In this chapter, 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


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

In this section, 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 that in this section.


As mentioned in the Preface of this book, 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.


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 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 is used to monitor and troubleshoot the XenDesktop deployment.


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 in this book's examples 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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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.


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).



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).



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.



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.


XenApp and XenDesktop App Edition


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.


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. The 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.

The 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; in this book, we have used Citrix XenServer as the Hypervisor.


The Citrix Receiver is a universal software client that provides a secure, high-performance delivery of virtual desktops and applications. The 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


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


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.


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 book. 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 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 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

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

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


To help guide you through the process, I have created a fictitious company called 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








Hosted VDI


1 physical

18 virtual

21 cores


723 GB HD

400 IOPS

The resulting architecture will look as follows:


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

Citrix product




Citrix license server

License Manager Daemon



Handles license requests

Citrix Vendor Daemon



Check-in and check-out of licenses

License Management Console



Browser-based administration console

Common communication ports

Citrix Receiver


80, 443

Communication with StoreFront or the NetScaler gateway




Desktops and applications flow over this protocol

Session Reliability



Session Reliability for ICA, HDX

Management Console



Citrix Management Consoles

XML Server


80, 8080, 443

Desktop and application requests



80, 8080, 443

Secure Ticket Authority embedded into XML service requests

Citrix XenDesktop

Citrix XenServer


80, 443

Communication with XenServer

Microsoft Hyper-V



SCVMM Administrator Console

VMware vSphere



VMware Web Services communication



80, 443

Used for communication with VDA, SDK, and XML service

Active Directory Identity Service



Used for Active Directory communications

Configuration Service



Used by the configuration service

Host Service



Used by the host service

Machine Creation Service



Used by machine creation services

Machine Identity Service



Used by machine identity services

License Configuration Service



Used by the licensing service

Desktop Director


80, 443

Used by Desktop Director

Virtual Desktop Agent



Communication with the Desktop Delivery Controller


135, 3389

Communication with the Desktop Delivery Controller for remote assistance



HDX audio


80, 5985

Communication with Desktop Director

Citrix Desktop Service



Used by the workstation agent to communicate with the Broker



1433, 1434

Microsoft SQL Server

Citrix XenServer







Management using XenAPI



VNC for Linux guests



RDP for Windows guests

Resource Pool






Management using XenAPI




Network Time Protocol






Active Directory



ISO Store: NetBIOS Session Service



ISO Store: Microsoft-DS




iSCSI storage



NFS storage



SOAP over HTTP StorageLink



Now you should have a good grasp of the components, system requirements, and terminology used in Citrix XenDesktop. This chapter 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

Now that you have an understanding of what the XenDesktop Site will look like from the network diagram, components, terminology, and concepts, we will install XenDesktop. The next chapter discusses how to plan and execute the installation.

About the Author

  • Craig Thomas Ellrod

    Craig has more than thirty years' experience in the computer industry and holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from California State University, Chico, and a Masters in Business Administration from Pepperdine University. He has held many positions in the computer industry including software programmer; support engineer; field and corporate system 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; Citrix Systems; Extreme Networks; Akamai Technologies; and smaller startup ventures. Craig currently works for Akamai as a Solutions Engineer and System Architect in the Rockies region of the USA. He has authored patent applications and patent designs and received an innovation award while at Extreme Networks. Craig is passionate about Technical Marketing and has written many deployment guides, books, and video tutorials. Throughout his career, Craig has developed an in-depth, hands-on knowledge of virtualization, especially with regard to hypervisors such as Hyper-V, VMware ESXi, XenServer, Linux KVM, and others. Craig has written books on Technical Marketing, Getting Started with XenDesktop 7.x, and XenDesktop High Performance; he has also authored a XenApp 6.5 video series.

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