Getting Started with Xendesktop 4 (Part 1)

by [Published on 16 Sept. 2010 / Last Updated on 16 Sept. 2010]

Taking a look at the available edition of XenDesktop, focusing on the features and what edition best suits your company.

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

Introduction

It was a logical step that Citrix entered the VDI market. Essentially, there are lots of similarities between the VDI and Server Based Computing concepts. Both concepts are using Remote Protocols to connect to systems hosted (normally) in the data center. Logically, there are also differences like the amount of users connected to one system and the user performance expectations. With the release of XenDesktop 4 the product has evolved to a platform that is really suitable for deployments within enterprise infrastructures. At the time I wrote this article, XenDesktop remains the only product that fulfills all requirements specified in the Burton Server Hosted Virtual Desktop evaluation criteria. In this article I will start discussing the several editions available, by summarizing the several installation features and the installation/configuration steps. I won’t discuss or describe VDI in general. I won’t even discuss the advantages/disadvantages and I won’t even talk about the costs. There have already been several good articles about these topics published on VirtualizationAdmin.com. This article will be about getting started with XenDesktop. First I will discuss the available editions, the features in these editions and which edition to choose that would suit your company’s needs. After that, the article series will continue by describing the steps to setup your first XenDesktop environment using the XenDesktop Express edition.

XenDesktop Editions

Citrix XenDesktop is available in several editions, which logically offer different options and functionalities. The needs and wishes in your infrastructure determine which version should be applied when implementing a VDI environment. Let’s take a look at those editions and what they offer.

  • XenDesktop Express - The Express edition is the most basic edition with a limited of functionality. If offers the standard XenDesktop features, but is limited to a maximum of 10 users using XenDesktop sessions. But this edition is a freeware version, so you use this one for no costs. Citrix recommends this version for test purposes and get familiar with the product. With the release Citrix also states that Citrix Xenserver (this is Citrix Hypervisor for server virtualization). This product is actually always a free download from Citrix, but logically Citrix is promoting to use this hypervisor for hosting the XenDesktop environment. 
  • XenDesktop VDI - This is the first paid version of the XenDesktop family. This version has no limitation to the amounts of users using the hosted desktops by the product.  Also several other features are available within this edition:
    • Provisioning Services - Provisioning Service is Citrix implementation of Operating System virtualization, which is also available as a separate product. Provisioning Services makes it possible to use a so called standard image, which can be used/enrolled to server systems at the same time. With a standard disk the system does not need to have an own disk, so to apply this technique to virtualized desktops you need less expensive SAN/NAS storage in comparison when each virtualized desktop has his own virtualized disk with the operating system installed on it. I already wrote about OS virtualization in this article series. Also I wrote an article series showing OS virtualization using Citrix Provisioning Server, which can be found here.
    • Workflow Studio - Workflow studio is also another product by Citrix. Workflow Studio is product that automates installation and configuration tasks for Citrix products like XenApp, XenDesktop, XenServer and Netscaler using Windows PowerShell and Windows Workflow Foundation. The product supplies an easy to use graphical interface for workflow composition without the need to have scripting knowledge.
    • Profile Management - To get the real benefit of VDI infrastructures you would like to share the virtual desktops between users. However in these situations you would like to retain the user settings. Just like Server Based Computing environments a roaming profile solutions is not the best way to go. Therefore products were developed to preserve the user settings using a flex/hybrid profile solution. Citrix is implementing such a solution using Citrix Profile Manager.
    • StorageLink - Citrix StorageLink is an add-on for the Citrix XenServer product supporting third party storage architecture and delivers integration with leading storage platforms. In this way StorageLink arranges that XenServer fully leverages all the resources and functionality of existing storage systems. 
    • EasyCall - Easycall arranges together with softphones that out of an application or website where a telephone number is shown that with a click the phone number can be selected and the number will be parsed to the phone.
    • Access Gateway (limited) - The access gateway solution of Citrix provides the possibility to encapsulate the ICA traffic (the protocol that’s being used by Citrix between the client and the virtualized desktop) into a SSL stream. Besides security reasons, this also arranges that only one communication port is needed between the client and the XenDesktop infrastructure. With the XenDesktop edition the Access Gateway can only be used to connect to a XenDesktop session.
  • XenDesktop Enterprise - XenDesktop Enterprise is the third available edition within the XenDesktop family. XenDesktop offers the same functionality/features of the XenDesktop VDI edition extended with following features.
    • XenApp Enterprise - Besides the XenDestkop functionality the users can also use Citrix “old” flagship XenApp. XenApp is the most used product for implementing Server Based Computing infrastructures. So the users can also connect to a Terminal Server to use applications. Also (and actually even more useful) you can also use Citrix Application Streaming to provide virtualized applications to the virtualized desktop (which is included within the Citrix XenApp Enterprise edition).  It’s good to know that Citrix expects that users outside the office connect to virtualized desktop provided by XenDesktop because this edition of XenDesktop also only offers XenDesktop sessions via the Access Gateway. In other word direct XenApp session using the Access Gateway is not allowed.
    • HDX3 for Professional Graphics - One of the characteristic a remote desktop Server Based Computing (and corresponding protocols) environments was that graphical intensive applications such as AutoCAD. With this XenDesktop Add-on it’s possible to host such applications on remote desktops platform providing the users a good performance over LAN and WAN connections. A requirement of HDX3 Pro is that the host workstation should be run on local hardware like a normal desktop workstation or a blade PC. It’s not possible to use virtualized workstation because the technique uses the hardware acceleration provided by the underlying GPU. A good summary of the technique is described in this article by Alexander Ervik Johnsen (it’s based on XenDesktop3, but this also applies to XenDesktop 4).
  • XenDesktop Platinum - XenDesktop Platinum is the last available edition of XenDesktop. XenDesktop is also offering the same functionality as XenDesktop VDI, but just like Enterprise several addition functionalities are added and some other functionalities are offered in a higher edition.
    • XenApp Platinum - Just like the Enterprise XenDesktop Edition XenApp is added as an component into this suite. The difference is that the platinum edition is added of the XenApp product, where XenApp Enterprise is offered in the XenDesktop Enterprise edition. The differences between XenApp Enterprise and Platinum can be found in this comparison sheet provide by Citrix.
    • Access Gateway (full) - XenDesktop Platinum offers also a full version of the Access Gateway so also XenApp sessions can be offered to the users directory from the Access Gateway Entrance.
    • HDX 3D for Professional Graphics - This version also includes the HDX 3D for Professional Graphics feature. See the XenDesktop Enterprise part for more information about this feature:
    • EdgeSight for Virtual Desktops - Cirix EdgeSight is a product that enables real time monitoring and troubleshooting capabilities to the XenDesktop product.
    • Branch Repeater - The Citrix Branch repeater is a WAN optimization product that increases WAN throughput and improved application performance. This edition offers the licenses for using the branch repeater functionality, but you need to purchase the actual device (hardware or virtualized appliance) separately.
    • Password Manager -  The last additional component enables Single Sign On within the XenDesktop infrastructure. With Citrix Password Manager users only have to log-on to Windows and the other applications with a logon can be automated to fill the users credentials and password.  Password Manager also offers Self Service Password Reset functionality.

    Choosing the Edition

    Logically every version has own purchase costs, where the price rises when more functionalities are added. So logically choosing the version depends on the budget available, but when all version are within the budget it depends on the needs within the infrastructure. You should have at least Citrix Provisioning Server and Citrix Profile Manager, but those are available in all the commercial versions. Because the XenApp feature adds Application Streaming functionality, the Enterprise and Platinum versions can be very interesting. Application Streaming is a pretty critical component for success when the company is using several applications, which have regularly updates. When using graphical intensive application you should definitely need Enterprise or Platinum because these editions include the HDX 3D Pro feature. Personally I think many companies will need Enterprise or the Platinum edition, where the platinum edition will be interesting for companies who wants real time monitor software (and don’t have another product already), have server branch offices with restricted bandwidth or where Single Sign On is a requirement.

    Conclusion

    In this first article I described the several available editions with their specific features and what those features offer. Secondly I mentioned some of the reasons to choose the correct version for your company. This article series will continue with showing the XenDesktop functionalities using the XenDesktop Express edition (because that also offers the actual XenDesktop functionalities) running on XenServer, so stay tuned.

    If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

The Author — Wilco van Bragt

Wilco van Bragt avatar

After working for a couple of consulting firms as a senior technical consultant and technical project leader Wilco started his own freelance company VanBragt.Net Consultancy in April 2008. Wilco is certified n Citrix (CCIA, CCEE/CCEA, CCA), Microsoft (MCITP, MCTS, MSCE, MSCA) and Prince2 (Foundation). Wilco is also a RSVP (RES Software Valued Professional), Citrix CTP (Citrix Technology Professional) and a Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional) on RDS.

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