Citrix Synergy 2011 is just around the corner and you can already feel the energy in the air! Like every year, exciting news and information will be heard and shared by all, interesting discussions will take place and informative articles and blogs will be written, ensuring that Citrix Partners, VARs and customers around the world are brought up to speed on the latest and greatest that Citrix has to offer.

With this in mind, I thought it would be the perfect time to post a blog that would serve as a terrific conversation starter for those attending the big event, as well as anywhere else!

The subject of this blog – “Creating a virtual desktop infrastructure in one day!”

Whoaaa, VDI in one day… really?

I know, I know, how could anyone build a virtual desktop infrastructure in a single day? After all, there are so many vendor implementations and virtual desktop options available, it seems like it would take more than one day just to decide which vendor to go with and which desktop option to implement, no less find the time and resources to actually test them all out.

It’s true. There are a lot of ways to deploy virtual desktops and there’s good reason for this. Giving customers options means they get to choose which work best for them. But all those options can also make virtual desktops seem more complex and more complicated than they really are, sometimes to the point where customers start thinking it might be easier to hold off implementing the technology for a while until they can find more time to do the research, schedule a POC, gather and prepare the software and hardware components necessary to conduct the POC and finally, actually go through the POC in order to determine whether or not virtual desktops would be of benefit to them. Of course, this entire process could take days, weeks, and on some occasions, even months to complete.

Unfortunately, as an administrator, it’s probably a pretty safe bet you’re never going to find the spare time you need to research and test virtual desktops. After all, you’re already strapped for time trying to catch up on what seems like an overwhelming number of tasks as you run around attending meetings and addressing the daily needs of your users, and doing it all often with reduced staff to boot.

So for all those administrators who have been assigned yet another task – to find out if virtual desktops really can be of benefit to their organization (i.e., make desktop management simpler, less time-consuming and perhaps most important of all, less costly), I present the following step-by-step instructions for building a Citrix® XenDesktop® virtual desktop infrastructure in as little as one day.

Before we begin, here are a few things you need to know about XenDesktop 5.0:

Citrix XenDesktop 5.0 and Provisioning Services™ (a core component of XenDesktop) use SQL Server® to store essential configuration and session information. And like most administrators, if you want to ensure these critical resources are always available, you’ll need to set up some form of high-availability (HA) for your SQL databases. Fortunately, you won’t have to spend a lot of time (and money) putting together a complex, costly SQL HA solution. Instead, you’ll use the same flexible, scalable, robust shared storage provided by Sanbolic® Melio USP™ that you’re going to use to enhance the scalability, availability and manageability of your entire XenDesktop VDI implementation, and be done with it.

If you haven’t had an opportunity to try Sanbolic Melio USP, allow me to offer a brief introduction. Melio USP, which is Citrix-Ready™ certified for use with solutions such as XenApp™ and XenDesktop, is an extremely simple-to-use software-based storage platform that allows multiple servers to share concurrent read-and-write access to logical volumes on block-based storage. When used to provide the shared storage for Provisioning Services (PVS™) servers, organizations can enable PVS HA for their desktop OS images (vDisks), simplify vDisk management and maintenance, improve system performance, scale-out their infrastructures quickly and easily, and control or even reduce storage costs through efficient utilization of storage resources. Melio USP works with all industry-standard server and storage hardware, has a long history of enhancing Citrix solutions, and can be found in hundreds of Citrix deployments throughout the world!

Note: Sanbolic offers a free, fully-functional evaluation copy of the Melio software, which can be accessed by clicking on the “Downloads” tab at the top of Sanbolic’s home page http://www.sanbolic.com and registering an account. Once you confirm your email address, your account will be approved and you’ll be able to log into Sanbolic’s clients system at http://clients.sanbolic.com/, select “Software and support” and download the Melio setup program. A quick start guide to creating Melio shared volumes is also available at http://blog.sanbolic.com/?p=2024.

“That sounds great,” you say, “but why not use MCS (Machine Creation Services) to create the VMs to host the virtual desktops?” Again, Citrix gives XenDesktop customers more than one option for creating VMs to host virtual desktops, so in the end, the choice will depend on which option works best for you. However, it is important to note that I am writing this article under the premise that once you’ve completed your POC successfully, you’re going to want to forge ahead and deploy XenDesktop in your production environment, and eventually expand your virtual desktop infrastructure to achieve its benefits on an even grander scale. Based on current XenDesktop product documentation, blogs and recent discussions that have taken place on the Citrix community forums, it appears that at the present time a consensus has been reached that while MCS is great for POCs and smaller VDI deployments, Provisioning Services is great for POCs, smaller deployments, and perhaps most important of all, larger deployments (i.e., over a thousand virtual desktops), making it the ideal choice for facilitating the transition from POC to production to large-scale VDI implementation.

As with previous versions of XenDesktop, Provisioning Services allows you to create a large number of VMs to host virtual desktops quickly and easily (using the new XenDesktop 5.0 PVS Setup Wizard) while simultaneously affording you the ability to scale to thousands and even tens of thousands of virtual desktops without running into performance and/or storage capacity issues. When organizations use Provisioning Services in conjunction with Melio shared storage, they’re able to set up their POCs faster and easier than ever before and then move into production and build out their infrastructures seamlessly using the same flexible storage platform. They also get solid performance, which is maintained as the number of desktops continues to grow, and improved storage utilization that minimizes the amount of storage resources necessary to store desktop OS images. Of course, along with these benefits come all the other advantages I described previously.

Ok, now that we’ve covered the preliminary stuff, let’s go ahead and build ourselves a virtual desktop infrastructure…

The following components must be in place in order to get the VDI ball rolling (completion time: approx. 5-6 hrs.):

• Server components – Your host systems (Microsoft® Hyper-V™, Citrix® XenServer™ or VMware® vSphere™), Provisioning Services 5.6 SP1 servers, SQL Server(s) and XenDesktop Desktop Delivery Controller (DDC) must be joined to a domain and a domain account with administrator rights to each system must exist.

• All server components must be able to communicate with one another via TCP/IP.

• Host systems should be configured in HA mode. (Note: If you are deploying XenDesktop on top of Hyper-V, use Melio shared storage to store all your VMs on a single shared volume. This configuration allows you to leverage the 64-bit symmetrical architecture of the Melio cluster file system to significantly enhance the performance, scalability, availability and manageability of your Hyper-V server virtualization platform (i.e., simplified VM management, support for quick or live VM migration, seamless scale-out, storage QoS and live storage/data migration).)

• SQL Servers should be configured in HA mode (using Melio shared storage to store the PVS and XenDesktop databases and achieve rapid, automated migration of these databases between SQL Servers during a SQL Server failure).

• A Provisioning Services farm must be configured that includes at least two PVS servers operating in HA mode (using Melio shared storage to store all vDisks, simplifying vDisk management and enabling vDisk HA).

Note: Since storage plays such a pivotal role in any virtual desktop infrastructure, many of you will choose to use SAN storage if you have it. But if you don’t, no problem – you can create a low-cost software-based SAN using industry-standard servers, iSCSI Target software and Sanbolic Melio USP in less than an hour! To learn more, click here: http://blog.sanbolic.com/?p=1589

• At least one virtual machine (VM) must be created that has been configured with the desired memory, CPU, network and disk resources and whose disk contains an OS image, virtualization tools, XenDesktop virtual desktop agent, XenApp™ plug-in (for accessing applications published or streamed via XenApp), PVS device software, and any other necessary applications.

• At least one vDisk must be created (by converting the contents of the VM’s local disk to a VHD) and set to Standard Image mode in the PVS Administrator console.

• The VM must be converted to a template.

• At least one Device Collection must be created in the PVS Administrator console.

• Network services must be available to support VM network boot (PXE boot), including DHCP, TFTP, and PXE (optional) services.

• At least one DDC must be configured that uses XenDesktop to create the virtual machines hosting the virtual desktops.

• At least one host system (preferably two or more host systems in HA mode), including network and storage resources, must be added in the XenDesktop Desktop Studio Manager.

• At least one Desktop Catalog must be created in the Desktop Studio Manager using “Streamed” machines as the Machine type and the Device Collection created in the PVS Administrator console.

After completing the above, perform the following steps to create your own virtual desktop infrastructure using Citrix XenDesktop 5.0 (completion time: approx. 30-45 mins.):

1. Download and install the XenDesktop 5.0 (PVS) Setup Wizard patch (available at www.citrix.com) on all PVS Servers.

2. Launch the PVS Administrator console.

3. Right-click on the active “Site” node under “Sites” and select “XenDesktop Setup Wizard.”

4. Follow the instructions in the wizard to create VMs to host virtual desktops.

Enter the name of the DDC, select the host system(s) and VM template(s), PVS Device Collection (previously configured in the PVS Administrator console) and Standard Image vDisk, number of VMs to create, along with their resource configuration (i.e., vCPUs and memory), new or existing domain machine account names, domain and machine account naming scheme, and the Desktop Catalog (previously configured in the Desktop Studio Manager) that will contain the VMs.

5. Once the VMs have been created, create a Desktop Group in Desktop Studio Manager.

Select the Desktop Catalog, the number of VMs to include in the Desktop group, the domain users allowed to access the VMs (hosted desktops), the number of hosted desktops each domain user is allowed to access, the administrator(s) permitted to manage the Desktop group, the Display name and the Desktop Group name.

6. Once the Desktop group has been created, select the “Assignments” node on the left-hand side of the Desktop Studio Manager console.

7. On the right-hand side of the console, select “Edit Desktop Group.”

8. In the “Edit Desktop Group” wizard, select “Power management,” click “Edit” and preset the number of hosted desktops you want available (online) at particular times throughout the day.

9. Click “Save” to save the changes and close the “Edit Desktop Group” wizard.

10. In the main (center) window pane of the Desktop Studio Manager console, select the VM(s) you want to power on and select “Start” on the right-hand side of the console to power on the VMs.

11. Check the virtual machine management console to confirm that the selected VM(s) have powered on.

12. Install the Citrix ICA Client (CitrixOnlinePlug-inWeb.exe or WebInterface.exe) on the machines your users will be using to access the hosted (virtual) desktops.

Congratulations… you’ve just built your own virtual desktop infrastructure (in one day)!

Now it’s time to put all your hard work to the test.

Using a machine that has the ICA Client installed, launch a web browser and enter the URL to the DDC. For example: http://DDC_name/citrix/desktopweb

At the login prompt, enter the domain credentials for a user that has been granted access to the virtual desktops (see step #5).

Once the user account is authenticated against Active Directory and checked against the Desktop Group for desktop access, a connection between the user’s local machine and a VM hosting a virtual desktop will automatically be brokered by the DDC and a separate window will appear displaying the virtual desktop.

Here’s the best part! Once you’ve got your virtual desktop infrastructure up and running and you’ve had some time to familiarize yourself with its benefits (simplified desktop management, reduced risks associated with OS updates and migrations, reduced or eliminated costs associated with hardware refreshes, etc.), you’ll want to start taking advantage of these benefits as soon as possible. And thanks to the unique and extensive capabilities of Melio USP, you’ll be able to move your VDI implementation into production seamlessly using the same flexible, highly-available, low-cost shared storage platform (software-based SAN) you used for your POC. When you’re ready, you can use Melio USP in conjunction with a higher-end storage array to achieve even greater levels of performance, ensuring your users maintain a rich desktop experience as you continue to build out your infrastructure. Oh, by the way, Melio USP offers live storage/data migration so you can move your vDisks from your software-based SAN directly to your hardware-based SAN without any disruption to your users in the process. It doesn’t get much easier than that!

So there you have it… VDI in a day!

If you’d like to learn more about Sanbolic Melio USP, visit us at http://www.sanbolic.com. As you browse through our pages you’ll find plenty of white papers, webinars, videos and blogs that explain how Sanbolic is helping organizations throughout the world realize the greatest return on their investments in Citrix XenDesktop.

See you at the show!

Andy