Why Citrix + AHV provisioning path and management is superior to VMware Horizon

In this post, I’ll contrast and compare the different management and provisioning path architectures between Citrix on Nutanix AHV using Machine Creation Services (MCS) and two leading VMware Horizon options. While there is always numerous options within deployments the examples here will be based on the best and leading alternatives. I’ve prepared a 5,000 and 25,000 user examples to illustrate how a common sized environment would look versus one at a larger scale. This will display the difference in how things scale and whether complexity increases or remains low.

The reason to look at this is to help understand how failures, patching, upgrades and human error might affect the resiliency of the provisioning path and management interface. If the control plane is down for the underlying hypervisor the VDI broker layer will not be able to provision or manage the desktop VMs. This can have serious implications for users as they may be unable to access resources if they are disconnected or logoff and when they return there are not enough available desktops due to a control plane issue.

On the operations side, this is an important discussion also, because organizations demand simplicity in architectures. They do not want solutions that are complex to set up and maintain. So I will also look at how many management interfaces the alternatives impose on admins and point any areas of concern.

 

Citrix + AHV 5,000 User Example

In the first example, we are looking at 5,000 XenDesktop users deployed on Nutanix AHV hypervisor. XenDesktop communicates directly to the AHV cluster via the Prism cluster IP address and utilized API calls to perform actions. Prism is the distributed management interface and runs as a service in the Nutanix controller VM (CVM) on each node. This means that Prism is always available during upgrades and should a node, CVM or a service fail one of the other nodes will accept incoming connections to Prism and API calls.

In the sample diagram below I’m showing XenDesktop connecting to a single AHV cluster running all 5,000 desktop VMs. This is to showcase the power and flexibility that AHV and Prism provide. AHV does not have a maximum cluster size limit like legacy hypervisors impose. With Prism running on every node in the cluster the management and provisioning operations for VMs and the cluster scale out linearly with the cluster. This means that there is no difference in the performance of provisioning or management operations whether a cluster is 3 nodes or 80 nodes. This allows architects to design for large clusters when applicable without any concerns over imposed cluster size limitations.

Should there be valid reasons the 5,000 desktops could be split into more than one cluster. Reasons for doing so might be workloads that don’t mix well or adversely affect desktop density or the desire to divide into distinct failure domains.

Pros:

  • No Single Point of Failure (SPOF) for provisioning or management
  • Node or VM counts do not limit cluster sizes
  • Linear performance of control plane
  • Highly available control plane and provisioning path
  • Simple architecture that easy to deploy, manage and operate

Cons:

  • VMware Horizon does not support AHV

VDI provisioning path.001

 

VMware Horizon 5,000 user example

In this first VMware Horizon example, we are looking at the classic way of deploying vCenter server. This scenario does not matter if you deploy Windows or vCenter appliance variations. In this classic method vCenter is a single point of failure (SPOF). This means that the environment can be severely impacted during upgrades and failures that take vCenter offline for more than a few minutes.

Another significant constraint to call out is that VMware does not recommend building blocks of infrastructure that host more than 2000 desktops. This means that each block will consist of a vCenter server and one or more vSphere clusters. In our 5,000 user example, this architecture forces us to have 3 vCenters and the number of clusters below them is open to how the architect wants to design based on requirements. By limiting the scale of each vCenter, VMware is keeping the performance and responsiveness within acceptable limits. But this approach, when scaled becomes inefficient because you are using additional resources and the number of items to manage and update continues to scale as you add users.

Pros:

  • Fairly simple to deploy and is well understood after long VMware history
  • Widely supported by applications

Cons:

  • vCenter is Single Point of Failure (SPOF)
  • vCenter is limiting factor of 2,000 desktops per vCenter
  • VMware composer SPOF for linked clone provisioning

VDI provisioning path.003

 

VMware Horizon 5,000 user example w/vCenter HA

 

This example is just an alternative to the previous one in that I’ve inserted the new vCenter High Availability (HA) option that was released in vSphere 6.5 recently. The vCenter Server Appliance (vCSA) must be utilized if you want to use this HA option. The sizing and architectures are the same. The primary difference is the availability of vCenter in this alternative. To deploy the vCenter HA config you are required to deploy 3 vCSA VMs for each vCenter that you want to be highly available. There will be an active, passive and witness VM in each deployment. Multiply this out with the three blocks required to deliver 5,000 users and we now have nine vCenter appliances to deploy, manage and upgrade.
This adds a lot of complexity to the architecture for the benefit of increasing the resiliency of the provisioning path and management plane.
Pros:
  • HA option provides resiliency for vCenter features
Cons:
  • Complex to deploy, manage & understand
  • vCenter HA option uses lots of resources with 3x virtual appliances each
  • Unclear how vendor plugs may work in this architecture
  • vCenter is still limiting factor for 2,000 desktop VM limit per vCenter
  • As design scales complexity increases by having so many management points

VDI provisioning path.004

 

Citrix + AHV 25,000 User Example

In this and the following examples, I have now scaled the number of users to 25,000 to see what effects this has on the different architectures and management experience. For the Citrix and AHV architecture, nothing changes here other than the number of users. Citrix can accommodate the large number of users within a single deployment. On the AHV cluster side of things, I have elected to evenly divide the users between four different clusters. I could have chosen a single cluster but that felt extreme, architects can also choose more clusters if that meshes with their requirements. Within Citrix Studio, each AHV cluster will be configured as an endpoint that can be provisioned against.

The point is that in the architecture organizations can accommodate large numbers of users with a small number of clusters of which all benefit from highly available provisioning and management controls. Each AHV cluster can be managed via the Prism interface built into the cluster or a Prism Central can be deployed to allow for global management and report. An important thing to note is that Prism Central is not in the provisioning path so does not have any effect on our architecture explained earlier.

Pros:

  • No cluster size limits provides flexibility to account for budget savings and ability to meet requirements.
  • Highly available architecture at all levels with simplicity baked in.
  • Small number of clusters reduces node counts by saving on the number of HA nodes for additional clusters.
  • Global management functions without affecting provisioning redundancy via Prism Central.
  • Single Citrix deployment and management point for all users.

Cons:

  • VMware Horizon cannot benefit from AHV

VDI provisioning path.002

 

VMware Horizon 25,000 User Example

Now taking a look at the expanded user environment with VMware Horizon architecture you can see that I’m showing the vCenter HA alternative. I think that if you have the option for a highly available control plane most will select that option so I’m not showing the classic single vCenter option.

The architecture is the same but you will notice a few things now that the user count has been scaled up to 25,000. We can no longer deliver that many users from a single Horizon installation (Pod). The maximum users within a pod are 10,000 so we now require three Horizon installs to meet our user counts. To be honest having three Horizon pods does affect the broker management experience but in this scenario has really no bearing on the cluster count or design.

Following the 2,000 users per vCenter rule we will need 13 vCenters to meet our 25,000 user requirement. To keep things clean the diagram shows just a single cluster attached to each vCenter but the 2,000 users could be split between a few clusters under each vCenter if that made sense.

You can see from the diagram that deploying 13 vCenters in HA configuration requires 39 vCenter appliances to be deployed and configured. Yes that’s right, Thirty-nine!! Just think about the complexity this adds to troubleshooting and upgrades. Each one of those appliances must be upgraded individually and within a short window to not break functionality or support. Upgrades now may force you to upgrade Horizon, Horizon agents, clients, vCenter and vSphere all within a single weekend. That’s a lot of work, best you could do is do one of the pods per weekend and now you’re exposing your staff to three weeks of overtime and loss of their weekends.

Pros:

  • HA option provides resiliency for vCenter features

Cons:

  • Crazy Complex to deploy, manage & understand at this scale
  • vCenter HA option uses lots of resources with 39 virtual appliances being deployed
  • Unclear how vendor plugs may work in this architecture
  • vCenter is still limiting factor for 2,000 desktop VM limit per vCenter
  • Three vCenter linked mode view to see entire infrastructure view
  • Three different Horizon management consoles to configure and control users
  • Composer is an SPOF for linked clone provisioning per Horizon Pod

VDI provisioning path.005

 

VMware Horizon 25,000 users on VxRail

In this last example, we are going to adjust the previous example and look at what would change if it was deployed on VxRail appliances that utilize VSAN for storage. The Horizon and vCenter / vSphere architecture would be the same the only thing to highlight is what is added by VxRail.

Each of the clusters that provide resources for each 2,000 user block would be a VxRail cluster. These clusters have a VxRail virtual appliance VM that runs on it and is used for appliance management and upgrades. Given this scale, we now see that each of the 13 clusters will have its own dedicated VxRail manager and does not offer a global management function that Prism Central offers. VxRail manager is not in the provisioning path, but does add to the complexity of managing this type of deployment and should be considered before selecting.

Pros:

  • Same as previous example

Cons:

  • Same as previous example
  • 13 Different VxRail managers adds needed complexity
  • VxRail is an SPOF as a single VM running on each cluster for management operations
  • VxRail includes additional software that potential exacerbates this further. (Log Insight, ESRS, etc.)

VDI provisioning path.006

 

Conclusion

Just to wrap up my thoughts and examples here is that whether you’re designing a small or large scale VDI environment it’s important to understand how the management and provisioning structures will function. These are important to how highly available the solution is and what level of effort will be required to support it from day 2 and on. The resiliency and simplicity that Citrix offers when connect to Nutanix AHV cannot be rivaled by any other alternatives today.

 

About Brian Suhr

Brian is a VCDX5-DCV and a Sr. Tech Marketing Engineer at Nutanix and owner of this website. He is active in the VMware community and helps lead the Chicago VMUG group. Specializing in VDI and Cloud project designs. Awarded VMware vExpert status 6 years for 2016 - 2011. VCP3, VCP5, VCP5-Iaas, VCP-Cloud, VCAP-DTD, VCAP5-DCD, VCAP5-DCA, VCA-DT, VCP5-DT, Cisco UCS Design

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VMware Horizon 6.1 brings new features and a peak at the future

Today brings another update to VMware Horizon, version 6.1 is being announced. With this update comes several new features and a peek at a few others expected in a future release. The NVIDIA GPU support is the worst kept secret, since it was announced that vSphere 6 would have vGPU support. It was only going to be a matter of time until Horizon was updated to take advantage of the new vGPU feature.

Note: Some of the tech preview items will only be available via the public VMware demo site or via private requests. Not all tech preview items will be included in the GA code like many have been in the past.

The summer of 2014 saw the release of Horizon 6.0 and the ability to present RDS based applications. It was missing a number of features and VMware quickly closed the printing gap in 6.01. Today in 6.1 we are seeing several new features which I will cover in more detail. A few other features will enter tech preview mode and are likely to be released in an upcoming version.

new features

 

 USB Redirection

In 6.1 the ability to redirect USB storage devices for Horizon applications and hosted desktops will now be available. This helps close another gap that existed. It will only be available in 2012/2012R2 OS versions.

usb redirect

 

Client Drive redirection

This is something that has been available in Citrix XenApp since the stone ages. It will only be available in tech preview for now, but I’m sure we will see this some time this year. Initial support for Windows only clients with other OS’s coming later.

client drive

Horizon Client for Chromebooks

The current option in you want to use a Chromebook as your endpoint is to access Horizon via the HTML 5 web browser. This limited you to only connect to a desktop, because Horizon apps were not supported over HTML5. Without a proper client pass-thru items such as USB devices were not possible either.

The Horizon client for Chromebooks will be based on the Android version that has been around already. There has been growing demands for this client. This will be available as a tech preview sometime in Q1/Q2 of 2015.

Cloud Pod updates

The cloud pod architecture was released last year to provide an architecture for building a multi-site Horizon install. The initial version was not that attractive in my eyes. The updated version in 6.1 brings the configuration and management parts of cloud pod into the horizon manager. The previous version had to be done via command line and global entitlements were not shown in the Horizon manager.

Other Items

We are also see a number of other check the box type items that are expected due to vSphere 6 updates.

  • VVOL support Horizon 6 desktops
  • VSAN 6 support
  • Large cluster size support for VSAN6 and higher densities
  • Support for Windows 2012R2 as a desktop OS
  • Linux VDI will be a private tech preview option

 

 

 

 

About Brian Suhr

Brian is a VCDX5-DCV and a Sr. Tech Marketing Engineer at Nutanix and owner of this website. He is active in the VMware community and helps lead the Chicago VMUG group. Specializing in VDI and Cloud project designs. Awarded VMware vExpert status 6 years for 2016 - 2011. VCP3, VCP5, VCP5-Iaas, VCP-Cloud, VCAP-DTD, VCAP5-DCD, VCAP5-DCA, VCA-DT, VCP5-DT, Cisco UCS Design

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VMware Horizon 6 install – Part 4 configuring an RDS pool

I was a bit delayed in getting this fourth post in my Horizon 6 series completed, life and work got in the way. I’m back from vacation and ready to get moving again. In this post I will be covering how to take a prepared RDS host and get them prepared and added into the Horizon manager.

I’m not going to cover the steps to install RDS services onto my test server, there are probably enough good posts out on the web for this. If there is enough demand for it I might add that to the series later.

 

Other posts in this Horizon series.

VMware Horizon 6 install – Part 1 connection servers

VMware Horizon 6 install – Part 2 security servers

VMware Horizon 6 install – Part 3 SSL certificates

VMware Horizon 6 install – Part 5 setting up RDS desktops

VMware Horizon 6 install – Part 6 setting up RDS applications

 

RDS Confirmation

Before we get started I wanted to show a quick check to make sure RDS is installed on the Windows Server we will be working on. I’m looking at the Roles installed on the server to make sure it has the necessary RDS roles.

1-check-rds-status

 

 

Installing Horizon Agent

To get things started we need to find the View agent installer file. We will need the 64bit version to install on the server.

2-install-agent

 

The installer kicks off with the typical first step, click next and get the process moving.

3-agentinstall1

 

In this step you just need to accept the licensing agreement.

4-agentinstall2

 

In this step you are allowed to choose the options that should be installed with the base agent. Currently there is just the vCOPs metrics that are installed by default.

5-agentinstall3

 

This step we will be linking the View Agent to our Horizon install. In the server field you will provide the IP or hostname to one of the Horizon connection servers. Also you must provide credentials for connecting to Horizon Manager. In this example I am using the ID that I’m logged in with, or you can provide a different set of credentials.

6-agentinstal4

 

The last step before it installs shows the path for the install.

7-agentinstall

 

Once the install is completed the server will need to be restarted. The install of the agent is nothing exciting as you know now, but a necessary step to enable RDS functionality for Horizon.

8-agentinstall

 

 

Add RDS server to Horizon Administrator

Now that we have the Horizon Agent loaded on our RDS server we will now move to the Horizon Administrator. Login and click on the Farms selection under the Resources heading in the tree on the left. Then in the right side of the panel you will should see no existing Farms, in my case I’ve already setup a few so the example below shows them. Click on the Add button to get the process started.

9-horizonadd

 

A window will open up that will step you through the wizard for adding an RDS farm. In this example my farm is just a single RDS server. You will need to fill in the ID for the farm to be used within Horizon, a description is optional but I encourage a detailed description so that others understand its purpose. The farm settings section offers a limited number of settings that can control the access and some behaviors of how the farm would be used.

10-horizonadd

 

The next step within the wizard shows any RDS servers that Horizon is aware of. In our case only the server that was just prepared is showing here. So we will select it and move to the next step.

11-horizonadd

 

The last step of the wizard is a confirmation screen that you can review your choices before creating the farm.

12-horizonadd

 

Now that we have completed adding the server to Horizon the list of RDS Farms now shows our new configuration. From this point we can use are new farm to publish applications or shared desktops.

13-horizonadd

 

This process is pretty straight forward and currently there is little that you can modify. In other posts in this series I have covered how to use your farm to present applications and hosted shared desktops.

 

About Brian Suhr

Brian is a VCDX5-DCV and a Sr. Tech Marketing Engineer at Nutanix and owner of this website. He is active in the VMware community and helps lead the Chicago VMUG group. Specializing in VDI and Cloud project designs. Awarded VMware vExpert status 6 years for 2016 - 2011. VCP3, VCP5, VCP5-Iaas, VCP-Cloud, VCAP-DTD, VCAP5-DCD, VCAP5-DCA, VCA-DT, VCP5-DT, Cisco UCS Design

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VMware Horizon 6 install – Part 1 connection server

With the recent update of the entire EUC suite from VMware I thought it would be a good time to revisit the install process for Horizon 6. Yes it used to be called VMware View, then it was Horizon View and now it’s just Horizon 6. Why? well because it is no longer just VDI. Horizon 6 is now a product that offers VDI, Application presentation and Hosted shared desktops both via RDS from Microsoft. This is a big advancement by VMware and welcomed by anyone that cares about EUC.

This is what drove me to revisit the install of Horizon. With these added features there will be many changes and I wanted to build a comprehensive post series that covers what it takes to get the product up and running.

Other posts in this Horizon series.

VMware Horizon 6 install – Part 2 security server

VMware Horizon 6 install – Part 3 SSL certificates

VMware Horizon 6 install – Part 4 configuring RDS pool

VMware Horizon 6 install – Part 5 setting up RDS desktops

VMware Horizon 6 install – Part 6 setting up RDS applications

 

Installing the first connection server

Step 1: You will need to provision a Windows Server 2008R2 or 2012R2 server to install Horizon 6 onto. The product will definitely not install on the non-R2 versions of these, this comes from someone picking the wrong VM template the first time.

Step 2: If you have not already then you need to download the install files for Horizon 6. For this walkthrough you will only need the connection broker install file, but I would recommend you grab all the files that you will need for your build. This includes the View agents, GPO files and others.

Step 3: Copy the installer to the server that you will be using for the install and run the installer. The app starts with a familiar look the product version is shown in the lower left of the window letting us know its version 6.0.

horizon6-install-1

About Brian Suhr

Brian is a VCDX5-DCV and a Sr. Tech Marketing Engineer at Nutanix and owner of this website. He is active in the VMware community and helps lead the Chicago VMUG group. Specializing in VDI and Cloud project designs. Awarded VMware vExpert status 6 years for 2016 - 2011. VCP3, VCP5, VCP5-Iaas, VCP-Cloud, VCAP-DTD, VCAP5-DCD, VCAP5-DCA, VCA-DT, VCP5-DT, Cisco UCS Design

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Licensing VMware Mirage when used with View

With the recent news from VMworld Barcelona that Horizon Mirage and Horizon View can now be used together, I’ve been thinking about how this might affect the licensing. With the ability to manage full clone desktops in View with Mirage the need for a user to have more than one device managed by Mirage is increased.

In the past Mirage was licensed by endpoint or PC and not by the user. This was fine when it was only for the physical world and the norm would be for each user to have only one physical PC. When VMware announced Horizon Suite the products were moved to a named user licensing model.

Lets talk about one of the options that I’ve been thinking about. The basic idea is I have 100 users that have PC’s that are managed by Mirage and are used as the method to access their View desktop. The View desktops for these 100 users are also full clones and are managed by Mirage. So this means that each use has two mirage managed OS’s.

The following is a quote from a blog post from VMware.

The benefit of named-user licensing for the Horizon Suite is that one named user can use as many devices as they wish at once, on any or all of the products in the Horizon Suite (Horizon View, Horizon Mirage, and Horizon Workspace).

So this leads me to believe that under the proposed scenario I’m fine and if I purchase a single Horizon Suite named user license for each user I will be fine. But the problem is at least it still existed in Mirage 4.2 which was part of the Suite, is that Mirage still acts in a per device licensing model. Not sure if Mirage 4.3 will fix this licensing oversight, will have to wait for it to be available for download. In the past this was not really an issue because VMware did not support the use of Mirage managing View desktops.

So the question comes down to if Mirage is still not properly supporting named users in version 4.3, how would a solution like this be licensed? I’ve come up with the two following options.

Option 1 – I would purchase 100 named user licenses for Horizon Suite from VMware and build my environment. But I need to have support for the extra 100 Mirage endpoints. So VMware will have to give me 100 separate Mirage licenses to support this.

Option 2 – This option has me still purchasing 100 named user licenses of Horizon Suite but also purchasing 100 licenses of Mirage named users separately. This adds 50% to my cost of this solution.

While I think that the second option is highly unlikely but what level of effort will it take to work out the logistics of option 1 with VMware?

 

  • License Cost

  • User Count
  • Horizon Suite Licenses
  • Mirage Licenses
  • DT's managed by Mirage
  • VDI managed by Mirage
  • Estimate Costs
  • Option 1

  • $300

    per user

  • 100
  • 100
  • 0
  • 100
  • 100
  • $30,000
  • Option 2

  • $450

    per user

  • 100
  • 100
  • 100
  • 100
  • 100
  • $45,000

 

I look forward to this licensing issue being fixed very soon. If anyone from VMware has any thoughts on this I would appreciate the feedback.

 

About Brian Suhr

Brian is a VCDX5-DCV and a Sr. Tech Marketing Engineer at Nutanix and owner of this website. He is active in the VMware community and helps lead the Chicago VMUG group. Specializing in VDI and Cloud project designs. Awarded VMware vExpert status 6 years for 2016 - 2011. VCP3, VCP5, VCP5-Iaas, VCP-Cloud, VCAP-DTD, VCAP5-DCD, VCAP5-DCA, VCA-DT, VCP5-DT, Cisco UCS Design

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