Citrix Cloud Testing on Amazon EC2 M4


Citrix Cloud on AWS

I was recently afforded the unique opportunity to collaborate on a project to test capacity out of a Citrix XenApp on AWS deployment. The goal of the project was to independently determine the maximum user density for a few different EC2 instance types running XenApp 7.14.

EC2 instances are on-demand and elastic hosted server resources. Which means that they are provisioned dynamically within a pool of available resources, and with an OS you deploy ontop. Amazon provides a variety of templates to easily install Windows, Linux or your other favorite OS. EC2 instances are broken down into a few varieties. They are optimized for storage, memory, compute or graphics. The designation before the name of the instances illustrates their configuration. G3 indicates graphics optimized instance third generation.

The other difference between instance type is the cost. If you are provisioning a 2vCPU 4GB of RAM machine the price per hour would be significantly less than that of a 16vCPU 64GB of RAM machine.

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This would allow the customer to match the exact machine size to the purpose of their deployment, and optimize the amount of money they were spending on their hosted application solution.

Utilizing Login VSI’s virtual users I ran a predetermined user count against a Citrix XenApp deployment managed from Citrix Cloud.

For this blog, I will only discuss one data point, and the Citrix Cloud configuration on AWS. We have a significant amount of results, and we will make those available on www.loginvsi.com/blog.

For those of you not familiar Citrix Cloud is providing Citrix capabilities traditionally delivered on premise through a HTML web based user experience therefore installing a receiver is no longer required.

Some of the key components as they move into their cloud forward offerings are StoreFront / Netscaler and Studio.

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StoreFront and NetScaler are completely managed now through a web page. This completely removes the administrator’s responsibilities of configuring hardware / software solutions for Citrix. You simply fire this up, attach it via their “Citrix Cloud Connector” and configure to start deploying your desktops or apps. It works completely flawlessly.

Studio is managed through the connector as well, and provides the Citrix HTML 5 receiver for management access through the Citrix Cloud web portal.

During my time working with it, it proved to be very flexible, easy to configure and reliable for all testing. I would recommend this to any administrator looking at future proofing their Citrix deployments. It is truly ready for market.

Some images below of the management interface:Some images below of the management interface:

There will be a management icon within your Citrix Cloud Dashboard. Select “XenApp and XenDesktop Service” “manage”

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You will then go to the management interface for XenApp / XenDesktop; you have two options Creation and Delivery. Creation – Studio / Delivery – StoreFront / NetScaler:

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Management interface for Studio. Notice the Citrix Receiver icon in the middle. Studio is provided through the Citrix HTML 5 receiver. Interesting touch.

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Management for Citrix NetScaler / StoreFront:

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AWS Configuration for demonstration purposes:

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Color coded

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Delivery group configuration:

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There is only one XenApp host in each delivery group. This is to determine the maximum amount of users for one M4.

2XLarge instance backing the XenApp host. We are delivering Office 2016 applications, and the standard set of VSI Knowledge worker actions.

It is very easy to change the instance type in EC2. You simply select the “Instance” and change the “Instance Type” through the context menu.AWS_Change_Instance_Types

There are a variety of different configuration, which allows you to really get the most out of the testing. If you are aiming for user density numbers you can size it exactly. This allows you to pay for EXACTLY what you need as opposed to over provisioning. This will help drive the cost of VDI / SBC deployments down ultimately, and increase end user experience quality.

If you are sizing your images with Login VSI and backing them up with EC2 AWS instances you are getting an optimal user experience exactly sized right for your needs.

Information on instances:

https://docs.aws.amazon.com/AWSEC2/latest/UserGuide/instance-types.html

VSI Results

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Testing Configuration

For our testing purpose we provisioned a m4.2xlarge machine on EC2. This instance has a machine profile of 8 vCPU and 32 GB of memory. This is either running a XENO E5-2686 or 2676. Mostly a general use machine which is balanced.

Our testing configuration was 50 test users over the course of 48 minutes. We utilized the industry standard Knowledge Workload. This mostly presents a large portion of the VDI / SBC user base. Office application and standard office applications like Adobe Reader.

 

Application start times are all over the place for the most part, but staying for the most part under 12 seconds. Which would be reasonable for the users. Login process takes under 16 seconds even under VSI Max settings.

 

What does the backend look like?

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When the CPU is at 100% the VSIMax is being reached within the user session. This means the numbers are indicating the bottleneck to be the CPU provisioned for the M4.2Xlarge instance which is approximately.

Wrap-up

Seeing is believing and after testing it I can confirm that Amazon EC2 is ready for the prime time. We were able to support 42 concurrent users on a M4.2Xlarge and we were able to have a continuous level of excellent user experience while doing so.

Amazon is ready to supplement your traditional on premise solutions with readily available and quickly scalable resources in the cloud. Using Citrix Cloud services you can very easily scale your delivery out to support your user base as it dynamically changes.

Using VSI you can validate your configurations with support your users and put a check box next to user experience.

Using these three solutions you can future proof your company, and deliver on a promise of value & experience

Finally, if you are looking for some testing for your deployment please reach out to me here or b.martynowicz@loginvsi.com.

As always stay tuned for more results.

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Automation of a XenDesktop/XenApp deployment


There are many pieces involved in deploying Citrix XenDesktop/XenApp.  For simplification purposes while discussing automation, let’s focus on a single feature of a Citrix deployment- the Delivery Controller.

The Delivery Controller is responsible for delivery of either applications or desktops to end users.

The components of a Delivery Controller are:

  • Database – SQL – Pre-requisite
  • Application – Citrix Delivery Controller

Installing each of these components individually is straight forward.  The applications are packaged in such a way that you can utilize a few switches to install the software.

SQL

Example – C:\{Location}\setup.exe /QUIET /IACCEPTSQLSERVERLICENSETERMS /ACTION=install /FEATURES=SQL,Tools /INSTANCENAME=MSSQLSERVER /SQLSVCACCOUNT=”NT Authority\Network Service” /SQLSYSADMINACCOUNTS=domain.local\Administrator /AGTSVCACCOUNT=”NT Authority\Network Service”

This will install SQL on a Windows Server OS silently, and create a database named MSSQLSERVER.

The same can be done with the Delivery Controller.

XenDesktop/XenApp Delivery Controller

Example – C:\{Location}\x64\XenDesktop Setup\XenDesktopServerSetup.exe /PASSIVE /NOREBOOT /CONFIGURE_FIREWALL /COMPONENTS CONTROLLER /NOSQL

This will install the Delivery Controller portion of a XenDesktop/XenApp silently, deferring the reboot and not installing SQL. You can run this string as many times as you would like and the end result will be the same.

Now, let’s get fancy.

In order for the Delivery Controller to function a “Site” must be present.  A site contains all of the data necessary for a Delivery Controller to function, and is stored in your SQL database; this includes configuration and logging information.

A site is the first step necessary to deliver resources with Citrix for your end users.  With PowerShell you can configure this without user interaction, thus enabling you to automate the deployment process.

You will need 3 databases:

  • “Site”
  • “Configuration”
  • “Logging”

 

You can utilize PowerShell to create these with the “New-XDDatabase” command.  This is a function of the “Citrix.XenDesktop.Admin.V1” PowerShell snap-in.  This will enable you to create the three database necessary for a “Site” to function properly.  Once the databases are created, you can create your “Site”.

You can utilize PowerShell to create your “Site” with the “New-XDSite” command.  This is a function of the “Citrix.XenDesktop.Admin.V1” PowerShell snap-in as well.

XDDatabase

Combining packages from Microsoft, Citrix and PowerShell, you are able to automate the process of creating your first “Site” for a critical component of your Citrix deployment, the Delivery Controller.

There are many platforms for managing, and executing your collection of automation frameworks.  Some of the popular ones are Chef, Puppet and Login AM.  It creates a logical organization structure for doing so, variables necessary and provides an interface for management.

If you are interested in finding out more about this, please get in touch with me.

Also, if you have any neat tricks with PowerShell please share them in the comment section.  Happy automating.

I will be following this post up with articles about the remaining components of Citrix.

Article 2 in the series is now live! See it here – Automation of a XenDesktop/XenApp deployment – Part 2

Article 3 online – Automation of a XenDesktop / XenApp Deployment – Part 3

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Tuning HDX policies for optimal end user performance – XenApp/XenDesktop 7.6 FP3


With the release of 7.6 feature pack 3, the default graphics delivery behavior has changed and the enhanced Thinwire Compatibility mode is not available via user policies. You will need to take into consideration about the different use cases and the importance of policy precedence to ensure the intended delivery method is used. If FrameHawk is specifically applied to a subset of users, they will use FrameHawk even if a higher priority policy specifies Thinwire Compatibility mode. here is a cheat sheet from Citrix to make your life a lot easier when configuring HDX policies

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Using XPERF to troubleshoot slow logons


Installing XPERF to capture a slow boot or logon trace

  1. Install XPERF from the Windows SDK for Windows 7 and .NET Framework on the slow boot or logon computer.
    Hint 1: It is possible to install only the Windows Performance Toolkit from the Windows SDK.
    Hint 2: We suggest installing the WPT in an X:\XPERF directory rather than the default directory recommended by setup. It’s easier to access and copy files in and out of, and change paths, to the short-labeled directory.
    Hint 3: Once installed on a computer, the XPERF installation directory can be copied to other computers that you want to capture ETL traces from or view ETL traces on. There are no external files, DLL registration or registry changes required to make or view a capture. Make a copy of the X:\XPERF directory and copy at will.
  2. If taking a network trace on a 64-bit computer, enable the following registry key and reboot before capturing ETL data. This prevents kernel mode data from being paged out of memory.
Registry Path HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management
Setting DisablePagingExecutive
Data Type: REG_DWORD
Value: 1

Using XBOOTMGR to capture slow boots, or slow logons caused by slow boots

  1. Logon as an Administrator of the computer you want to trace (either a local Administrator or Domain Admin account that is a member of the local machine’s Administrators group).
  2. Open an elevated command prompt.
  3. Run the following command in the WPT directory (default path is C:\Program Files\Microsoft Windows Performance Toolkit). This syntax is useful to capture slow boots as well as slow logons thought to be caused by a delay in OS startup:xbootmgr -trace boot -traceflags base+latency+dispatcher -stackwalk profile+cswitch+readythread -notraceflagsinfilename -postbootdelay 10This command will:
  • Reboot the local computer
  • Capture ETL tracing during the boot and logon operation (you provide user name, domain name, and password for the slow logon account)
  • Stop tracing at 10 seconds after disk and CPU utilization fall below a certain threshold after user logon. Increase the value for “-postbootdelay” as required to troubleshoot user desktops that are unresponsive to mouse and keyboard input post boot.

Using XPERF to capture slow logons

  1. Logon as an Administrator of the computer you want to trace (either a local Administrator or Domain Admin account that is a member of the local machine’s Administrators group).
  2. Open an elevated command prompt and run this command from WPT Install directory (default path is C:\Program Files\Microsoft Windows Performance Toolkit.                                                                                   xperf -on base+latency+dispatcher+NetworkTrace+Registry+FileIO -stackWalk CSwitch+ReadyThread+ThreadCreate+Profile -BufferSize 128 -start UserTrace -on “Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Core+Microsoft-Windows-Wininit+Microsoft-Windows-Folder Redirection+Microsoft-Windows-User Profiles Service+Microsoft-Windows-GroupPolicy+Microsoft-Windows-Winlogon+Microsoft-Windows-Security-Kerberos+Microsoft-Windows-User Profiles General+e5ba83f6-07d0-46b1-8bc7-7e669a1d31dc+63b530f8-29c9-4880-a5b4-b8179096e7b8+2f07e2ee-15db-40f1-90ef-9d7ba282188a”  -BufferSize 1024 -MinBuffers 64 -MaxBuffers 128 -MaxFile 1024
  3. Note: This syntax works on Windows Vista (Windows Server 2008) and Windows 7 (Windows Server 2008 R2) computers
  4. Press CTRL+ALT+DEL and then Switch User.
  5. Logon with the user account experiencing the slow user logon to reproduce the issue.
  6. Stop the trace. While logged on with the slow user account, open an elevated CMD prompt and type:

xperf -stop -stop UserTrace -d merged.etl

Close the slow logon user session and the admin logon session opened in step 2 as required.

IMPORTANT: The double “-stop” call in step 5 is not a typo but is required. The first “-stop” terminates kernel tracing. The second “-stop” terminates user mode tracing.

Note: You can also stop the trace by using Switch User to return to the admin user logon established in step #2 and running the same XPERF stop command in the elevated command prompt used to start the trace. This results in a larger, longer trace and requires that you discern the different logons encapsulated in the trace.

  1. Send the MERGED.ETL file to Microsoft or an Independent Solution Vendor (ISV) for analysis, or review it yourself.By default, the MERGED.ETL file will exist in the XPERF installation directory, which by default is %systemdrive%\program files\microsoft windows performance toolkit directory or if you followed our recommendations early in the doc, the c:\XPERF directory (that is, the XPERF installation directory).

Double Click the merged.etl file to open it in Windows Performance Analyzer ( Ensure that you have the Windows Performance Toolkit Installed on the computer that you are opening the file from)

I am now going to talk about one of our customer environments where that had a Citrix XenApp 6.5 deployment and the user logons used to be around 90 sec. I agree that this isn’t such a bad situation to be as I have seen even worser logon times.

The customer environment consists of the below

  • Citrix XenApp 6.5 with HRP 02
  • EdgeSight Server with agent version 5.4 loaded on the servers
  • StoreFront 1.2
  • Group Policies applied with login scripts and policy preferences
  • ESET NOD 32 Antivirus

The users complain that the screen will sit at “Welcome” screen for approx 30 sec after which the logon moves faster and towards the end , there is a further delay after “Preparing the Desktop”

First things first, during these situations AV will be the first to be blamed. Decided to stop the AV service and turned off Real Time scanning to rule that out. Tried to login with a test account and it is the same 90 +secs

Tools at my disposal ( the customer has got a platinum XenApp License, so they own a lot of good stuff) 🙂

  • EdgeSight Reports – showed no problems whatsoever with the Group Policy processing, logon scripts or printer mapping scripts. The issue seems to be well before the GP processing and scripts are run. What else is there to look at?
  • Citrix UPM logs – Citrix User Profile Manager has logs of its own and i decided to take a look at it, there was nothing obvious with it other than the little hint it could give towards the end of the logon process
  • Autoruns – This gave me a hint at what could be going wrong towards the end of the logon process. It was an edocs print pro process. Turned that off and tried a logon. Bingo, the final 15 seconds of desktop preparation has gone away.
  • XPerf – Analyzing the XPerf logs also pointed out issue with the “edocs Print Pro” software printer. I just can’t find the screenshots of my XPerf analysis anymore as this happened a while ago and I just couldn’t write about it on time.

 

XPerf is a super cool tool to troubleshoot slow logon/boot up times alongside Citrix UPM logs. Autoruns does help to selectively stop all or some logon processes and thus should not be overlooked when troubleshooting long logon times. I will try to include more XPerf tracing and analysis in my future blog posts. I will talk to you in my next post.