Project Avalon… Excalibur! Part two

It took me a few weeks but I finally got my test lab up and running. For the past three months I’ve been part of a study group in which we prepared for the new MCSE Desktop Infrastructure exams. During that period one of our MCT’s Jasper Kraak (www.kraak.com) organized two study sessions of three day’s each, one for each exam. Because we were using the official Microsoft curriculum one of the prerequisites was that we had to set up our own virtual test environment for lab practice. You guessed it…When we were finished I took it home with me.

Of-course I still had some studying to do and when I was just a few weeks in Citrix also released XenMobile MDM. So… I first took my time on reviewing that, studied some more, scheduled and took both the exams about a month apart and now the focus is back on Excalibur. Because I don’t just want to fill this Blog with a bunch of screenshots I’ll try and gather some more information that might be of interest for you and me :-) Just a small note before I continue, I’m not going to go into too much detail on what is what in Excalibur, if you are not familiar with the jargon used or don’t have a glue on what Excalibur is about please give my first Blog, Project Avalon… Excalibur! Part one a good read through and you’ll be up to speed in no time.

Hard & software

I’ll first give you an idea on what I used in my test lab, some hardware specs: HP Compaq DC7800P Convertible Minitower with 8 GB’s of RAM installed and a Intel E6750 Core Duo CPU @ 2,66 Mhz. One local 500 GB 7200 rpm disk and two 146 GB 7200 rpm disks in a stripe set. As you can see nothing special here. It runs Windows Server 2012 with the Hyper-V role installed. On top of that I configured six VM’s, two servers with Windows Server 2008 R2 and another two with Windows Server 20012 installed including my domain controller. I also added two Desktops, one with Windows 7 and one with Windows 8 installed. FInally I installed PicPick for screenshot purposes.

Documentation

Here’s what I used:

  • Project-Avalon-Excalibur-Tech-Preview
  • Deployment-Guide-for-Project-Avalon-Excalibur-Tech-Preview
  • Excalibur Reviewer Guide v2
  • Important-Information-for-XenApp-Customers
  • Citrix E-Docs website

These documents are all available on citrix.com The Project-Avalon-Excalibur-Tech-Preview document contains a section called ‘What’s new’ a nice overview on some of the new and improved features, some of which I didn’t cover in Part one.

Requirements

A small note on the requirements… If you browse through the Project-Avalon-Excalibur-Tech-Preview document, it says that the Delivery Controller is supported on both Windows Server 2008 R2 as well as Windows Server 2012. If you have a look at the Deployment guide it states that only Windows Server 2008 R2 is supported. Uhm…? The same goes for the all the other components as well, Studio, Director etc… Ah well never mind, I decided to give 2012 a go anyway. Just keep in mind that when installing on Server 2012 some additional steps are necessary, I’ll discuss them in more detail when we get to the install and set-up section below.

No matter what os you are going to use just make sure you give the Project-Avalon-Excalibur-Tech-Preview document a good read through and you’ll be fine, most of the time anyway. The following are some general requirements of all the Excalibur components together, for a complete overview on all components see my Part one Blog post. Just keep in mind that this is still the Technology Preview so a lot can still (and probably will) change.

  • Microsoft .NET 4.0
  • Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 SP1
  • Windows PowerShell 2.0 (2008R2) or 3.0 (2012)
  • ASP.NET 2.0 and IIS. Only required for Director and StoreFront
  • Visual C++ 2008 SP1 Redistributable Package. Automatically deployed if needed
  • SQL Server 2012 or 2008 R2 SP1; Express, Standard, Enterprise, and Datacenter
  • Supported browsers for viewing Director: Internet Explorer 8 and 9, Firefox 14 and 15
  • Microsoft Group Policy Management Console (GPMC). This is required only if you store Citrix policy information in Active Directory rather than the site database
  • You must have an Active Directory infrastructure in place
  • Administrative account with Domain Admin privileges

Host infrastructure

At some point we need to configure the underlying Host infrastructure, basically this is nothing more than an connection to your virtual infrastructure. This is needed if you want to create Machine Catalogs made up of virtual machines. However, when you run the Create Machine Catalog wizard without a Host infrastructure configured it’s still possible to create Machine Catalogs, but only based on physical machines. In fact the choice has been made for you, ‘Physical Hardware’ is selected by default and the ‘Virtual Machine’ option is grayed out. But let’s be honest, no virtual infrastructure, really? How and where all this can be configured will be discussed shortly. You have three options when setting up your Host infrastructure:

  • XenServer 6.0.2. Check the Project Avalon Excalibur Technology Preview download page for the latest information about compatibility with XenServer 6.1
  • VMware vSphere 5.0 (ESXi 5.0 and vCenter 5.0) and VMware vSphere 4.1 Update 1. No support is provided for vSphere vCenter Linked Mode operation
  • SystemCenter Virtual Machine Manager 2012 Rollup 1

Install and set-up

Download the Excalibur Tech Preview here: citrix.com/techpreview/projectavalonexcalibur you’ll be prompted for your My Citrix credentials. Before moving on to the actual install, here’s an overview on all the major components:

Excalibur components overview

Before you double-click the executable… I already mentioned that if you want to install Excalibur on Server 2012 there are some additional steps that need to be taken. Excalibur needs the .NET 3.5 Framework to be installed before setup can run and because this is a Server 2012 Feature on Demand it must be enabled using Server Manager, here’s what Microsoft has to say about it: in Windows Server 2012, the .Net Framework 3.5 is a Feature on Demand. The metadata for Features on Demand are included in Windows 8 and in Windows Server 2012. However, the binaries and other files associated with the feature are not included. When you enable the feature, Windows tries to contact Windows Update to download the missing information to install the feature.

If for some reason (and there are plenty) your machine is unable to contact Windows Update the installation will fail and you’ll have to find some other way of getting the bits in place, using the installation media for example. In my case it failed because I didn’t had an internet connection. As a side note, when installed on 2008 R2 the Excalibur installation installs .NET 3.5 automatically if it detects that it is missing. Using 2012 it will notify you on forehand:

Alternate source path for .NET 3.5 Framework

For Server 2012 I fixed it  using this command-line: dism /online /enable-feature /featurename:NetFX3 /all /Source:d:\sources\sxs /LimitAccess. Of-course d:\ contained my Server 2012 installation media. The second gotcha is that if you use the SQL Express database installation which is part of the Excalibur set-up, you need to apply Service Pack 1 for SQL Server 2008 R2 after installing the Delivery Controller. Keep in mind that you need to have an AD infrastructure in place and that the account you are using to install must be a member of that domain, it must also have the proper installation rights. Trust me, I know :-)

Let’s start

Once I got it all up and running I decided to revert all my machines and start over, just for screenshot purposes :-) Although the first view pics pretty much speak for themselves I’d like to include them anyway just to be complete. Here’s what you get after double clicking the Autoselect .exe

Installation 1

We start by installing some or all of the core components like the Delivery Controller, License server and so on. Once our Site is up and ready for connections we can run the same setup on other machines as well. You could install Studio for example and manage your site remotely from a workstation or even more important, install the server and desktop agents and start building out your Site.

Installation 2

Accept the License Agreement and click next.

Installation 2.1

Next you can select the individual components. To keep things simple you could select them all to be installed on the same machine, Of-course in a ‘real world’ scenario we would separate certain roles from each other. I selected the Delivery Controller, License Server and Studio to be installed on my VM. I’ll deal with Director and ForeFront later, perhaps in a separate Blog.

Installation 2.2

Select the database you want to use. You have two options, if you already have an operational SQL server in place you can use that (first uncheck the box) or you can accept the defaults and install SQL Server 2008 R2 Express which will be configured automatically during installation. Remember that SQL is the only option, no other database systems are supported in Excalibur. Gusess which one I picked?

Installation 2.3

Unless you have a special need to change anything, leave the defaults and click next.

Installation 2.4

The summary speaks for itself, click install.

Installation 2.5

And off we go, keep your fingers crossed.

Installation 3

If all goes according to plan you should see something like this in about 10 to 20 minutes time, partly depending on your hardware recourses and if you are installing on a VM or a physical machine. Isn’t it beautiful?! Hit finish to launch Studio.

Installation 4

Your first Site

When Studio launches for the first time (see below) it gives you three options, Full Deploy, Create Empty Site or Join Existing Deployment. During the Full Deploy wizard you’ll walk through all the steps necessary to create your first Site and configure your Host Infrastructure in the same process, storage and networking included. If you choose to create an empty Site the Host Infrastructure part needs to be configured separately. The third option, Join Existing Deployment is a good one to use when you want to configure and add multiple Delivery Controllers to your site. I choose to create an empty Site and will show you how and where to set up the Host Infrastructure in Studio later.

Studio overview

Nothing special here.

Empty Site

Name your Site and choose were your DB is located or use the default Express install.

Empty Site Name + DB

After clicking next you’ll probably end with this, click ok and all will be taken care of.

Empty Site DB

Select an existing license, one is provided, otherwise leave the defaults and move on.

Empty Site Licensing

Review the summary and click finish.

Empty Site Summary

And there you have it, your first site created, nothing to it really. Before moving on I just want to show what the Introduction page of the Full Deploy option looks like. As mentioned, during a Full Deploy you basically follow the same steps as above the only difference being that the Host Infrastructure set up is part of the wizard as well. Below you can see that it also includes the network and storage configuration for use with your virtual infrastructure.

Studio Full Deploy overview

Host Infrastructure

After the initial Site creation finishes you’ll see the screen below. From here you can move on to create your first Machine Catalog and Delivery Groups after that etc… If you follow the same path as I did and you continue by creating your first Catalog then you won’t be able to create a Catalog with VM’s in it because we still need to configure our Host Infrastructure. Although it also states ‘Full Deployment’ (don’t get confused with the ‘Full Deploy’ mentioned earlier) at the top, I don’t agree, a Host Infrastructure should be part of a ‘Full Deployment’ at all times and it doesn’t give you the option to configure one here so… Perhaps a good time to have a look the virtualization part.

After Site Creation

On the screenshot above look at the left, there you’ll see Configuration, under Configuration you’ll find Hosting, that’s where we need to be. Click Hosting and choose ‘Add hosting infrastructure’ on the right of the screen or just right click somewhere in the middle. Again, if you had chosen ‘Full Deploy’ you wouldn’t have to do it like this, although this would be the way to edit your Host Infrastructure configuration once created.

Host Infrastructure

After you select ‘Add hosting infrastructure’ the ‘Host connection’ page appears. First select your Host type and fill in the address of your virtual infrastructure, this cannot just be a machine running Hyper-V or XenServer, it needs the management software for that particular hypervisor to be installed, SCVMM or XenCenter for example. Fill in your account credentials and give it name, finally decide which tool you will use for VM provisioning and click next.

Host Infrastructure overview

Unfortunately this is where it ends as I don’t have an SCVMM infrastructure set up at the moment, I thought about installing it but it’s just such a small part when it comes to showing you the Excalibur setup process so I didn’t bother, sorry. Trust me, if your virtual infrastructure works the way it should this part will be over and done with in about two minutes.

Machine Catalog

Let’s continue where we left off after creating our ‘Empty Site’. We need to have one or more Machine Catalogs in place before we can start building out our Site. If you want to create a Catalog based on VM’s you must have your Host Infrastructure in place, otherwise you will only be able to use physical machines as we will see in a minute, click next.

Machine Catalog getting started

Next you can choose if your machines will be based on a Desktop or Server operating system, basically the choice between a VDI environment or published applications and desktops. *Optionally we could publish applications from VDI Desktops or vice versa offer a VDI environment based on Server systems, but this is by exception only. We also need to decide if we want to create virtual or physical machines. Since I don’t have a Host Infrastructure in place the only option available is selected by default, physical. If you choose to use a Windows Server OS the ‘User Experience’ doesn’t need to be configured and won’t be visible, see below.

Machine Catalog 2

I don’t have Citrix Provisioning Services set up so I’m going with the ‘Another Service or Technology’ option. Note that this Catalog wizard is based on physical machines. If we were to select VM’s then other options would be available as well, like Machine Creation Services (MCS) the default build-in provision mechanism for VM’s. Also, if you want to provision VM’s (Desktops and Servers) you need to put together a so called Master Image on forehand, MCS will leverage this Master image to create the VM’s as part of the Catalog. The same goes for Provisioning services as well, although this technology does work differently.

Though it’s not a requirement when adding machines to a Catalog, you do need to make sure that the proper Delivery Agents (DA) get installed for all of this to work in the end. They replace some of the IMA components know in XenApp and communicate with the Delivery Controller. Delivery Agents basically replace the need to install XenApp the way we were used to. If you look closely at some of the screenshots near the bottom you’ll see that the machines part of my Delivery Groups are in an unregistered state. This is because they don’t have Agents installed on them yet.

If you are building Catalogs based on Physical machines the DA needs to be part of the image you deploy on your desktops or servers, if you use Provisioning Services it needs to part of the Master Image. This is also true when you create Catalogs based on VM’s without Provisioning Services, the DA must then be part of the Master Image leveraged by MCS.

Machine Catalog machine management

Check the preferred user experience, speaks for itself.

Machine Catalog user experience

Select your machines, you can add as many as you like and have available.

Machine Catalog 5

Check the summary and click finish.

Machine Catalog 6

Once the Catalog is created a familiar screen pops up, the ‘Full Deployment’ window. Here we can continue with creating a Delivery Group so users will actually be able to use the machines we just created.

After Catalog creation

Notice the ‘Test machines…’ button, I thought I’d give it a go… to bad ;-)

Tests are not supported

Delivery Group

Lets get right on it, here’s what happens when you try to create a Delivery Group without creating a Machine Catalog first.

Create Delivery Group without Machine Catalog

When creating Delivery Groups you need to be aware that there are two different types, first a Desktop Delivery Group, primarily used for VDI deployments. Assign a Machine Catalog with Desktop machines in it. Secondly, the Application Delivery Group which is used for publishing applications and hosted desktops, here you would most likely assign a Machine Catalog with Server systems in it. With ‘most likely’ I’d like to point out that it is also possible *(I already pointed this out during the Machine Catalog creation process)  to assign a Catalog with Desktops in it from where applications can be published. The opposite is also true, you can assign a Catalog with Server systems in it to a Desktop Delivery Group to act as a VDI. We are now creating a Desktop group with actual Desktop systems in it. It’s all starting to look alike, I know! Just click next anyway.

Delivery Group introduction

On the ‘Add machines’ page you select one of your earlier created Machine Catalogs, in my case there is just one, an easy choice. It has a total of two machines and I can select how many machines I want to devote to this Delivery Group.

Delivery Group Creation add machines

Next select the users who will be able to use the machines we created earlier. Click ‘Add users’ and an Active Directory search window will pop up.

Delivery Group Creation assign users

We need to select how we will manage our users profiles, there is actually a seperate configuration section on this within studio which I’ll address later on. For now ‘I will manage this on my own’ ;-)

Delivery Group Creation user profile selection

Again, a nice summery appears, hit finish.

Delivery Group Summary

Now… after installing the Core components and configuring our first empty Site we added a Machine Catalog, had a look at the Host Infrastructure and finally created a Delivery Group to finish off with. Although there is still some stuff I want to share, we have set up a completely functional Site ready for users to connect too, assuming we have ForeFront and Receiver already set up of-course.

After Delivery Group creation

What about applications?

Since XenApp is no longer available as a separate product (I’m thinking way ahead) and one of it’s key features was to publish applications and desktops I was curious on how this would look and feel in Excalibur.

Applications

Lets click ‘Create Application’ and see what happens. On the first page you need to select a Application Delivery Group, if there isn’t one available you can create one at this point by selecting ‘Create New…’ this basically opens up the same Delivery Group wizard as before with the only  difference being that you don’t need to add any users.

Application Delivery Group

The steps that follow arn’t that different from publishing applications like we are used to in XenApp, it just looks a bit different. Browse to find the application that you want to publish, fill in the Command Line Arguments if applicable and choose your Working Directory before clicking next.

Applications after browsing

Select your users. Click Add, an Active Directory search window will appear.

Applications select users

Configure the Shortcut settings.

Applications shortcut

On the advanced page you’ll find most of the application settings you are used to.

Applications advanced settings

Give it a name.

Application name

Review the summary and start publishing.

Application summary

And that’s it. I must be honest, I personally like the ‘old’ XenApp way better but that’s probably a bit of getting used to. Next I’ll show you some of the Studio overviews, the Administrators pane, Logging, Profile Management and a few more, nothing to complicated. To start here is an overview from Studio after we published our first application.

Studio Application overview

Studio overviews

Lets start at the top with Machine Catalogs, here we have just one Catalog but imagine what this must look like if you have multiple, let’s say twenty or so! On the right you see the actions available, add machines, create a new Catalog, rename etc…

Studio Machine Catalog overview

We do have multiple Delivery Groups, one Machine and one Application Delivery Group. If you want to delete a Delivery Group it must be put in Maintenance Mode first, this can be done from the Actions pane.

Studio Delivery Groups overview

Next are the Applications, again, more of the same. On the right you can edit and configure existing Applications or create new ones. If you highlight an Application in main window you can see the current usage as well as the associated Delivery Groups and Desktops near the bottom.

Studio Applications overviewHDX policies are HUGE but nothing new, we had them in XenDesktop and XenApp as well. The interface might look a bit different but the basic idea is still the same. Since some features have been removed and some are added the same happened with the policies, some known, some new. I didn’t went through all of them so I can’t give you an detailed overview :-) Just know that they are a very important part of the overall configuration, spend some time getting to know them well!

Studio HDX overview

Logging is another piece of the puzzle we didn’t cover earlier. There isn’t that much I can say about it really, it logs al activities on the system, simple as that. Under actions you can create Custom Reports and change some of the Logging preferences, nothing fancy. There are better tools out there, Citrix has a few as well!

Studio Logging overview

The Configuration part of Studio.Studio Configuration overview

Administrators manage your Site. Since you don’t want everybody to have full administration rights on all that’s out there Excalibur comes with multiple build-in administrator roles. Can’t find the one you are looking for? Create your own!

Studio Administrators overview

Here you’ll find al of your Controllers, nothing to configure, nothing to show.

Studio Delivery Controllers overview

I’ll skip the Host Infrastructure page. The only option there is to add a new Host Infrastructure since it’s still empty. The licensing overview is pretty straight forward, it shows you the number of licenses in use, edition, license model etc…

Studio Licensing overview

Last but not least we have Profile Management. Here you can manage your users profiles and configure folder redirection. You can choose to manage your profiles the way you were used to and check ‘I’ll manage this on my own’, configure mandatory profiles or make use of the build in Citrix profile management features by checking ‘Use Citrix roaming profiles’ and pick your location.

Profile management 1

On the second tab you configure Folder Redirection. It starts with your My Documents folder, you either redirect or you don’t, if you do, fill in your preferred location. Secondly you can also redirect a bunch of other profile folders, if you choose to do so, you can redirect them to the same location as your My Documents folder or fill in a separate location, it’s up to you. A nice add-on.

Profile management 2

It has al been arranged for you, just select the folders you’d like to redirect, choose your location and Citrix will take care of the rest. Click ‘Choose folders to redirect…’ and take your pick. What else do you need?!

Choose folders to redirect

Left over’s

I primarily focused on the installation of Excalibur and some of the, if not all, main configuration tasks necessary to get our Site up and running. Of-course we would also need to configure Storefront and Receiver for users to actually be able to connect up to Excalibur and make use of the applications and desktops we provisioned. We didn’t discus Director (HDX Edgesight) which is mainly an enhanced monitoring and well equipped troubleshooting tool, I like to discuss both (ForeFront and Director) in a separate Blog post and perhaps have a look at Citrix Provisioning Services as well.

Conclusion

For me Excalibur is the next step, although it’s basically XenDesktop on steroids there are some really nice and exciting new features when it comes to the integration of XenApp (unfortunately there are some missing as well) and some cool improvements and add-ons on the XenDesktop side as well. The ease of deployment, simplified management (eventually), multiple OS’s under the same roof… I already discussed most of the changes in Part one so I won’t go over them again. With a few adjustments here and there I’m convinced it’s here to stay.

Bas van Kaam ©

Reference materials used: Microsoft.com, TechNet.com, Citrix.com and the E-Docs site

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14 thoughts on “Project Avalon… Excalibur! Part two

  1. David Apata

    I have also set up my lab using excalibur. I like the product but the only criticism I have (and I know this is only a tech preview and not in any way, what the final product will look like), is the emphasis on xendesktop over xenapp. Xenapp is widely and robustly used in the industry and the improvements that were made with xenapp 6.5 and other common features, which were welcomed by the industry (worker groups, pre-launch, the ability to structure published apps into different folders, for ease of management, in the console … just to name a few) all seems to have disappeared with excalibur.

    I am all for having a single solution for provisioning shared apps, shared desktop, VDI solution under the same single infrastructure but i think citrix still has a long way to go before excalibur becomes a product that really satisfies the consumer requirement (especially on the xenapp side). I hope citrix does something about this.

    Reply
    1. Bas van kaam Post author

      Excellent point! I hope so too, Although I can’t imagine Citrix won’t put some of those features back in, if not all. They worked so hard on improving XenApp for the past few years, they won’t just throw that away right? Let’s assume, and stay positive, that the final product will have it all, again!

      Regards,

      Bas.

      Reply
  2. Santosh Subramani

    Can i have the existing DDC for xendesktop work with the new Avalon XDA on Win8? or in other words, can I have the Excalibur XDA on a new Win 8 to talk to DDC that’s already in PoC(only Win7 at the moment tho)?

    Reply
  3. Bas van Kaam Post author

    Santosh,

    That’s a fair question :-) Why not give it a try and find out, it’s still ‘just’ POC right? To be honest I’m not sure if it will work, there have been made some specific architectural changes to the Agents as well as the the Delivery Controller. Let me know what you think.

    Have a good one.

    Bas.

    Reply
    1. Santosh Subramani

      Finally it does work with existing DDC. You have to use the XDAgnet.exe file that is contained in x64>XenDesktopSetup> (Not eh MSI). provide the fqdn of DDC. make sure your HKLM has ListOfDDCs bare the DDC fqdn.

      Reply
      1. Bas van Kaam Post author

        Very nice! I like your persistence! I doubt if Citrix will support it though, never the less it’s good to know. Thank you for sharing.

    2. Bas van Kaam Post author

      Forget my previous comment. FMA was already used in earlier XenDesktop releases, in addition, there also already was a VDA for Server 2008R2 (Server VDI which was released last year). So they used what was already there and improved it, hence FMA 2.0. Next they created new agents for Server 2012 and Windows 8! So yes, there are architectural improvements (huge ones) but primarily on the XenApp integration and server agent side, Studio included of-course. The windows 8 desktop agent isn’t that different then the Windows 7 agent which was already there.

      Reply
  4. Phani

    Hi, I’ve a question on Excalibur supported hosts.
    we currently have 3 types of hosts supporting it XenServer, VMware, SystemCenter Virtual Machine Manager 2012 Rollup 1.

    In VMware, I did not understand – “No support is provided for vSphere vCenter Linked Mode operation”. what does this mean? please explain in detail for me.

    Thanks in advance.

    Cheers | Phani.

    Reply
    1. Santosh Subramani

      Have you added the vmware Trusted certificates on the controllers? like in DDC, you are required to give trust cert from your vm environment to the server which will automate the use of vmware host to create machines.

      Reply
    2. Bas van Kaam Post author

      vCenter Linked Mode lets you connect multiple vCenter server systems so they can share Information. This way, you can use one vCenter server to view and manage any of the other (Linked) vCenter servers. It just isn’t supported by XD. You can use your vCenter server to manage multiple storage repositories, VMWare clusters etc… I’m not an VMWare expert, so I could be wrong, but it does limit you in the number of physical ESX hosts and thus VM’s that you can manage from XD.

      Reply

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