By: Vinny Sosa with contributions from Pete Downing

On Monday, February 23rd, Citrix announced the release of XenApp 5 Feature Pack. This release includes a whole slew of features designed to save customers money. In total, XenApp 5 Feature Pack adds over $340 dollars of combined license and subscription advantage value. But one of the most beneficial things we added to our Platinum edition is Provisioning services.

Single Image Server Management

Prior to XenApp 5 Feature Pack, many customers scripted their installs or created multiple server images to help them manage their XenApp hosting server implementation. Scripted installs can be cumbersome to create and they’re definitely not for everyone. Plus, they typically do not reduce implementation time, they just automate the process. Now, if you’ve got application silo’s, scripting application installs can also add another layer of complexity on top of the server install automation process. Of course you could also use an ESD solution to get the apps on the server as well, but you get the point – layers of complication that don’t really save time or effort.

Creating standardized server images helps address some of the server management issues by giving admins a standardized image to build XenApp servers from. If you’re technical, you understand the process of generalizing a server image using such command line tools as “sysprep”. This is a great solution for small implementations but with larger environments, application silo’s tend to lead to multiple server images that need to be managed. With multiple server images come multiple updates and points of management when anything needs to be changed. This can include something as simple as tweaking an application setting or hotfixing a server. It’s these small tweaks and changes that also make it difficult to maintain a scripted install type of solution over the long-term.

Enter XenApp Provisioning services.

Long awaited as a component of XenApp since as far back as I can remember, Provisioning services enables you to PXE-boot your servers from a single, generalized XenApp server image. It’s cuts server implementation time because you can bring up a new XenApp server in the time it takes to boot up – no need for an install, no need for additional configuration. If you need to update your server configuration, no problem, and no need to modify an install script. Simply open your standard image, install the Hotfix and reboot your servers – it’s that simple.As if that weren’t enough, something really cool happens when you bring together the four key technologies included in XenApp 5 Feature Pack – the XenServer virtualization platform, Provisioning services, Load testing and Application streaming. I like to call it just-in-time server provisioning. You might also have heard it referred to as build-to-order server provisioning. Here’s how it comes together:

  • Create Physical and Virtual Images - Use vDisks to create physical server images and use XenServer to create virtual images for later provisioning. XenServer, now free, lets you virtualize your XenApp hosting servers (workloads). With this you can convert a single physical server with lots of idle capacity into two or more virtual servers that are running at full capacity. Hence, you can always give idle capacity to the users, apps or lines of business that need it most. This is very helpful in cases where server silos might still be necessary, since idle capacity is rampant in these kinds of deployments.
  • Benchmark Your Images - Test the performance of your standard server image, both as a virtual server and as a physical server, using Load testing services. This will tell you how many users you can support so that you know exactly how much capacity you are adding or taking away every time you provision or deprovision servers.
  • Provision Your Servers - Use Provisioning services to start-up new physical or virtual servers using your standardized server image(s) (the one(s) you already benchmarked with Load testing services).
  • Stream Applications - Streaming applications to virtual servers means that you no longer have to maintain multiple server images for your server silos. In fact, it means that server silos are likely a thing of the past in your environment. Let’s say you have a user trying to access SAP. You’ve added new servers because it’s quarter-end and you need more capacity. The user get’s load balanced to one of your new servers and SAP is automatically streamed to the new server the first time it is accessed. Every subsequent user that accesses SAP on that server will no longer have to stream it again. You’ve just completely bypassed the need to install applications all together.
  • Self-heal Your Environment - Application self-healing is an automated benefit of streamed applications. Basically, if an application is corrupted or starts to misbehave, the next user to access it will start a repair request and it will be fixed for all users on the same server. If you continue to have problems with any of your servers, simply reboot them and Provisioning services delivers a squeaky-clean image in the time it takes to boot up.
  • Fail-over Seamlessly and Gracefully - If you need to move your XenApp implementation to a DR site or you need to perform hardware maintenance, you now have two options. You can use XenMotion, included with XenServer for free, to seamlessly move your virtual servers between different physical servers without even shutting them down. You can also use Provisioning services to move physical or virtual servers to a new location or physical server as well.

Essentially, this all adds up to the most dynamic application delivery system on the market today. Want to learn more?. Download the XenAppPrep tool for Provisioning services,at CTX116063. Also, check out Stay tuned for weekly blogs on XenApp 5 Feature Pack. As always, let us know your thoughts, questions and feedback below.