Earlier this year, the technology preview of XenServer next-generation graphics virtualization received glowing reviews from some of the world’s largest users of CAD/CAM technologies.

Satisfying the expectations and ultra-high compute requirements of users accustomed to multi-thousand dollar workstations under their desk is no mean task. The only way to create the right virtual desktop environment for 3D design engineers, we realized early on, is to architect it from ground up for this purpose.

On December 16, 2013 with the release of 3D Graphics Pack XenServer 6.2 became the industry’s first hypervisor to leverage true hardware GPU virtualization based on NVIDIA GRID vGPU technology. No other solution offers the same performance, scale, and graphics compatibility.

With an all-new graphics user interface (GUI), deploying HDX 3D Pro with GRID vGPU is really no different than delivering regular desktops. At the same time, it has attracted a whole new audience to XenDesktop: one that has use for only 2D and 3D graphics delivery, day in and day out. They are not very familiar even with the regular Citrix infrastructure, and want to start using graphics apps on their virtual desktops (VDI) as soon as possible.

We have updated our popular Reviewer’s Guide series to cater both types of users, to include step-by-step instructions for deploying and evaluating XenDesktop 7.1 + 3D graphics pack (vGPU), included as part of the XenServer 6.2 Service Pack 1.

Click here to download the updated Reviewer’s Guide for HDX 3D Pro – Part 3 (GPU Sharing on XenServer)

Now let’s have a look at some of the new GUI elements that make it super easy to deploy GPU sharing with XenServer 6.2 and XenDesktop 7.1.

XenServer GUI Enhancements

First, here’s the flowchart of end-to-end activities for a simple evaluation: from setting up XenServer for vGPU, to NVIDIA drivers, all the way to XenDesktop. Most tasks are performed through the intuitive GUI, with a greatly reduced number of steps overall. This release may be bit of an anti-climax to hardened users of the technology preview, if they had grown fond of the XenServer Command Line Interface (CLI). Perhaps the only item installed from the CLI is the NVIDIA GRID manager for hypervisor. The Service Pack may be applied from XenCenter as well.

Flowchart to evaluate HDX 3D Pro with 3DGP

On the XenCenter, there is a new tab called GPU at the host level. The appropriate vGPU types attached to the host are defined in this GUI, and made available to the virtual machines (VM). Depending on the requirements, one can also define the GPU placement policy here. This tab also makes it very convenient to visualize how many vGPU’s are already attached, and the physical GPU’s where they get placed. This makes later troubleshooting simpler.

GPU tab in XenCenter 6.2

At the VM-level in XenCenter, the vGPU can be selected as part of VM properties or during New VM creation on GPU enabled hosts. In the tech preview, this was a laborious step in the CLI. Now, simply determine the suitable vGPU Profile for your use-case and select it from the drop-down list. Once the VM is created, it boots into the Windows standard 800X600 VGA resolution. The vGPU features are available once the guest driver is installed in the Windows VM.

vGPU selection while creating VM

GPU performance graphs are available under the Performance tab of XenServer host. On first-run, these graphs have to be added to the view. Subsequently, they can be moved up or down and can show one or more of the installed GPUs.

Add new GPU graph in XenCenter
GPU graph in XenCenter

It may so happen that you cannot see any GPU-related tab or enhanced GUI in XenCenter. This happens if you connect using an older version of XenCenter. Make sure you update XenCenter 6.2 to the latest build.

Ensure correct version of XenCenter for 3D Graphics Pack

XenDesktop GUI Enhancements

There are few GPU related enhancements on the XenDesktop consoles, and automated-provisioning of vGPU-enabled VMs using Machine Creation Services (MCS) is the one we’ve been waiting for. Simply attach a vGPU to the base VM, install the virtual delivery agent (VDA for HDX 3D Pro), and install the required graphics apps. Then head over to XenDesktop Studio to create the machine catalog. The only part to exercise caution is not to perform a Sysprep after creating a vGPU-enabled base image, else it wipes out the vGPU information.

In Studio, the vGPU Type must be defined while creating the host settings to be used as a platform for the MCS machines.

Host settings with GPU in Studio

Subsequently, proceed to creation of a machine catalog as usual. The exact steps are outlined in the Reviewer’s Guide. At the step where MCS base image is chosen, hovering over the image name shows information to confirm if you have a valid vGPU-enabled master image.

Inline check for valid vGPU-enabled master image

The remaining process to create machine catalog, create delivery group, and assign users is no different than the usual way of delivering desktops and apps. Use the latest Citrix Receiver to access 3D apps. The Reviewer’s Guides lists some benchmark apps that can be used for demos and PoCs, as well as some monitoring apps (GPU-Z, NVIDIA control panel, etc.) to make sure it’s all working as expected.

Get Started

So that’s it! The enhanced GUI blends together the famed HDX user experience with a sophisticated GPU sharing technology to greatly simplify delivery of virtual 3D Pro graphics. Use the 3D design guide and other technical guides, videos, and white-papers on the HDX 3D Pro Launch site to accelerate successful trials and proof of concepts (PoC’s). Start your evaluation today by downloading the free 99-user XenDesktop license.

PS: Citrix Partners attending Summit 2014 in Orlando next month may enjoy the technical session on delivering shared 3D graphics. Check out the session description, and add SUM224 to your calendars.