The desktop virtualization industry is relatively young, but it’s already full of myths and tales. One of the most popular ones -which is told by a number of our competitors whenever they get a chance to- is about image management with XenDesktop. It tells customers and partners about how complex image management is to setup and that it’s even harder to use.

One of my favorite statements comes from our friends at VMware. They say “Both PVS and MCS are too hard for most lean IT staffs to use, and many XenDesktop deployments get stalled by image management complexity.”

In this blog series I’ll try to “myth bust” these claims. But don’t worry I’ll not cite from any “independent” studies! Instead you’ll see a bunch of screenshots and videos and I’ll try to be as transparent as possible about how the results were gathered.

Now put on your helmet and follow me down into the image management dungeon to see the one called the “darkest” of all the Citrix technologies by competitors: Provisioning Services (PVS).

This is the PVS Console:

Looks scary… huh?

In here you can see:

In order to create a new vDisk -which then can be streamed down to an unlimited number of target devices- you need to have some kind of IP network, a DHCP server and you need to follow these three steps:

  1. Install Citrix Provisioning Server
  2. Setup a physical or virtual system which can be used as a master
  3. Install the PVS Target Device Drivers on the master system

Last but not least you need to run the PVS Image Wizard on the master. This wizard guide you trough the 7 step process which can be completed within a minute or two. Below you can find a video outlining the complete procedure:

Now the most complex part of a Provisioning Services installation / configuration procedure is over.   Actually I can already hear our competitors screaming “Hey, you skipped the network integration part! Customers need to consider DHCP and PXE and BDM and multi-homing and sooo much more…!”. Well, there are certainly environments of very large scale or with specific requirements in which you really need to spend some thoughts about how to deliver the PVS Bootstrap information (DHCP, PXE or BDM) or how the streaming traffic gets offloaded to dedicated network adapters (e.g. multi-homing). But that’s nothing an average customer with a couple of hundred or a few thousand desktops need to do. In this case you just go with the default configuration, which means:

  • Don’t touch your DHCP. Just make sure your scope has some IP addresses available.
  • Run the PXE service on every PVS server. So don’t uncheck this option during the installation and go with the default.
  • Just use a single NIC on your PVS server as well as the targets. Even a 1 GBit/s connection can transfer round about 115 MByte per second. That is a lot of data. Much more than a virtual desktop or a XenApp server will read from disk during normal operations.

In case you’re one of the customers who cannot go with the default configuration, check out the related eDocs article as well as the Citrix Virtual Desktop Handbook, which provides detailed design guidance around this topic. With that being said, back to the previous line of though. We have created the new Provisioning Services vDisk.  So now you can either stream the newly created vDisk to some physical systems, create a bunch of new virtual machines by means of the PVS Setup Wizard which can integrate these VMs into XenDesktop right away (I’ll post a video of that later) or you just assign it to some existing targets.   Now some of you may say “Ahh… here it comes… This is the complex part… This is what makes PVS so unusable…”. I’m sorry but I have to disappoint you. Assigning a vDisk is actually fairly simple. You have to:

  1. Click a vDisk
  • Drag it to a Device Collection
  • Click Yes

  Now we can boot the target devices. So each of these systems is booting from the exact same hard disk (or vDisk in this case). This means each system has the exact same configuration and the same applications installed. But although all systems boot from the same hard disk, each system has a unique name and is linked to a unique Computer Account in Active Directory. The magic of Provisioning Services is that these changes are made on the fly during booting. So there is no need to run scripts and boot a few times as with VMware View Composer. Imagine how powerful this is when managing 50, 100, 1.000, 10.000 or even more systems.   In order to demonstrate how powerful PVS is, I’ve created another short video in which I’ll roll out Microsoft Office 2013 to Windows 8.1 targets and then roll back to a Windows 7 image with Office installed. I know that this is not really a real life use case, but I think it’s a pretty nice demo though… 🙂  


I hope I’ve been able to bust the myth of Provisioning Server being overly complex so that most IT staff can’t cope with it.

In the next blog of this series I’ll take a look at XenDesktop Machine Creation Services, the other beast in the image management dungeon.

PS: One final note. I’m fully aware and I’m sure you are too that image management is more than just setting up the infrastructure and running the basic procedures I  described within this post. We actually have a number of white papers discussing this in great detail (e.g. CTX133786). But the intention of this blog was to focus on some of the technical aspects in XenDesktop / PVS rather than providing an end-to-end picture.

Follow me on Twitter: @tberger80