We are only just days into 2016, however the XenServer product group has hit the New Year running with a technical preview release: TP2. This is an update to last year’s initial release, but before I get into detail on that, it’s worth taking a moment to consider some of the things we achieved in 2015.
The year started with a significant XenServer product release (v6.5) containing, amongst other things, new product editions, some new features and a raft of performance and scalability improvements.
XenApp customers (license holders) were also, for the first time, entitled to use XenServer features without needing a XenDesktop license. Now, all Citrix XenApp or XenDesktop customers have access to licensed and supported XenServer features as a part of their existing Citrix license agreements. No extra licenses required, nor support agreements, making it easy for customers to power their application and desktop infrastructures with XenServer: a platform which already scales beyond our customers’ needs (unless of course you are trying to run over maximum 1000 VMs per host).
May 2015 saw the release of XenServer 6.5 SP1, achieving even greater performance and scalability improvements, plus some new features! Not content with having shipped our NVIDIA GRID vGPU support some 18 months before any other hypervisor vendor, support for GRID vGPU sessions was extended to 96. Additionally we introduced NVIDIA GPU pass-thru for Linux, enabling many customer uses of enhanced graphics within Linux applications. Extending on the graphics theme, support for Intel GVT-d was introduced, this is Intel’s native ‘on-chip’ GPU pass-thru technology, not requiring any add-on GPU cards and is ideal for modest graphics requirements in XenApp-based deployments.
Late in September 2015, a XenServer technical preview was released to all existing XenServer, XenApp or XenDesktop customers. This release contained a number of new features and enhancements, including an introduction of Intel’s GVT-g graphics virtualization technology.
Block-based storage thin provisioning, SMB for Storage Repositories, NFS v4 and Open FCoE support provide some interesting new storage configuration options and offline-VM storage migrations help simplify infrastructure operations for administrators. Likewise, a new infrastructure–Health Check–enables administrators to get a ‘heads-up’ on common infrastructure issues, such as misconfiguration, outdated drivers, and new applicable patches.
Updates to XenServer’s control domain and the included version of the underlying Xen hypervisor all contribute to an increase in scalability and performance, whether a single or aggregate of VMs, as well as overall host performance whilst under extreme load. This all provides significant benefits for customers wanting to eke the most out of their existing infrastructures.

Summit & PTEC

marc trouard riolleCitrix Summit 2016 in Las Vegas has just wrapped up, and there were plenty of announcements & great XenServer discussions held for Citrix sales & partners. This year, I spent time with the Solutions Sandbox Demo team, helping with any XenServer-related demos & Q&A that arose. I mention this for those of you not aware that the solutions sandbox demos are based on the Citrix Demo Center, a facility that is available to Citrix partners for solution demos. The infrastructure supporting the demo center is based entirely on XenServer and provides all manner of Citrix demos from functional XenApp, XenDesktop and NetScaler to performance HDX 3D ones.
It was great to hear from ISV exhibitors in the expo hall either demonstrating new support for XenServer, or expressing an intention to do so within the short term future and certainly underscores how XenServer is being more widely considered and adopted to power customers’ XenApp and XenDesktop infrastructures.
Additionally, this year’s PTEC (Partner Technical Expert Council) was held just prior to Summit and saw 95 partners involved in product and solution discussions. PTEC provides the ideal for partners to provide open, related feedback to what they are seeing in the industry, at their customer sites, and their thoughts to our roadmap plans as product teams lay them bare.

So, what about XenServer?

Building on the initial technical preview release from 2015, plenty of new development has gone into this latest TP2 release. Aside from including the latest patches to squish previously found bugs (thank you to anyone that contributed bug submissions!), we’ve also included some new and updated features:
Heterogeneous Pool Support has been improved to enable the addition of new XenServer hosts into existing resource pools. So long as the underlying CPU vendor family for the new host is the same for all other hosts within a given pool, infrastructure admins can now mix hosts of different CPU types, whilst still being able to leverage all the live VM migration features (within or across pools) to eliminate planned infrastructure outages.
Conversion Manager now supports newer releases of VMware vSphere, including ESXi versions 5.0, 5.1, 5.5/u2 and 6.0, with VMs using thin/thick and IDE/SCSI storage types. The ability to migrate Microsoft Windows OS versions has been extended to include Windows 7, 8, 10 and Windows Server 2012.
Improved System Scalability is something we improve within each release, now with a few modifications to our configuration maximums to including VM RAM at 1.5TB and physical CPUs at 288 (inclusive of sockets & cores).
Workload Balancing’s workload optimization recommendations now include host disk read & write I/O metrics, providing greater overall insight into the host status.

There is still more work to be done. However, my recommendation to anyone considering XenApp or XenDesktop deployments later this year is to kick 2016 off right with this latest technical preview.

Combining this latest technical preview release with all the features, functionality and performance enhancements from the initial release last year, provides a great insight into what our PM & Engineering teams have been up to, and the sort of features you might be able to expect in our next shipping release!
Read more about what’s new with this release or go ahead and download it – you’ll be surprised–and I’m betting pleased–at the new features and enhanced performance.