It might surprise you to learn that XenServer recently marked its 10th year anniversary of commercially available releases (an event covered very well in a recent blog post from James Bulpin).
The early releases of XenServer (called XenEnterprise back then) didn’t even support Microsoft Windows, as the necessary CPU technology to support the Operating System (OS) in hardware was only just being made available by Intel and AMD (Intel-VT and AMD-V respectively).
Comprehensive support for Microsoft Windows OSs was, of course, added to XenServer, which brings us to where we are today. In this series of blog posts, I am going to cover the hypervisor’s latest built-in capabilities—all those things that enable businesses to leverage and integrate with various Microsoft technologies for the purpose of lowering an infrastructure deployment’s TCO, and lowering OPEX of running them.
So, what is new or updated with XenServer that integrates with Microsoft technologies?
Automated Windows VM driver management
We’ve come a long way in the few years since XenServer 6.2, when the product’s maximum host scalability was 110 VMs/host. Now in XenServer 7, VM scalability has been increased to 1000 VMs/host, and while customers don’t typically choose to load hosts up that high, the point is that customers are now able to run far more VMs per host or per resource pool than they were able to in the past.
Whenever there has been a significant update to the XenServer hypervisor layer, the VM’s XenTools (the in-guest agent and I/O drivers) would also have to be updated; doing this for hundreds or thousands of VMs proved challenging for businesses. Citrix has, therefore, taken the innovative approach of integrating the I/O drivers of XenTools into Microsoft Update Services, enabling Windows driver updates to be handled with any other Microsoft Windows related updates, and making it a part of any pre-existing organizational processes. The agent portion of XenTools is also automatically updated from Citrix hosted servers, as newer versions become available.
This change in XenTools management makes a significant impact across different use cases, from public and private clouds customers, where infrastructure and VM ownership are different organizations, through to XenApp and XenDesktop customers with potentially 10,000s users and desktops.
Microsoft Server Message Block (SMB) support
Customers that run Windows Server OSs probably already make use of SMB, and XenServer’s support of this for VM storage (as XenServer Storage Repositories) gives further choice to IT architects and admins for where they want to store VM’s disks, potentially negating the need to run other storage protocols that increase OPEX.
Containers—Docker containers, in particular—have received huge market interest as an alternative way of packaging and deploying applications. XenServer enabled Docker support for Linux VMs in May 2015, and then recently extended this support to Windows Server 2016. With its XenCenter UI integration and runtime container operations, XenServer is the only hypervisor supporting for both Linux and Windows OSs.
XenServer SCOM Management Pack
XenServer customers that use Microsoft management tools will be pleased to hear that we’ve integrated with System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) in the form of a XenServer SCOM management pack that is licensed for all XenApp and XenDesktop customers using XenServer, and for any customers choosing to purchase XenServer Enterprise edition. This pack enables those customers to consolidate monitoring and alerting into SCOM for not just their XenServer hosting infrastructure, but the entire Citrix stack.
Enhanced Microsoft Active Directory integration
XenServer has had Microsoft Active Directory integration for several years, but in the latest release, it has been significantly updated to boost both scale and performance, catering now to large AD forests with a million users and 10,000 groups, enabling these large enterprise organizations to choose XenServer for user and group authentication in XenCenter.
I mention enhanced graphics, as there are end-user benefits to application and desktop virtualization customers using Microsoft Windows. XenServer pioneered graphics virtualization in 2013 with NVIDIA, and now supports a variety of GPU pass-thru and vGPU options for K1, K2, M6 and M60 GPUs. Numerous productivity and CAD/CAM applications are able to leverage GPUs, including Microsoft office and Internet browsers as some of the more prolific in use. More recently, XenServer has extended its enhanced graphics capability to the Intel chipset, with Intel GVT-g (Graphics Virtualization Technology), and is the only hypervisor to offer this.
The more that graphics can be off-loaded to the GPU, the greater the end-user experience will be, and additionally, the desktop/XenApp VM will require less CPU, resulting in freed resource for additional user/application scale.
New OS templates: Microsoft Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016 (preview)
In every XenServer release, we aim to stay current on supported Microsoft Windows releases, and the XenServer 7 release was no exception. We’ve stayed in lock step with the introduction of Microsoft Windows 10, and subsequent preview introduction of Microsoft Windows Server 2016 (the latter enabled as a preview, as it wasn’t GA at the time of XenServer’s release). This is due to a dependency on product driver signing before Citrix can recommend Windows Server 2016 production usage on XenServer.
Look out for future blog posts in this series, where I will do deeper technical dives into various aspects of XenServer’s integration with Microsoft Technologies. In the meantime, however, I will leave you with another recent James Bulpin blog on how XenServer supports Microsoft’s plans for enhanced virtualization security.