New Features in XenApp & XenDesktop 7.7

Help DeskThe latest version of XenApp and XenDesktop were released at the end of December 2015. Version 7.7 of both products will be followed up by another version (7.8) currently scheduled to be released sometime 1st quarter 2016. Citrix is being a little more aggressive with these releases because they are trying to accelerate their relationship with Microsoft, increase integration between products, and (re)introduce features.

With version 7.7, Citrix has given us these new features:

    • Zoning – Why does that sound familiar? Prior to version 7, zoning was has always been a part of XenApp and even MetaFrame. When version 7 was released, zoning was not included. With version 7.7, zoning is back. It has the same purpose as before. Zoning gives us simplified management across geographically dispersed deployments. One XenApp site can now be deployed in multiple geographical locations while enabling application control from one console.
    • Application Limits – Another feature being revived is the ability to put certain limits on published applications. This is where an administrator can control how many concurrent sessions can be active at one time, how many active sessions of a published application a user can have open simultaneously, and more.
    • Advanced Database Configuration – Previously, all database activity was installed in one location. Now, the site, monitoring, and logging databases can be installed on different servers and even in different locations. As a note along this path, SQL 2012 SP2 is now installed instead of SP1.
    • Improved Maintenance Notifications – Notifications to users about system maintenance can now be configured to go out at a specific time prior to the maintenance commencing and reminders can be sent at configured intervals.
    • Skype for Business functionality – This allows for a full installation of Skype using a desktop or a virtual app. The RealTime Optimization Pack will need to be installed to provide a user with the best experience while using Skype for Business.
    • Citrix Director Improvements –
      • Defined application limits (see above) are now shown in Director.
      • Director can use your windows credentials to authenticate you (single sign-on).
      • Better SCOM 2012 integration.
      • Proactive monitoring alerts to help improve reaction time.
      • New usage views for both desktop and server OS’s. Usage can be viewed at the site, delivery group, and machine level.Along with new features, there are a number of enhancements:
    • There are updates to platform support. This is to allow and improve performance with new hardware technologies.
    • New APIs are being introduced for developers. Using PowerShell SDK, session roaming can be tailored to an organization’s needs. Another API will allow for the access of templates, images, and snapshots across multiple hypervisor connections.
    • Windows 10 support for the VDA and Studio is now available.
    • Extended integration with Microsoft Azure – You can now use Machine Creation Services (MCS) from XenApp and XenDesktop to provision virtual machines in Azure.

Look for a future blog post detailing the changes coming in version 7.8.

As always, please feel free to post any questions or comments below or reach me directly by email.


Craig R. Kalty (CCIA, CCEE, CCA, MCITP:EA, MCITP:SA, VCP)| Sr. Network Consultant




©2016 Custom Systems Corporation

XenServer Backup Options – Part II

In this second of a two part series, we’ll discuss available options for XenServer Backup.

Citrix Xen ServerIn Part I of this blog post , I began discussing backup options for XenServer.  I touched on the tools that come with XenServer and cruelly ended it without getting into the topic of third party backups.  In this second part, I am going to completely skip over that subject and make you wait for Part IV.  Don’t ask what happened to Part III.  OK, I am done kidding around (for now).  Third party backup solutions generally fall into one of three categories: backups done through storage replication, backups performed at an OS level, and backups performed using snapshots through the XenAPI.

Storage Replication

Backups done through storage replication utilize the replication abilities built into your backend storage (SAN or NAS).  The VMs stored on your SAN or NAS get replicated to another site by the storage device.  This is both a backup and disaster recovery option.  However, it is probably the most expensive option because it requires two or more storage devices in different geographical locations with a pipe between them big enough to support the replication traffic.  File level restoration becomes a problem because the VM as a whole is replicated without a way to parse data inside the VM.

OS Level

Backups done utilizing at the OS level is the traditional method of backing up a server.  Even though these are virtual machines, they are still fully functional servers.  The hardware they run on is different, but in essence to the OS, that is a difference in drivers used.  The OS is still the same.  You can use your traditional backup software which usually (not always) places an agent in the OS to perform backups of the server system state, data, and files.  This could be solutions from Symantec, Carbonite, Acronis, ComVault, and hundreds of other backup vendors.  For those of you with smaller Windows server VMs and wanting to save money, you can even employ Windows Backup which comes with Windows.  OS level backups is a method in which you can keep from using multiple solutions providers and will provide the most granular level restore options for the OS, applications, and services.  One solution will probably handle it all.  However, you will be restoring a server the same way you would a physical server.  Fix the hardware, install the OS, install the backup agents as needed, and then restore.  This is a big differentiation from solutions geared towards backing up virtual machines as a whole image because they enable you to restore a VM back to its state at the time of backup without rebuilding the server.

Snapshots with XenAPI

Backups done through snapshots utilizing the XenAPI is a very common form of backup for a XenServer.  This method backs up the server as a whole image.  Many solutions utilize this method.  In fact, you can find free premade scripts people have posted that will perform this function for you.  You just won’t get any bells and whistles with a script.  And that is what differentiates the 3rd party backup solutions over just getting a script.  The bells and whistles 3rd party vendors include catalog and sort options, give broader control over the storage being used, and other features.  Some of these solutions have features that will mount the snapshot to allow you to perform granular recovery.  PHD Virtual (acquired by Unitrends last year) was one of the first well rounded support offerings for XenServer.  Over the last few years, it has grown to allow you to do granular level restores even for Exchange and SharePoint.  Quadric Alike is a well-rounded solution.  Its product trial is a free version for one XenServer that does not expire.  So, if you are a small shop with only one XenServer, here is a good free solution.
Ideally, a solution that provides both physical and virtual server backup solutions with granular level restore would be what a lot of administrators are looking for.  It would be your single backup product that covers both physical and virtual worlds.  SEP Software Corp offers such a solution as well as Symantec NetBackup.  Many of these solutions started out as a standalone products which were incorporated into a package or integrated into another solution.

As I stated, I am not covering anything in-depth and my purpose was not to review solutions in this article.  It is more about awareness.  If you would like to offer a suggestion I did not mention, please do so in the comments below.





Sr. Network Consultant


© 2014 Custom Systems Corporation

XenServer Backup Options – Part I

In this first of a two part series, we’ll discuss available options for XenServer Backup.

Citrix Xen ServerRecently, I have been asked about backing up XenServer Virtual Machines (VMs).  At first I was concerned that some of the people who asked have had a XenServer environment for a long time.  At this point, they already had backup solutions in place.  In essence, they were looking for something different.  More to the point, they were looking for a single backup solution that encompassed all their backup needs.  With that in mind, we can look at what is out there.  I am going to discuss the solutions I have familiarity with.  If I do not include a solution, it is not because I am excluding it or devaluing it.  If you know of a solution I do not mention, please post it in the discussions with a description of the product and tell me what you like about it.

Citrix (and others) categorize XenServer Virtual Machine backups into three types; Cold, Warm, and Hot backups.  These are also terms for disaster recovery and high availability, but they take on a slightly different meaning when referring to XenServer backups.  Cold and Warm backups refer to backups that cause service interruption.  A cold backup occurs when the VM is powered down completely.  A Warm backup will not power down the VM, but can still interrupt service while the VM is being backed up.  A Hot backup is one that will not interrupt service and keep the VM running.  The performance of the VM may be affected during a Hot backup, but the VM will still be able to respond to requests.

Let’s discuss backing up the XenServer host itself.  I have found very little need for a purchased solution to back up my XenServer Hosts.  The metadata on a host changes rarely and to install XenServer on a server literally takes only a few minutes.  Therefore, all I need to do is backup the metadata for the host from time to time.  I can accomplish this with command line tools.  Backing up a host server needs the ‘xe host-backup’ command.  To restore a host server, it takes a few steps.  First, install XenServer and run the ‘xe host-restore’ command using the file created from the backup command.  Then, you will need the XenServer install CD to run a ‘Restore from Backup’.  This can be scripted and works fine for individual hosts, but most times, we have a pool of multiple hosts.  You can still use the commands I discussed to make a host backup, but you need to use the ‘xe pool-dump-database’ command to back up the pool metadata.  You would then use the ‘xe pool-database-restore’ command to restore the pool metadata.  Again, scripting can help with these tasks.

Now, let’s talk about your basic XenServer VM backup options.  For immediate needs, you can export a VM, take a snapshot, or utilize existing server backup technology.  Exporting a VM and taking snapshots can be automated, but neither of them are true backup solutions providing resolution to backup strategies.  In fact, it is highly recommended to view snapshots as a temporary solution, not a full backup strategy.  Snapshots are categorized as a Hot Backup.  Snapshots will eat up your storage very quickly.  So will VM exports.  One cheap method of backup is to take a snapshot of a running VM, export the snapshot to an .XVA file, and then delete the snapshot.  Besides from storage utilization issues which get worse in big environments or growing environments, there a many other drawbacks to this method like automation problems, file level restoration complications, retention over time/restore point tracking, etc.

In part II of this post, I will discuss Hot backup solutions utilizing agents and options from multiple third party vendors.

As always, please post any questions or suggestions below. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sr. Network Consultant




© 2014 Custom Systems Corporation