Citrix Avalon Excalibur, part II: Citrix Provisioning server

With Exaclibur Citrix has released (technical preview) Provisioning server 6.2. Citrix Provisioning server is the Enterprise solution when it comes to deploying Citrix XenApp servers. In this blog you’ll read about the installation and the features of the new Provisioning server version found in Excalibur.
In my last blog I wrote about Excalibur from a XenApp point of view for XenApp will be a thing of the past when Excalibur will be general available. Citrix Provisioning server however is still going strong, I can’t think of any project where I would choose anything else if given the choice.
So my environment hasn’t changed;
  • 1 Domain controller running Windows 2008 R2
    • Microsoft SQL 2005 running on that domain controller.
  • 1 Citrix provisoning server running Windows 2008 R2.
  • 1 Microsoft Windows 7 desktop te become a vDisk.
The Excalibur download has next to the XenDesktop/XenApp ISO a PVS ISO file, so after deploying a Windows 2008 R2 server within my Hyper-V environment I connected the ISO and went ahead.
If you read the blog and think hey I know this already from previous versions, you are right only a few features have changed as far as I can see. these features will be addressed in the blog.


You might expect something else but it wise to first install the console, the setup expects the console at a certain point and therefore it better to have it installed already.

Setting up the console is a breeze, just click next until you see finish.

Provisioning server setup

When you browse to the ISO file connected to the virtual machine, you’ll see that Citrix hasn’t evolved much at the Provisioning server side setup. where XenDesktop has a nice new setup GUI, Provisioning server is left in the nineties. 
So the console is installed, next is the Server installation.

Citrix licensing is installed on the domain controller so I’m gonna install the server.
Make sure you have DotNet FrameWork 3.5 installed on the server before you install the server.

A bunch of required components are installed automatically, it takes a while before this is finished.
Below are the steps to install Citrix Provisioning server, I’ve put smaller images for the installation is so simple you just can go wrong.

Configuration wizard

At this point it gets interesting… we now will configure the Citrix Provisioning server.
The server is not doing anything before you have configured it.

The first thing you have to think about is how to provide your target devices with an IP address.
In most situations a external DHCP server will handle this, you will create a scope for the target devices where you provide them with the correct information.

The information that the targets need is option 66 and 67 in a DHCP scope, where is the provisioning server and what file do I need to boot from. I’ve setup that both DHCP and the options are coming from the Domain controller.

Next stop is the database, if you click browse the setup will try to find all SQL servers available. It is possible to specify a failover partner for the database.

If you have created a database you can select it here, enter a farm name, a site name and a collection name.
Also make sure you select the correct group for the administrators, this group will be added as the administrators group within the console.

The store, the location where the vDisks are stored, also needs a name. These names are not important because no user will ever see these names. only if you have different stores with different sites where different administrators need to have access to you might consider to change the names to something logical.

Browse to the folder you designated to be the store or create one.

Next you specify the license server that you will need to get the provisioning server operational.

Depending on your store configuration you need to have domain service account to access the store. You will need a domain service account for the store when you have the store on a remote share. For SAN based stores you use the local system account and for local stores (as I use often) the network service account is sufficient.

Citrix Provisioning server takes of the role of managing the computer password of the target devices. It needs to do this because the target devices are reboot often and recreated at times. The domain would not understand the computer being new every day and the domain trust would be lost instantly.
Citrix Provisioning server handles all domain communication for the target devices, making sure the domain thinks the target device has always been there.

Here’s a new feature of Citrix Provisioning server, in the past we used to deploy multihomed PVS servers. later on this was considered bad practice and we turned to single-homed PVS server, this was because of issues with registration of e.g. XenDesktop desktops.
Now we have a possibility to specify which network card is used for streaming and which one is used for management. If Citrix has done it’s homework well this would mean the issues won’t appear anymore with multi-homed server.

If you have multiple PVS server, you will have a bootstrap file containing all these server. All target devices know of this file and know which servers are on this list. If one server would fail the target device would fail over to the other on, almost instantly.

If you click on the Advanced button you get the next screen, the first two option are to be used if you have issues with target devices. It gives more information to debug.

After all this, you are good to go..

The services will be restarted and your farm is configured.

After this you can open the console and connect to the farm.

Console use

When you first open the console you will need to specify which server you are connecting to.
You can enter localhost when connecting to the farm, the console is installed on the local Provisioning server anyway. Only if you would have the console installed on a different server would you enter a remote server name.
The console opens, and the farm, sites, views and stores menu options are available. If you open the menu options you will see that under sites there is a whole world you didn’t see before.

Looking at the menu options their functionality is easy to guess.

Farm properties

On each of the menu options properties are available. First we will look at the Farm properties for the farm is the highest entity.

There are several tabs on the Farm properties, not all are interesting to be discussed over here. I will describe the most intesting ones.  The first one is in the screenshot above, the Security tab. Remember that you specified the administrator group while running the wizard, over here you see the group again. the group has administrative rights on the highest level within the farm.

The next tab is the Groups tab, you specify which AD groups you can assign security rights to. This is important if you want to delegate control to different user groups.

The next tab is the Options tab, over here you can specify the Auto-Add option of the farm. This means that all target devices that are not known in the database will be added to a specified site.
Also the option for offline database support is interesting, in case of a database crash the servers will keep on working fine.

The last interesting tab is the vDisk version tab. In several environments you see that there a many versions of the vDisk after a while. On this tab you can specify that there should be a merge of versions after a threshold is reached.

Site properties

On the site properties you can also specify certain options, not as many as on the farm but some important ones. here I wil write about the options in the site properties. The first one is the Security tab, here again you can add a group with administrator rights.

On the MAK tab you can enter the credentials to connect to use MAK.
On the Options tab you can select to which collection new devices are automatically added, make sure you have a template ready if you are using this option.

If you intend to use automatic updates on vDisk, assign a server to preform these updates via this tab.

Server properties

So far we haven’t seen much new stuff except the management IP address in the wizard. I haven’t seen much difference so far either in the server properties.
Logging is still possible on different levels from the logging tab.

to make sure your disk space is not used with log files, you can specify a maximum for them.

Like said before the automatie computer account password can be set to a certain amount of time.

On the server you can have different stores defined, this means that each server could have a different store location. Mind you that it’s key to keep the vDisk in sync.

The management IP address is a new feature to seperate the streaming and management traffic.

Power rating might come in handy when your PVS servers aren’t equally powerfull, adust the value according to the power of the servers. The server with the highest number will get the most streamed devices. Range is between 0.1 and 1.00

vDisk properties

The next properties set you want to take a look at it the vDisk properties, as far as I could see nothing has changed there since 6.1.
Access modes are still Standard and Private like before.

Cache types are also the same and Cache in Device RAM is still there. I’m a big fan of Cache on Device RAM, blogged about it somewhere in June I guess and still happy with it.. It rocks. Citrix make this your best practice.
If you use Cache in Device RAM make sure that you do two things, assign more memory to the virtual machine (as much as you set in the Cache size properties of the vDisk) and measure measure measure. You can’t tell on forehand how much cache will be used, there is no way any excel sheet or calculation can tell you this. The only way to find out is to measure, we came on a average of 4GB during the day…with 16GB assigned I thought it was pretty neat.

Licensing hasn’t changed, KMS is used by us most of the time.

And for the auto update, if anyone is using this, it’s still about class, type, major and build.

This concludes the setup blog of Citrix Provisioning server 6.2. The next blog will be about the functionality and what has changed. Tonight the misses is working so I will dive into that.

Hope you enjoyed reading the blog and hope to see you back soon.

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