Citrix Delivers Essentials for Your Hyper-V Data Center

Although expensive, this package greatly enhances the functionality and usability of an enterprise Hyper-V environment.

XenServer vendor Citrix Systems Inc. recently joined forces with software heavyweight Microsoft to deliver advanced virtualization management for enterprise data centers.

The result is Citrix Essentials, an add-on management tool available in two versions: Citrix Essentials for XenServer (CEXS) and Citrix Essentials for Hyper-V (CEHV). For an at-a-glance look at the features available in each of two CEXS and CEHV editions, see Table 1. For this review, we evaluated the CEHV versions.

The CEHV editions require Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) 2008. VMM provides support for the Windows PowerShell scripts used to provision commands you generate through Essentials' components. Note that the XenServer editions offer more functionality than their Hyper-V counterparts, including the ability to provision host servers as well as virtual machines (VMs).

Installation, via Windows Installer files, isn't difficult once you figure out where to start. Citrix doesn't specify which product to install first or say which components are required to work with any given feature. Turning to documentation for help can be a problem if you don't have a .PDF reader. You must install one first, as Citrix only provides the documentation in .PDF format -- not a best practice by any means.

Product FeatureEssentials for XenServerEssentials for Hyper-V
Enterprise EditionPlatinum EditionEnterprise EditionPlatinum Edition
StorageLink Management
Workflow Studio Orchestration
Multi-Hypervisor Interoperability
Microsoft Management Support
Automated Lab Management
High Availability Support
Price per Physical Server$2,500$5,000$1,500$3,000

Table 1 Citrix Essentials Features by Version and Edition

Even more surprising, Citrix doesn't offer Essentials as a virtual hard disk (VHD) or a VM in Open Virtualization Format (OVF). This is striking because Citrix created Project Kensho for OVF Files. Kensho is a free tool for converting OVF VMs to Hyper-V and XenServer formats. Turning Essentials into a virtual appliance would help streamline installation.

Unique Capabilities
CEHV provides three core functions for Hyper-V resource-pool management that aren't available through any other tool in Microsoft virtualization infrastructure deployments:

  • Advanced StorageLink Technology enables rapid provisioning of VMs using high-speed copying capabilities native to your storage-area network (SAN). StorageLink connects to your storage arrays, leveraging the SAN's snapshot and cloning capabilities to generate VMs from existing templates stored on a logical unit number (LUN). Note that VMM includes the ability to do this, too, but StorageLink enhances this feature by creating direct connections and leveraging the SAN's thin-provisioning capabilities.
  • Dynamic Provisioning Services (DPS) use provisioning server farms to pre-populate VMs based on a single-source VHD file and differentials. Using differentials, DPS can generate hundreds, even thousands, of VMs that take up only a fraction of the space of normal VMs. VMs are stored in a vDisk, in VHD format, on a central storage container. The contents of the vDisk are streamed for processing on the endpoints. Because the contents originate from a central vDisk, endpoints need only RAM, as opposed to a local disk drive, to run the image. Moreover, DPS can stream desktop and server VMs. The CEHV editions use a central SQL Server database to store user and provisioning data.
  • Automated Lab Management relies on Citrix LabManager to provide user self-service for laboratory provisioning. This improves upon the functionality available through VMM's self-service portal, which allows a user to create and manage only one machine at a time. This means you must either prebuild complex environments -- such as those featuring Active Directory domain controllers as well as SQL, Exchange and SharePoint servers -- or let users do the building.

With LabManager, organizations can generate custom environments based on corporate standards. Users can then use these templates to request and generate their own complete testing environments. These requests move through a workflow that requires proper authorizations before the users can proceed. This tool is a must for any organization that performs a lot of internal development and wants to use Hyper-V as its virtualization platform. Only VMware's vCenter Lab Manager provides comparable functionality.

One-of-a-Kind Tool
Overall, these three key CEHV components add considerable value to data centers relying on Hyper-V. The ability of DPS to decrease VM disk footprints while providing fully functional environments to massive numbers of users makes this tool worth its weight in gold.

However, gold is what you'll need to utilize CEHV. At a base price of $1,500 per server for the Enterprise Edition and $3,000 per server for the Platinum Edition, it's an expensive product to introduce into your data center -- and an even more expensive endeavor when you include the price of VMM, which is needed for CEHV. Still, we can't imagine organizations running Hyper-V without this useful tool.

About the Author

Danielle Ruest and Nelson Ruest, both Microsoft MVPs, are IT professionals focused on technologies futures. They are authors of multiple books, including "Microsoft Windows Server 2008: The Complete Reference" (McGraw-Hill Osborne Media, 2008), which focuses on building virtual workloads with Microsoft's new OS.

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