Simplifying XenApp Image Management with Unidesk Layered Images

Posted by Tom Rose on Feb 9, 2016

Ever since we announced the new Unidesk layering innovations for Citrix XenApp at Citrix Summit, we've seen a record number of registrations for our Tech Preview program. People are also wanting to know more about the new capabilities. Here's the first in a series of closer looks at each of them.

We'll start with our new Layered Images and integration with Citrix Provisioning Services (PVS). For the first time, 10s or even 100s of XenApp servers can be built and managed from a single instance of Windows Server and single instances of all applications that only need to be patched once - even across different XenApp silos and versions.

The XenApp Image Management Challenge

Anyone who has managed a large XenApp farm understands this challenge. Multiple XenApp servers are needed to deliver applications or full desktops to end users. Citrix Provisioning Services enables all of the servers in any one silo to be built from a common vDisk containing the Windows Server OS and key apps. As new silos are added for different groups of users and departments, new vDisks with different sets of apps are built. When Microsoft releases new OS updates, Windows Server has to be patched multiple times - once for each silo. Any apps that appear in multiple silos must also be updated multiple times. This increases cost and hinders IT's ability to deliver apps at the speed businesses require.

Unidesk Layered Images

Unidesk is unique in our ability to package every component of a Windows workspace - even the OS itself - as a virtual disk "layer." We call this full stack layering. We have enhanced this capability to enable IT admins to generate new "Layered Images" for use by end user computing platforms such as Citrix XenApp.

Unidesk Layered Image Creation

The new Images tab in the Unidesk Management Console above shows all of the image templates that have already been created. You can create new Layered Images using the Create Template Wizard, also shown above. Simply select a Windows Server OS layer and any combination of application layers. Unidesk's patented file system and registry virtualization technology will merge these layers together to form a perfect Windows image. No matter how many different XenApp silos and server configurations you have, now you'll only have to update Windows and apps once.

Said a large Citrix Service Provider (CSP) who saw the Unidesk Layered Image demo at Citrix Summit: "We provide XenApp hosting, and have 29 silos. We have to patch Windows Server 29 times every month. With Unidesk, we can do it once. That's 1/29th the effort, every month. Easy ROI."

Unidesk Integration with Citrix Provisioning Services

Citrix Provisioning Services, aka PVS, is used in many large-scale Citrix implementations to help with image management. The new Unidesk Connector for Citrix Provisioning Services enables PVS to distribute Layered Images to XenApp servers. This integration marries Unidesk's proven ability to manage image content with PVS's proven ability to manage image delivery. It also enables Unidesk to be snapped in to existing XenApp implementations without having to re-provision servers or re-configure silos.

Unidesk Layered Image Target

The screenshot above shows the new Publish Layered Image wizard. Once you've created an image template by selecting from your catalog of app and OS layers, you simply select the target platform for your Layered Image. You can see the different platform connectors for PVS that we've configured in the pick list.

Spanning XenApp and PVS Versions

For app compatibility reasons, Citrix customers moving to XenApp 7.x will often use Windows Server 2008 R2 for some silos and machine catalogs. With Unidesk, they can use the same common OS layer for their existing 6.5 servers as well as their new 7.x servers. By working across different versions of XenApp and PVS, Unidesk enables entire XenApp implementations to be managed from a single Windows Server OS layer and single app layers that only need to be patched once.

What About VDI?

Some of our VDI customers may be wondering, "Could I push layered images to Citrix XenDesktop and VMware Horizon, too?" The answer is yes. PVS is also used with Citrix XenDesktop, and we'll be providing a connector for Citrix Machine Creation Services (MCS) for those of you who use that instead of PVS. We're also building a connector for VMware View Composer with Linked Clones that will allow easy integration with VMware Horizon. Ultimately, you'll be able you to build and manage all virtual desktops across all pools and delivery groups from a single Windows OS and single app instances.

Benefits Summary

To recap, here are the benefits that Unidesk Layered Images and Provisioning Server integration bring to XenApp:

  • 99%+ app compatibility. All apps can be packaged and delivered, including the 30-40% that are not compatible with traditional app virtualization or above-the-OS layering technologies.
  • App packaging simplicity. Most apps can be layered in under 20 minutes without any special packaging skills or expertise. Unlike first-generation technologies such as App-V that can take days or weeks to package a single app, Unidesk requires just an ordinary install on an already-prepped VM.
  • Patch-once efficiency. Images are now created and managed from modular Windows Server and application building blocks that only need to be updated once - even across different versions of XenApp.
  • Simple implementation. Integration with Citrix Provisioning Server enables Unidesk to be easily added into a production XenApp environment without risk or disruption.

In our next deep dive look at Unidesk's new innovations for Citrix XenApp, we'll cover Elastic Layering. In the meantime, if you've liked what you're heard, sign up for Tech Preview and give Unidesk a try in your own Citrix environment!

Topics: Citrix XenApp, Citrix PVS, XenApp Image Management

Posted by Tom Rose on Feb 9, 2016

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