Building my virtual desktop environment – one week in

We completed the seventh full day of work on my virtual desktop environment today, so I’m calling it a week even though it technically wrapped across two work weeks.  My original naive intention was to try to do daily blog updates during the build process.  Well, I’m one week in and aside from brief distractions by a Chromebook and thinking about vSphere 5 licensing, I’ve been too buried in standing up my XenDesktop environment to even think about writing about it until now.

I’d say things are going well overall.  If you’ve ever created an environment like this from the ground up, while at the same time having to integrate it into a large heterogenous infrastructure, you’ll have some idea of the many small to large issues we’ve had to track down and resolve so far.  Firewall ports outside those originally specified in the design document that needed to be open.  Fiddling with differing syntax in our open source DHCP system to get XenDesktop or XenApp virtual machines to boot successfully via Citrix Provisioning Services.  Group Policy.  Lots and lots of group policy.  Unintentional miscommunication between system administrators and network administrators – that’s always fun.  At the end of the day, though, we’ve gotten a lot accomplished.

We’re finished building the core infrastructure for my XenDesktop environment and it’s already larger than anything else I’ve ever worked on.  21 servers so far, with 2 or 4 of everything for high availability – web servers, license servers, desktop delivery controllers, provisioning servers, database servers, zone data collectors.  We’re building it all on one FlexPod and will transfer half of the environment to the FlexPod in our other data center at some point.

I can definitely say that the multiple POC’s I’ve run over the last couple of years, official ones at the office and unofficial ones in my spare time, have really helped to make building the real deal go smoothly.  Our Citrix reseller/partner has been great so far as well; not a surprise since they’ve worked with us before on an official POC as well as on an upgrade to our smaller XenApp environment.  Having three sets of hands & eyes – the consultant’s, a coworker’s, and mine all working at various times on the same or different tasks has been more efficient than I’d hoped it would be, with the consultant/engineer fitting in like a member of our team in a way I admire and, to some degree, envy.

We’ve progressed to the point of initial testing of provisioned XenDesktops and XenApp servers.  Next week we’ll begin configuring our NetScalers and then jump back into fine-tuning our PVS images, as well as profiling the 100+ applications we run in our labs.  Did I mention we’ve never run a managed profile system before?  We made the decision to go with just the free (included with XenDesktop) User Profile Manager for our initial rollout, but something tells me that, as we really scale up, we will need to look into commercial user environment management products from companies like AppSense or RES Software.

I’m keeping a running list of gotchas we encounter.  I’ll publish those along with what will almost certainly be intermittent build updates in the near future.  For now, I’m going to enjoy my weekend and go to a nephew’s birthday party.

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