Successful DaaS Implementations for Citrix Service Providers

Desktop virtualization is increasingly offered as a managed hosted service. In order to provide subscribers with a great user experience and spread the adoption of Desktop as a Service (DaaS) across a tenant's entire organization it is imperative that service providers successfully migrate existing desktops and workstations from the physical world into the DaaS environment. This whitepaper describes an industry leading methodology along with the right tools and processes to transform end-users into happy and productive subscribers.

Introduction

2014 has been predicted to be the year where Desktops as a Service (DaaS) achieves widespread adoption in the virtual desktop market. Citrix Systems has been offering the key XenDesktop and XenApp products under a service provider licensing program and there are well over 2,000 service providers aligned with the program today.

Just as with any other desktop virtualization initiative, the success of DaaS implementations is dependent on numerous factors. The solution has to work from a technical point of view and has to perform within acceptable parameters. However, human end-user factors play an important role that are often not considered enough.

Many virtualization projects (including DaaS) are motivated by internal factors, such as the desire to avoid running a complex internal IT environment, cost savings relative to traditional desktop and application delivery modalities, easier administration and a shift from capital to operational expense models. In order to realize these benefits, it is imperative for the success of the DaaS implementation that a user-centric design approach be used. Ultimately, the end-users need to spend most of their waking hours using the technology and are quick to get frustrated or find alternatives should the provided solution be inadequate.

Implementation Methodology

Citrix Consulting Services describes the implementation methodology in the following five phases: Define, Assess, Design, Deploy, and Monitor

Define

During the project definition phase broad project parameters are determined. Most organizations identify the need to do something different during this phase and establish some broad success criteria and select appropriate vendor technologies. In the case of DaaS implementations, the majority of those decisions are already made. The customer has decided on a hosted DaaS implementation and is ready to move into the assessment phase.

Assess

The Assess phase is critical for the overall success of the project. Many IT organizations don't have a detailed enough view into what applications the end-users need or want and how they are using their computing resources today. Especially in the days of "Bring Your Own Device", it is increasingly difficult to compile a centralized view of the wants and needs of the end-user community. Citrix Consulting Services introduced the Desktop Transformation Assessment offerings precisely to address this need.

The objective of the assessment is twofold: First, determine the entire application landscape and correlate it with other factors such as mobility needs, primary user location, offline use cases, etc. to group users into individual projects that drive common requirements. Secondly, to determine the best delivery model and gather detailed performance data (including requirements for new technologies such as shared virtual GPUs and HDX 3D Pro) in order to size and design the solution.

Figure 1 - Application Set in SysTrack Enterprise Visualizer

Most DaaS implementations also encompass an upgrade of the desktop operating system. Hosted shared server desktops are the only viable delivery model in many cases (driven by licensing considerations more so than technical requirements), and that implies changing from a desktop operating system to a server operating system. While the desktop transformation methodology also includes an effort to rationalize applications and standardize as much as possible, it is not immediately clear whether the chosen applications will properly run on the targeted operating system. Many vendor supported applications work fine, but especially the in-house developed applications, plug-ins, connectors, and UIs are often not written for multi-user operating systems.

Rather than testing the applications individually, many IT architects leverage Citrix AppDNA for an expeditious and largely automated compatibility testing and application remediation initiative.

Design

During the Design phase, service providers determine the best technical architecture for the infrastructure and the DaaS images and virtual machines. Much has been written about the leading technical practices for the infrastructure of such an implementation and shall not be a subject of this whitepaper.

However, designing the virtual machine images for a DaaS implementation is no trivial tasks and varies greatly between use cases. Service providers strive to standardize as many applications as possible and evaluate whether to include additional applications in the desktop images. Considerations around application licensing and access to critical or restricted data play a role here. Without a proper tool in place, the image design can be tedious and time consuming. SysTrack's Virtual Machine Planner is the tool that allows service providers to design the images, assign users to images and distribute the images amongst the physical servers in a way that the risk of resource contention and bottlenecks is minimized.

Figure 2 - SysTrack Virtual Machine Planner - Application Rationalization workflow

Deploy

During the deployment phase, the first user group (sometimes referred to as a "pilot") is brought into the live DaaS environment. The service provider along with corporate IT have communicated the upcoming changes to the end user community and may choose to assign additional support resources to the first group. After a successful pilot implementation, additional user groups are brought on board. Depending on the preference of the service provider and corporate IT, the assessment and design phase may need to be repeated for subsequent user groups.

Prudent IT architects monitor the transformation from the physical into the virtual world and watch for any adverse and unexpected change in the user experience. SysTrack's Transform tool is invaluable during this phase. The end-user experience can be compared to a physical baseline and information from AppDNA can be pulled directly into SysTrack Transform to help service providers manage the application compatibility and remediation work that AppDNA identified during the assessment phase.

Monitor

The go-live event of the first user group triggers the transition into the monitoring phase. The infrastructure as well as the user experience itself have to be monitored proactively in order to provide a positive experience for the subscriber base. It is fully expected that user requirements change and remain somewhat fluid over the entire life cycle of the DaaS implementation. End-points (including mobile devices), access modalities, offline use cases, applications, user projects and initiative all change over time and the DaaS environment must keep up with those changes. SysTrack is the leading end-user analytics tool that alerts service providers proactively about any events or metrics in the environment that can adversely impact the user experience – often times long before the end-user would raise the issue to IT. IT efforts can be directed starting from an enterprise or tenant-wide view down to the individual desktop and subscriber level without the need to manually reproduce certain conditions or issues. In multi-tenant environments, SysTrack can be implemented in a way to provide detailed visibility into the DaaS environment of each tenant while allowing the service provider to have visibility into the performance of the entire DaaS deployment across multiple tenants.

Figure 3 - End-user health metrics for a virtual desktop showing categorization of issues

Figure 4 - A mapping of the dependencies for a specific system found in SysTrack Resolve.

Generally speaking, it is difficult to prevent any "rogue" end-user behavior in the environment. The actions of one set of users can negatively impact the experience of other users. SysTrack vScape provides detailed visibility into the physical hosting infrastructure and allows service providers to correlate performance metrics on the hypervisor with performance indicators from inside each virtual machine and end-user session.

Figure 5 - vScape Real Time health of hypervisors, VMs, and applications

Service providers are often asked to provide their customer tenants with recurring reports and statistics of the DaaS environment. SysTrack features a flexible dashboard builder and tight integration with SQL Server Reporting Services so that recurring reports (daily, weekly, monthly) can easily be created based on pre-defined templates. The integration in usage-based billing modules allows for accurate revenue cycle management across the entire customer spectrum. Billing reports can be generated based on user concurrency for various desktop offerings (such as silver, gold, platinum) or actual resources consumed in the infrastructure. Figure 7 shows a sample dashboard created in a few minutes with the visual dashboard builder, which is depicted in Figure 6.

Figure 6 - Visual Dashboard Builder showing work in progress on a XenApp billing dashboard

Figure 7 - Sample XenApp Billing Dashboard

About Lakeside Software

Lakeside SysTrack is the leading end-user analytics platform in the IT space with thousands of customers in over 60 countries. Lakeside started its journey in the late 1990s and has been focused on server-based computing, Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop. One of the early versions of SysTrack was embedded in Citrix Presentation Server as the Resource Manager functionality. At the core of Lakeside sits its patented DataMine technology, under which very lightweight and non-intrusive agents that are deployed to physical or virtual desktops and servers to gather detailed data about the system's performance and the end-user experience (including the industry's first instrumentation of NVIDIA video cards and vGPU GRID deployments.) Rather than collecting large amounts of data from potentially hundreds of thousands of monitored systems to a central database where massive hadoop clusters might be required to perform any kind of meaningful analysis, SysTrack's patented technology intelligently keeps the most granular data only for a limited amount of time and summarizes anything that might be of interest to a central administrator on a daily basis without overwhelming the network or the databases in the process. This distributed architecture allows SysTrack customers to build virtually limitless environments. The largest SysTrack production customer today has well over 300,000 monitored systems and captures over 100 million data points per second. It is believed that SysTrack could very well scale to 1 million monitored systems without reaching any systemic scalability limit.

SysTrack is offered via perpetual licenses as well as under an attractive service provider licensing model.

Figure 8 - Sample DaaS Multi-Tenant Architecture

SysTrack and XenDesktop or XenApp Platinum Edition

XenApp and XenDesktop platinum edition provide the most comprehensive solution for service providers. Lakeside SysTrack complements the platinum edition of XenApp and XenDesktop and maximizes the value of the service provider's investment in Citrix technologies. Figure 9 shows how SysTrack adds to key platinum edition features and components throughout the entire DaaS life cycle.

Figure 9 - Citrix Consulting Methodology with SysTrack and Citrix Platinum Components

Conclusion

DaaS deployments provide an extensive opportunity for Citrix Service providers. While the benefits of DaaS are immediately clear to the customer's IT and financial organizations, a successful migration from traditional physical desktops requires a usercentric mindset. Lakeside SysTrack along with Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop platinum edition provides a proven toolset for successful DaaS implementations and happy subscribers.