Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Architecting a Citrix Virtualization solution-Assessment: Server Virtualization

Lets refresh where we are! We are discussing  about architecting a Citrix environment from Architects perspective. There are 2 parts to it:
  1)    Assessment
  2)    Design

Assessment is further divided into
·   User Community
·   Operating System Delievery
·   Application Delivery
·   Server Virtualization
·   Infrastructure
·   Security and personalization
·   Operation and Support
·   Conceptual Architecture

In this blog, we will discuss assessment of server virtualization. Each topic will be covered in separate blog.

A Citrix virtualization solution requires an underlying server virtualization platform, such as Citrix XenServer, Microsoft Hyper-V or VMware ESX. This server virtualization platform will host the Citrix infrastructure servers required for desktop and application virtualization. However, this virtualization platform can also be used to host other server workloads in the environment, such as database, application and web servers workloads. Some of these workloads may be pre-existing, whereas others might be new to the environment.
Server Virtualization Planning
When planning a virtualization project, architects must have a good understanding of the physical workloads that are candidates for migration to the server virtualization platform. Architects can conduct a server virtualization assessment to determine if the server infrastructure is ready for virtualization and if the benefits can be fully realized. A typical server virtualization assessment project involves analyzing the existing infrastructure, reviewing the overall health of IT assets, identifying which applications and servers are candidates for virtualization and developing the roadmap that outlines the transition of physical servers to a virtual infrastructure.
The key considerations that drive server virtualization decisions are server capacity utilization and performance metrics that account for the current environment snapshot as well as the historical trend. Architects must also assess the application demands on the servers and their degree of fluctuation in order to determine how well the organization can leverage the fluidity of a virtualized platform and ensure that all commitments are met. During this assessment, architects should identify the risks, issues and barriers associated with moving to the virtualization platform.
Hypervisor Platform
Architects should identify whether the organization is currently using a hypervisor platform and the extent to which the platform is being used. For example, some organizations might be virtualizing a small percentage of servers with Citrix XenSever and are looking to migrate more servers, whereas other organizations might be virtualizing the majority of their server workloads.
If the organization already has a server virtualization platform such as XenServer, VMware ESX, vSphere, or Microsoft Hyper-V, architects likely will extend this platform to support a Citrix desktop and application virtualization infrastructure. Conversely, organizations may be implementing a new server virtualization platform and need to migrate existing virtual workloads to the new platform. If the environment already has a virtualization platform in place, architects should determine the following:
  • Which platform is currently in use and are there any planned upgrades or migrations to a new version or new platform?
  • Are there any shortcomings or issues with the existing platform?
  • Has the organization standardized on a particular server hardware model or does the environment contain mixed hardware models?
  • Which workloads currently are running on the virtualization platform?
  • Which management and monitoring tools are used within the environment?
  • What processes and procedures are in place for creating virtual machines, provisioning shared storage and configuring virtual networking requirements?
  • Is there a team responsible for managing the virtualization platform?
Virtualization Hardware
Server hardware specification and configurations have a direct impact on the performance, stability and resilience of a virtualization implementation. If supporting physical XenApp workloads, the hardware will impact the number of concurrent users supported on each server. If supporting virtual machine workloads, hardware resources impact the virtual machine density supported by a single XenServer host. Architects can ask the following types of questions to understand the hardware configuration:
  • Will blade or non-blade servers be used?
  • What are the server specifications? Will the servers be running Intel Nehalem processors?
  • Are at least four NICs present?
  • Are the servers upgradeable?
  • Is the storage infrastructure redundant?
  • If hard disks are present, what is the RAID configuration?
  • Do the servers have a battery-backed write cache?
  • Is enough power, cooling and floor space available in the datacenter?
From the Architect

Many virtualization projects coincide with server consolidation projects--often based on blade servers--intended to reduce power, cooling and datacenter floor space costs. Architects may find that organizations often already have ordered server hardware or know which hardware will be ordered. However, architects sometimes may be asked to recommend a particular server model. In general, architects should avoid recommending a specific model of hardware unless they are fully aware of the organization's requirements and environment. Furthermore, and as a caution, the organization likely already has a preferred server hardware vendor, which may even be a stakeholder in the project. Instead of recommending specific hardware, the architects should gather the requirements and then help the organization determine whether certain hardware models under consideration will meet the design requirements. If a partner or hardware vendor is part of the project, its representatives should be invited to kick-off meetings and discussions. These individuals likely are familiar with the organization's procurement process.
Physical Server Assessment

similarly, we have to do the same thing for Disk I/O, OS, Applications etc
Data Collection

For large-scale or enterprise-level server virtualization assessment projects, architects likely need to leverage an automated data collection tool, such as PlateSpin Recon, to capture system resource utilization data. This helps architects determine how to consolidate physical servers and allocate resources to virtual machines. PlateSpin Recon provides the following benefits:
  • Secure, agent-less data collection, which eliminates the need to physically touch servers and keeps proprietary information contained within the datacenter
  • Custom report creation, which allows architects to quickly identify virtualization candidates based on utilization trends and to compare workload characteristics before and after consolidation
  • Enterprise-level scalability of as many as 1,500 servers for each instance of PlateSpin Recon
  • Support for distributed datacenters across different geographic locations
  • Support for Windows, Solaris and Linux systems
  • Power and cooling cost savings and ROI analysis derived from different consolidation scenarios
  • Workload and resource utilization forecasting based on historical trends
  • Support for both physical and virtual workloads
From the Architect
The data collection process can help identify applications and workloads that are good candidates for consolidation on the same XenServer host. Even if the scope of the server virtualization project addresses only server workloads related to the Citrix virtualization solution, architects must keep in mind that many organizations already have an existing implementation of a Citrix solution, such as XenApp. Architects should conduct a physical server assessment of the existing Citrix infrastructure to determine how these workloads should be virtualized on a server virtualization platform.
Excluded Servers from Virtualization
Architects must identify server workloads that are not suitable for virtualization and must be excluded from a server consolidation or virtualization project. Exclusion is based primarily on high usage of the following server resources: CPU, memory, disk I/O and network throughput. The most weight is applied to CPU and memory requirements as these resources typically are exhausted more quickly than disk I/O and network throughput. However, disk I/O operations are not always an accurate measure of disk performance, and high I/O operations should prompt further investigation. Generally, if I/O operations are high, CPU and memory also will be high. Tools such as PlateSpin Recon can determine if resource utilization exceeds the desired performance metric threshold for inclusion within the virtualized environment. If the workload does not fall within the performance metric threshold, PlateSpin Recon will identify the workload as "excluded" and exclude the workload from consolidation scenarios.

From the Architect

Although network throughput typically is not exhausted before other resources, architects must consider the network implications of consolidating several server workloads onto a single server. In a physical server environment, each server workload leverages dedicated NICs on the physical server. In a virtualized environment, several server workloads will be leveraging the NICs on the underlying host server. If a blade server solution is used, all blade servers in a rack--as well as the virtual servers running on them--will share a maximum of six NICs.
While a single physical workload might have relatively low network usage, architects must consider the usage and any impact on user experience when that workload and other virtual workloads are leveraging the same underlying NICs. Examples of workloads that typically have higher network utilization include database servers and Citrix Provisioning Services servers. To maintain optimal performance, architects may want to exclude these servers from the virtualization solution or virtualize them on physical servers with few, if any, additional workloads.
Consolidation Scenarios
Architects can use tools like PlateSpin Recon to generate server consolidation scenarios based on the performance metrics collected during the physical server assessment. These scenarios are recommendations for how physical servers can be virtualized and consolidated on existing server hardware, new server hardware or a combination of both. Architects can select popular server hardware models from within the tool to see how servers will be virtualized on that particular hardware. Alternatively, custom server criteria can be entered.
The tool does not generate consolidation scenarios arbitrarily; rather, the tool attempts to consolidate various virtualized workloads in a manner which increases physical server utilization without compromising performance. For example, rather than virtualize two server workloads with high CPU usage metrics on the same host server, the tool suggests virtualizing those workloads on separate physical servers alongside workloads with lower CPU usage metrics.

Sample Consolidation Scenario
Below is a sample of a typical physical server consolidation report showing how 37 physical server workloads (source) are virtualized on five physical virtualization host servers. Through consolidation, the physical server resource utilization increases while the annual energy cost decreases due to the reduction in physical servers required.
Server Count
Rack Units
Annual Energy Cost
Processor (%)
Memory (%)
Source Servers
Target Servers
Change (%)

Physical Server Migration
Architects can design a strategy for migrating these physical workloads to the virtualized server environment. Ideally, the migration strategy can be repeatable for various kinds of physical servers in the environment; the strategy will always result in a consistent and reliable virtual workload.

Manual Migration
Typically, a manual migration only would be used if there were very few migrations to be performed, making the purchase or use of an automated migration tool unnecessary. Manual migration might also be used for advanced migrations of physical servers with complex requirements such as option cards, peripherals or extremely complex storage requirements. A manual migration typically consists of the following basic steps:
  1. Initiate change control process and back up application data on server to be migrated.
  2. Create a new virtual machine in the server virtualization environment and give it the necessary CPU, memory, network and storage resources based on the requirements gathered during the server assessment.
  3. Install the operating system, service packs, hotfixes and any necessary para-virtualized drivers.
  4. Install and configure the necessary applications.
  5. Restore necessary application data to return the application to its pre-migratory state.
  6. Conduct application testing and obtain signoff from the application owner.
  7. Release the virtual server workload into production.
  8. Decommission the physical server.
From the Architect
A manual migration can allow for higher optimization as all unnecessary application data, such as temporary files and log files, are removed and the registry is optimized. Furthermore, manual migration provides an opportunity to simplify the server configuration, such as disk and storage requirement.
However, the manual migration process is very time-consuming and best suited to small or complex migrations. Manual migrations may lower reliability as inconsistent or poorly managed migrations can introduce workload inconsistencies.
Automated Migration
Physical-to-virtual (P2V) migrations typically are undertaken using automated migration tools, which integrate closely with the virtualization platform to deliver faster and more consistent results. A typical P2V process consists of the following steps:
  1. Initiate change control process and back up application data on server to be migrated.
  2. Initiate P2V conversion process, which should create a new virtual machine, connect to the physical server instance and migrate both the operating system and application data directly to the new virtual machine. Para-virtualized drivers should be installed automatically to ensure best performance.
  3. Conduct application testing and obtain signoff from the application owner.
  4. Release the virtual server workload into production and decommission the physical server.
An automated migration also can be used for virtual-to-virtual migrations in which virtual machines running on one hypervisor platform are migrated to another hypervisor platform.
From the Architect
P2V migrations allow for faster deployment as once the migration parameters are supplied into the P2V tool, the migration proceeds automatically. Many P2V migrations can be performed in the time it would take to complete a single manual migration. For large scale, enterprise migrations, a P2V process is the only rational option. P2V can allow for better hypervisor integration as many proper virtual machine optimizations--such as installation of para-virtualized drivers--are installed automatically. Furthermore, P2V migrations, as they are parameter-based, can achieve higher consistency and are repeatable, so that similar servers will always be built consistently.
A potential downside to P2V migrations is the need for an additional toolset, which should involve testing and staff training before being used. If P2V migrations are not well-planned, inconsistencies can be introduced on a large scale depending on the number of workloads that are migrated at one time. Architects should involve application owners in the migration process to ensure any inconsistencies are identified before the workload is released into production. All workload migrations should be conducted in phases to mitigate potential risks.

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