Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Architecting a Citrix Virtualization solution-Assessment:Operation and Support

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
·   Operation and Support
·   Conceptual Architecture

In this blog, we will discuss assessment of Operation and Support. Each topic will be covered in separate blog.
During the assessment of the operations and support processes in an environment, the architect should gather data about the monitoring, systems management, testing, and change control practices, support environment and user issues and the backup and recovery plans.
Monitoring and Systems Management
To optimize the user experience, monitoring and management must be systematically addressed in a Citrix virtualization environment. During an assessment project, architects assess the current monitoring tools used, and the process for implementing and managing them. For example, they should find out which administrators are responsible for the tools, data, and resolving major issues.
Architects should ask if the following monitoring tools are being utilized for monitoring and systems management:
  • Health Monitoring and Recovery (Citrix XenApp feature)
  • Citrix EdgeSight
EdgeSight is highly recommended for Citrix environments.
  • Resource Manager
  • Microsoft Performance Monitor
  • Microsoft Systems Center Operations Manager (SCOM)
  • Third-party tools such as Process Monitor
Ideally, in a Citrix environment, the following systems are in place:
    • A hardware managing solution
    • A server monitoring solution
    • Health Monitoring and Recovery
    • Citrix EdgeSight
Processes for Monitoring Systems Management
Processes for monitoring systems management are relevant to any assessment. An architect checks the monitoring tools implemented to monitor the health of client devices, hardware, networking and application usage, and to track metrics.
Architects should ask the following questions:
  • If the environment contains XenApp, are Health Monitoring and Recovery tests utilized?
  • What is used to monitor servers?
  • Is a network monitoring tool used?
  • What transpires when an alert happens?
From the Architect
A virtualization architect should have a watchful eye on the user experience and demonstrate a deep level of understanding of the users and the administrators responsible for monitoring the environment.
Testing and Change Control
In Citrix virtualization environments, effective testing and change controls ensure environment stability, while adding to the flexibility inherent in the solution. Architects review testing and change control during the assessment to evaluate the infrastructure for implementing desktop changes. Items assessed may include lab environment hardware, test processes, change control tools, documentation, approval processes and general procedures for implementing changes to the environment.
For example, if a company plans to upgrade the service pack on the desktop operating system, testing and change control is critical in order to ensure a smooth process. In addition, a rollback process should be documented in the event that the planned change is not successful or cannot be completed within the required timeframe.
A best practice is to schedule maintenance windows or rollout dates where all changes will be planned, tested and released. Scheduling maintenance windows increases the consistency of the maintenance schedule and makes planning ahead easier.
Architects should ask the following questions:
  • Is there a testing environment in place to test changes before going into production? If so, is it isolated?
It is recommended to have an isolated and designated test environment that is identical to the production environment but is specifically used for testing.
  • How closely does the test environment mirror the production environment?
  • How many servers are allocated for testing?
  • Do production servers have the same configuration as test servers?
  • Are virtual machines used in the testing environment?
  • Which change process is used? For example, implement, test, rollback.
  • Is there a formal test process? Which types of tests are regularly conducted, including scalability, integration and functional unit testing?
  • Are there any negative issues, such as disruption of users, or scheduling difficulty, associated with the current change process?
  • What is the time interval between change request approval and implementation?
  • Are automated methods used to rollout changes to users?
  • Is the XenApp configuration log used?
  • Are ticketing requests in-line with the help desk?
The support environment is vital in any enterprise environment, including one involving desktop virtualization. However, if the customer has not yet implemented virtualization, an architect may examine the support trouble tickets and determine which issues can be mitigated by using virtual desktops. Based on the current environment, an architect should be able to document the potential and limitations of desktop virtualization.
When assessing the existing support environment, architects usually meet with the help desk or support manager to gain an understanding of users' issues and to review consolidated reports that can reveal trends or areas of concern.
Architects should ask the following questions:
  • What Service Level Agreements or Service Commitments exist?
  • What are the existing support tiers? (Example- Level 1: Help Desk, Level 2: Escalation, Level 3: Engineering)
  • Which support contracts exist?
If an active Citrix Technical Support agreement exists, XenServer incidents associated with XenApp farm servers are covered.
  • What process is used for incident tracking?
  • What is the escalation process?
  • What, in detail, are the common troubleshooting steps?
  • What happens when users call the help desk? Does the help desk associate help the person or record the incident for follow up by another employee?
  • Does IT maintain data on how long tickets are open until they are resolved? What is the average time to resolution?
  • If a serious problem arises and additional on-site support is required, how long does it take for someone to fix the problem, on average?
  • What percentage of calls are related to common issues? What are the largest ticket categories?
  • Which tasks are automated to minimize help desk calls?
  • Do support personnel have delegated administration rights to the Delivery Services Console, if applicable?
Delegated administration rights in the Delivery Services Console is considered a best practice.
  • Where are the call center locations, relative to the users?
  • How many employees make up the help desk staff?
Gathering specific answers to these questions about the environment provides the architect with an understanding of the support environment, which will help with making initial recommendations and with the solution design as well.
Support Recommendations
General recommendations for support in a Citrix virtualization environment include the following:
  • Document clearly defined roles and procedures to ensure continuity between support tiers.
  • Track all issues through an enforced ticketing system to prevent circumvention and improve the overall support process.
  • Determine the appropriate support model and support structure for the overall desktop and application virtualization effort after the design effort.
  • Limit the number of administrators and ensure that they are adequately trained. Curtail individual administrator rights.
  • If necessary, repurpose and retrain existing staff during an implementation of the virtualization solution.
  • Ensure that all systems engineers and system administrators are formally trained in the technologies and methodologies that support the overall desktop and application virtualization environment.
Citrix and Microsoft training are specifically recommended to ensure optimal design and rapid troubleshooting.
  • Train help desk staff to identify whether issues are occurring on the virtual desktop or the local, physical workstation. Help desk staff will also need to be trained on troubleshooting basic virtual desktop issues.
Backup management is another important area of the environment to assess. Servers and all important data need to be backed up, as a best practice.
Architects should ask the following questions:
  • What is the current backup procedure?
  • How much redundancy exists for Citrix infrastructure components?
  • What backup procedure is in place for SQL server, if applicable?
  • Is there a backup schedule for servers?
  • What is the maximum amount of time the environment can be down?
  • Have all single points of failure been mitigated?
  • In the event of a hardware failure, is there a quick way to recover the servers?
  • Are the organization's web sites backed-up?
  • Does the environment use IBM Tivoli Support Manager, or a similar tool?
  • Is a centralized backup and recovery manager system being used?
  • Is there a backup restoration testing procedure in place?
Disaster Recovery
Disaster recovery is a critical aspect of virtualization projects. If a disaster recovery plan is already implemented in an organization, the architect should assess the current plan and make recommendations to improve it.
Architects should ask the following questions:
  • Is there a full check-list of critical system components and ordered steps for recovery and rebuild? During serious system outage, having documented steps in a quick format ensures that the system is built according to pre-defined and pre-tested plans.
  • Is the plan updated each time systems are upgraded?
  • How often is the disaster recovery plan revisited and tested?
  • How long does it take to execute the disaster recovery plan?
  • What percentage of users can be facilitated at a backup site?
  • Which manual steps are required in order to facilitate a backup site?
  • Has off-site storage of the critical software and data required to rebuild a system been implemented?
A full backup of the server operating system and Citrix software should be available.

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