The rise of VHD-Based Profiles. And the marketeers.

I decided to write this post due to the fact I am getting tired of marketing people in general, always attempting to sell you something you may not need and worse than that, trying to spread fear all over the industry about other solutions. Before going ahead, let me make one thing clear: I truly believe every product out there in the EUC does have a reason to exist, beyond making money. They do address a particular need and certainly have their value and merit.

Now, leaving the marketing bullshit behind, that does not mean any of these products are the silver bullet, the one solution that will solve all your problems, with zero side effects. If you ask any vendor what the drawbacks are with their product and they have no answer to that, please, do yourself a favor and run away. Every single product has drawbacks and issues. Period. The key thing is understand these and how you can minimize or eliminate them (with potentially another product to complement the first one).

With that in mind, let’s have a quick chat about VHD-Based profiles, what seems to be the hotcake these days. If you are not aware of, Microsoft introduced User Profile Disks (UPDs) back in 2012 with Windows Server 2012. Yes, not even R2. That means whatever this is, it is SIX DAMN YEARS OLD. Got that? Six years in computer years is like 120 human years. Just to put in perspective (I do know you talk about dog years at home, so let me help you making things simpler) how damn old this is.

The idea behind UPD is very simple. The C:\Users\%USERNAME% folder gets pointed to a Virtual Hard Disk (VHD), a single file, sitting somewhere. How big can it be? No idea on the limits but I have used them set at 20, 40 GB without issues. That means every user will get a file that can grow up to whatever it was set to (i.e. 20GB) and that file will get mounted and linked to the user’s own C:\Users\%USERNAME% folder.

Right off the bat you can see that if you have let’s say 40 users connected to your RDS Session Host (XenApp for Citrix people), each user will have a profile folder with 20GB. That means 800GB for user data. Note the C: drive on the server is usually 60-100GB in size. This is possible as it is just a mount point. You are not using disk space off the C: drive but you are still able to have users with profiles that could be potentially bigger than the server drive itself. Nothing magical here and more than that and one more time, SIX years old. But marketing people want to make you believe they are now selling magical software that can magically make your local drive grow like Godzilla. Nope.

As it is a single file, when the user logs in, there is no need to download anything to the server drive. The mount point is established and you are done. Does not matter if the UPD has 2GB or 200GB. Logon time will be the same and as it is just a mount, it will be much quicker than using traditional solutions (i.e. roaming profiles). Here we have the marketing geniuses again, trying to make you believe you are buying an amazing technology that makes your logons much faster now that you are riding on Unicorns. I can make logons faster too and I do not even work at marketing, or have unicorns, just for the record.

Back in December I presented at the Citrix User Group in Israel, exactly about this topic. I showed it live on stage, two completely different solutions (Citrix XenApp and Parallels RAS) up and running, where the same user had UPD enabled. When he logged in to Citrix and did whatever he wanted and logged off, once he logged back in but now through Parallels, all the stuff he had done on XenApp was there on RAS. To add a nice twist to the whole thing, I had the Parallels environment on Azure. That means I was replicating UPDs ON THE FLY, LIVE, between an on-premises solution running Citrix and a cloud-based one running Parallels, for all my users. As you guessed, yes, a completely agnostic solution that does NOT care which product you have and where it is running. And the best part of all this, FREE. Yes, this is part of the Windows Server feature set. No matter if using VMware Horizon, Citrix XenApp or XenDesktop, Microsoft RDS or Parallels RAS, this works out-of-the-box and with all of them.

That said, is UPD perfect? Not at all. It has its limitations (i.e. cannot be mounted twice) like anything else. But it is certainly a powerful solution that is worth investigating and testing. Thing is, many companies realized that a long time ago and now sell their own solutions that in a nutshell use the EXACT same principle. Mount the user profile to a VHD and name it profile container, profile disk or whatever they want to call it. Are they better than UPD? For certain use cases, of course they are! FSLogix for example allows you to mount the VHD multiple times and does use its own filter drive that allows apps like OneDrive for Business to work under RDS. If you do need something like that, sure, take a look at FSLogix (as far as I know, Liquidware Labs does have a similar product, that addresses similar issues – may not address the SAME issues).

The lesson here is simple. UPD, profile containers, VHD-based profiles or whatever you want to call this, is not a new thing. It has been around for a long time. It is not something new or magical as many of these vendors try to make you believe. And what pisses me off the most is the simple fact they try to make you and the industry believe that UPD should never be used, that it sucks and so on, what goes completely against what I think that is always to use the RIGHT TOOL for the RIGHT JOB. Some vendors like FSLogix even got pissed at me with the whole UPD story. Seriously.

For the companies out there, stick to honest marketing and sales and educate your customers and the industry properly, clearly showing what can be achieved with the out-of-the-box solutions and what you bring on top of that.

For you, readers, at the end of the day, it is up to you to decide which tool you need and if you feel like using a screwdriver to put down some nails, go for it. After all, as my wife says, “Why do you have a Lamborghini to do your groceries?” and to that, I have no answer. But do not make the same mistake as I made and make sure you get a hammer to handle some nails.



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RDS Modern Infrastructure. Modern?

As tons of people spend the week at sunny Orlando for Microsoft Ignite, here I am sitting at home, reading all these tweets and posts about what is next for Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Services stack, RDS for short.

If you read any of these, you are probably aware that Microsoft is changing RDS for the better (hopefully) and the new platform is being called as of today, RDSMi, a pretty term for ‘RDS Modern Infrastructure’.

The more I read about it, the more I think Microsoft has very little clue on what they have been doing with RDS since its early days, dating back all the way to 1997’s Hydra beta availability. And after seeing this ‘RDSMi’ acronym, I can also say with a pretty good degree of accuracy that marketing and its army of marketeers, are deeply infiltrated on anything RDS. As usual, I can certainly and clearly explain the reasoning behind my assumptions.

First of all, if you are not aware of that by now, I have been in the RDS business for quite some time. By that I mean I was probably deploying RDS for customers way before you got a degree and left school. ‘You’ does include many people in the RDS team in Redmond. And being an RDS MVP since 2001, I have seen it all at Microsoft for a very long time (16 years straight, yes, that long). Not only me but others like Benny Tritsch and even Alex ‘Bozo’ Cooper have experienced the same.

So what is the issue and why I am writing about this? Simple.

One of the biggest things the marketeers out there are now promoting and saying about this incredible ‘RDSMi’ thing is the fact many components now do not need to be domain joined. On top of that, if I am not mistaken, there is also an agent of sorts that is now on your RDS Session Hosts.

In other words, RDSMi is basically what we have been telling Microsoft that RDS should be in the past 16 years. Yes, that long. After getting tired of seeing nothing being done, back in 2003 we actually wrote AND released to the market an RDS Gateway that, guess what, was NOT domain joined! Probably sorcery and witchcraft but somehow I managed not to be burnt alive as a witch or warlock. If Microsoft is naming this new thing RDSMi, what was WTSGateway back in 2003? RDSFVi (RDS Futuristic and Visionary Infrastructure)? So please, there is nothing new or modern here.

What is even worse is the simple fact all this shows how Microsoft (and several other vendors in this industry, Citrix included) ask for feedback from MVPs, CTPs and so on and refuse to take it. Taking it 16 years later, at least for me, does not mean you took my feedback. They simply ignore the fact that people like you and me not only have been in this industry for probably way longer than most of the people in these teams but also that we are the ones architecting AND deploying such solutions in the real world. The hands-on people. Very different than saying ‘we listen to our customers and partners’ when what that really means is ‘we pay third party companies to do some research for us and this is what we got from them’. WITHOUT EVER DEPLOYING YOUR SOLUTION IN PRODUCTION, AT SCALE. Funny.

Resuming, and not to ruin your week at Ignite, Microsoft, especially in the RDS space, is just doing what many people told them over a decade ago. Nothing new here. I have to say I am not that easy to impress. But this, seriously? Good try. Maybe on the next Ignite.

For that reason, I am renaming ‘RDSMi’ to ‘RDS Meh Infrastructure’.

And marketeers out there, I am available in case you need some better marketing work.


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Citrix – Where did it go wrong?

Coincidence or not, a funny thing happened last night, two days before I leave for one of the Citrix CTP meetings at HQ. I had a dream and when I woke up this morning I knew I had to put it to words in a blog post. So here you have it.

It is all about Citrix. What it was and where it is now. To understand this post we must take a step back and I have to tell you a bit of my story. One that has been tied to Citrix in ways many people are not even aware of, dating all the way back to when all they had was an OS/2 based product.

Also having an understanding about someone’s background does help quite a bit when they write about something. So here we go.

I did a bit of everything. Technical support on both sides of the fence, meaning manufacturers and resellers. Also did lots of development, a long time ago. Sure as it was really a long time ago it was all Pascal, Clipper, DBase, etc based. Tried to stay up to date on the subject (one of the reasons I even took the Big Nerd Ranch iOS class for a full week – highly recommended) but with many other things on my plate, development is more of a hobby these days.

Then when time came, I had to grow a business. Had to compete with Citrix (yes, early 2000s) and Provision Networks. And here I must say we did extremely well. Library of Congress, John Deere, Time Warner Cable, Jet Propulsion Labs, all our customers.

We were the first company that realized many companies (Citrix was a great example) were selling products that had a ton of functionality but at the same time, tons of customers were buying these and using only a handful of features the products had. So we broke it down into modules. People could now buy what they needed and not what the manufacturer wanted you to buy. That is why we grew. And grew fast.

Long story short, Terminal-Services.NET is today what you have on Parallels RAS. Yes, that Parallels. The one you probably have on your Mac, running Parallels Desktop.

Remember Citrix Project Iris? Session Recording as you know today. We beat Citrix on its own game, releasing the first ICA/RDP session recorder BEFORE Citrix had its own.

So I learned all the way from developing and testing, to growing a company, to selling a company and to starting over. Keeping an eye on the market, its trends, what was available and staying relevant (meaning staying in business when you are as small as we were as a company).

That is why I do believe I am qualified to comment on Citrix. More than most, as not many in the industry coded, created products and started/sold companies. Some are techies only; others come from a CXO background only, with no hands-on creating products or even using them. Not the case here. Whatever product you know in this industry, I used it. I tested it. And deployed for real at real customers. You get it what I mean, I am certain.

Now, Citrix. What went wrong?

I think several things contributed to that and I will explain some of these.

  • Too much forward thinking. Hey I get it. Looking ahead is needed. You try to predict where the industry is going. Where customers will be next. All great. I had to do that for my own companies. Problem is, when you focus too much on what is ahead you forget to look at your rearview mirror. Citrix did a lot of that. Like almost mandated all employees to break their rearview mirrors. The list is quite big, with some acquisitions you never heard of and some you heard and thought, “WTF?”. To name a few, ByteMobile, Podio, OctoBlu, etc. By not looking at the rearview mirror you do not see where your competitors are. You do not see what is going on today. You lose focus. You lose market share. Some may even start to think you are lost. Customers come out of keynotes thinking ‘When the hell will I ever use that?’. People need to see products and solutions they can use today. Or in six months. Not in six decades.
  • Bad Apples. Listen, everyone may get a bad apple one day. That is part of like. But when you get a lot of bad people at top management positions, what happens next? They flood the company with their buddies. If someone is dumb and their circle is full of dumb asses, chances are all their buddies are dumb asses too. That means the company is now flooded with dumb asses. It happened at Citrix. And it took its toll. Not saying there is no way to turn it around. Sure there is. But they will have to shake it up quite a lot and bring new blood to the company, exactly what you are seeing now. Also keep in mind I am not saying everyone there was like that. Far from it. Many GREAT people there. Problem is, if a lot of people at the top are like that, the great ones under will never be able to make a difference. It is like fighting an uphill battle with an army that is 100x smaller. Sure, sometimes miracles happen. Not the case here. No miracles at Citrix.
  • The hype-surfers. You know that type of guy that is always surfing the hype waves? The ones that all the sudden are only talking about the current buzzword in the industry? This usually happens on marketing-driven companies. Companies where at the core are full of marketing people but lack the hardcore techies. The guys that understand technology. And also lack the hands-on people, that understand the technology but are dealing with real world customers and problems on a daily basis. Citrix was full of hype-surfers for years. Just look at what happened when VDI became the hotcake. They thought it was a great idea to kill XenApp, their bread and butter. The product that brought the bacon home. I do not need to remind you or the whole industry about what that did for Citrix. Or where VDI stands today, compared to what many people said it would be back in 2010-2012.
  • The Channel. When you start to screw around with your own channel partners, do not expect great things to come out of that. Many partners are loyal but at the end of the day they have bills to pay. They need great products and customers. If now you are stealing customers from your own partners, you do not have a partner anymore. No more loyalty. Many will think, ‘screw you’. Happened at Citrix. How do you think VMware and many others gained market share? Sponsored tweets or facebook pages? Nope. Thank many of the Citrix partners for that. After being back stabbed they opened the door to the devil. Not saying VMware is the devil. Far from that. But it was (and it is) a great competitor, one that was eager to get more traction, more market share. So they did it.

The problems are much more than what I wrote here. And I am still baffled to see many things still wrong at Citrix, not at the technology level. I mean in lack of vision, of cohesion. Not knowing how products should integrate, on what to deliver next. Even worse, not seeing exactly what customers and the industry as a whole are after.

That said, there is hope. The company still has some pretty good people. Bright engineers. And more than that, they seem to realize the company as a whole screwed up and they are ready to listen. Time will tell if that is the case or not and we will be able to clearly see that, probably in 6-12 months.

Until then, let’s all pray for the best.

And Citrix, if you need help, you know where to find me.



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Citrix vs. Cloud Platforms. Yawn.

Ok after reading Gabe’s article and then Brian’s take on it, instead of replying I decided to write a whole post about it. That is why you are reading this.

First of all I want to resume Brian’s post for you. I think he should start working for Gartner as he is becoming the master of failed predictions (perfect fit if you want to work for Gartner – not sure if you know this but Gartner has a lot of mediums and Gypsies on staff and is responsible for buying 83% of all crystal balls made in America) and his latest post kind of falls into the same category.

The main idea on both posts is if VMware or another player releases seamless windows apps in their cloud offerings Citrix is fucked.

Here is the deal why IMHO that is not the case and even Brian seems to contradict himself on the post he wrote.

1. The cloud. Oh the cloud. Amazes me to see most CIOs seem to have learned nothing from the whole Snowden/NSA episode. If all corporate systems and intellectual property now lives in the cloud, you just made NSA much happier. The same way Snowden put up their arse, gathering all that information and sharing with the public, don’t you think it would be possible for a Snowden Jr, to get confidential corporate data and give the finger to the NSA and go living in China or Russia with all that info ready to be sold overseas? Do we really think a pharmaceutical company with crazy drugs being developed will consider doing anything in the cloud? Or Lockheed Martin, Bombardier, making Area 51 flying shit , etc? The list of corporations in the Fortune 500 that would be MASSIVELY affected by something like this happening is simply huge. So going to the cloud just makes NSA life easier. Bring the cloud onsite and at least you have a little bit more control and chances to guarantee NSA is kept out of the door.

2. Ok I mentioned bringing the cloud onsite and Brian does mention that, meaning a common platform is there for on-premise and off-premise deployments. But on the same article he also states “Microsoft has started talking about how future versions of Windows Server will be more like “mini on-premises instances of Azure.””. That means this does NOT exist today and only Jesus knows exactly when it will see the light of the day (Nadella or Nutella as I prefer, does not know the answer for that, trust me). So as of today and for at least 3-5 years this is not happening mainstream. Also keep in mind if Windows Server 2016 does have all this shit built-in and working 100% (what is never the case with anything Microsoft releases – for God’s sake they cannot even get RDS to work 100%) companies will still have to go through the exercise of testing and validating such platform what in itself takes years for many Fortune 500 companies. These guys cannot simply change platforms overnight. The FDA would shutdown ANY pharmaceutical attempting to do that overnight. Simple as that. So the reality here is this is still YEARS away.

3. Given point #2, that means a solution, to be called a SOLUTION, and not a HAE (Half Ass Effort) has to support BOTH on-premises and off-premises TODAY. So if someone (i.e. VMware) releases something that only works off-premises, in a cloud platform, we have a problem. What do I do with my on-premises stuff? Ignore it? Choose another vendor to deal with the on-premises scenario only? That is a fucking nightmare. Now dealing with two products and two vendors so I can address my on/off-premises needs. Keep in mind this would still be the case if someone releases a platform that can indeed deal with both scenarios flawlessly within the next year. Why? Because you will still need to test and validate such platform BEFORE going full production with it (point #2). Simple. Common sense here people.

Resuming: as of today and for at least the next two to three years things will still look very similar to what they are today and if you do want to be a leader down the road you must have a platform that deals with the IT landscape of TODAY and with the IT landscape of TOMORROW. Sorry to say but VMware is nowhere near it, in terms of addressing SBC/VDI on-premises and off-premises.

Now if you do not need to test or validate anything, do believe ‘cloudfying’ your whole IT infrastructure is a great idea, and the NSA does not exist, Brian is indeed into something with his article.


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What have we become?

Before you read this post I just want to clarify it is one of the rare ones not related to IT, RDS, Citrix, etc. Every once in a while I decide to write such posts. So here we go…

For most of us in North America, this upcoming week we will enjoy the so called “Spring Break” or as we know it in Canada, the “March Break” where kids have no school for the week.

Traditionally I have been traveling with my family every single year, mostly to warm places and this year is no different. I am writing this post, which by the way has nothing to do with RDS/VDI, en route to San Francisco. As Air Canada has not caught up with the 21st century, where airplanes do have some sort of Internet access, it will be published once I land over there.

The reason for the post and for its title, is based on a behavior I have seen every single damn year when traveling with the family, and one that more than pissing me off, makes me very sad.

Thanks to a major screw up from United Airlines and their completely dumb system (and of course, unprepared employees), we ended up missing our flight from Ottawa to Newark and had to get on an Air Canada flight from Ottawa to Toronto and from there to San Francisco.

As it was not our original flight and had to be booked at the last second on Air Canada, of course we ended up sitting all scattered across the airplane. Sort of a similar thing like what had happened the year before, exactly during the same time.

If I were traveling alone or with my 18 year old son, I would not care at all about all this. But when you travel with an infant or young children, not sitting together poses an obvious (at least to my eyes) problem. And here it is where the title of this post comes to the picture.

Last year I had first class tickets traveling with my daughter. As I said the same issue happened and we ended up not sitting together. Politely, we both tried to ask the people sitting beside us to change their seats with one of us. Again, this was not a cheapo economy class flight. First Class.

Guess what? The two gentlemen (let’s call them Fucker 1 and Fucker 2 from now on) simply told us these were their favorite seats. I learned that day there is a huge difference between traveling first class in a window seat and in an aisle one. Apparently first class window seats are such a rare commodity and bring you some mystical status or prestige that no one seems ready to let them go. Exchange them with a child traveling on the same fucking damn first class is indeed an impossible task and something apparently out-of-question for all these C-level executives on first class.

Today, here I am on Air Canada 759 to San Francisco and the exact same behavior was seen. People seem to get somehow attached, emotionally, to their seats. A seat. Yes.

They prefer to be bothered (or annoyed, as the gentleman besides me seems to be) by my constant needs to leave my middle seat due to a 18 month old baby, than simply switch seats with my wife, that is seating in another middle seat.

What has happened to us as a society, where most people seems to give a fuck about other people? About being polite, cordial. Long gone are these days. It is an “all-about-me” society and this is wrong in so many levels and explains a lot many of the issues we see in our daily lives when dealing with other people.

And that really saddens me.

As someone that loves cars and thanks to my job that gave me the opportunity to afford such things, I do have a small but growing car collection (what my wife is not 100% in favor but that is another story). Brands like Porsche and Lamborghini are there. One of the things my 18 year old son and I love to do is to drive such cars to Children’s hospitals and shelters and take these kids, some with a big unknown on their lives ahead, for rides. For the simple pleasure of seeing a smile on their faces. Nothing more than that.

So when I travel, on business or pleasure, it really pisses me off to see such selfish and completely unacceptable behavior by most people. Some would argue this is not the majority but unfortunately I have years of statistical data proving them wrong. One time this happening, sure I may agree it was just bad luck. But every single year, seeing Fucker 1 or Fucker 2 or both on my trips, shows I am dead right.

Is there a fix for this, something that will make us great or according to my eyes, simply normal (yes, I do think such behavior is abnormal)?

Yes. There is.

That is called a Big Mother Fucker Asteroid that hopefully will hit us one day and wipe the so called “Intelligent Species” from the face of the Earth.

Intelligence as it seems is no good around here. And success, as it seems, turns you into a dick in most cases.

Rant over.


25,679 total views, 1 views today

RDS 2012 and Remote Control. A workaround is found…

As most of you know, when Microsoft shipped its best RDS build to date (Windows Server 2012), it had to screw up something. It is part of the Microsoft culture. Deliver something good but make sure you screw up something.

I am ok with the screwing up part but I would appreciate people telling me in advance I am going to get screwed. The only person that can indeed screw me with such short notice is my wife AFAIK.

As Microsoft does not fall into the “My Wife” category they should have told us Remote Control was going to be removed from Windows Server 2012. Nope, they did not say anything even to us the RDS MVP Gods.

So after the Remote Control fiasco I decided to find a way to get at least some sort of half ass solution for the problem Microsoft created. Thanks to a great session this week here in Seattle during the MVP Summit delivered by the Multipoint Server guys, I realized we could come up with something.

Before you attempt to reproduce what was done I must clarify a couple things

  1. I am no licensing monkey. I know nothing about how the Ghetto Remote Control (as I coined it) is supposed to be licensed. Plus I do not care.
  2. It is almost certainly unsupported and if you call Microsoft and tell you are doing that, you are on your own. And you may get in shit as well. And if you tell Microsoft you read that here on my blog make sure you understand you are going to hell.
  3. I am not supposed to be liable for your actions. Again this is a Ghetto hack and unsupported. So you break it, you fix it. Not me.

All that said, here you have what I tested and know it works. Oh if you do not know what MultiPoint Server 2012 is, Google is your friend.

What do you need:
– MultiPoint Server 2012. If you have MSDN/TechNet, it is there. I have tested with Premium but given what we are doing I would assume the regular one will do the trick. I may be wrong though.

How to do it:

  1. Ideally create a VM somewhere and give it 2vCPUs and 2GB RAM (more if you want it to work faster). Boot off the ISO you downloaded from TechNet/MSDN. It is just a regular Windows install really.
  2. Once the server is installed, go to one of your RDS Session Hosts servers and browse to \\your_multipoint_server\C$. Under Program Files\Windows Multipoint Server you should see a Connector folder.
  3. Copy the whole folder locally anywhere on the RDS Session Host box and run the WmsConnector.exe file as Administrator.
  4. Just follow the wizard that is really simple. This will install the MultiPoint Server connector on your RDS Session Host. This has to be done to all RDS Servers.
  5. Once you are done, logon to your MultiPoint Server and launch the MultiPoint Manager. You should see the following screen.

    MultiPoint Manager 2012
    MultiPoint Manager 2012
  6. On the right hand side corner you have the “Add or remove personal computers”. Click on it. On the screen that will follow you should see all the RDS servers you have where the connector was installed. If you do not see them (i.e. they are on a different subnet) simply enter the IP address where it says “Personal Computer name”  and click “Manually Add”. If you see them, well then simply click on the “Add >>” button.

  7. Once you did that with all RDS servers they should show up under “Managed Personal Computers”  as you see on the screenshot above (where you can see my server named iqb-2k12rds and with a “Connected” status.

You are done.

So now, how do I remote control users? Still on the MultiPoint server, simply launch the MultiPoint Dashboard. The following window will show up:

MultiPoint Dashboard

Right there you will see all the users connected to the RDS Session Host servers (admins are NOT shown). Simply click one of the users (you can actually see a “live” view of the session) and on the ribbon at the top click on “Take Control” (or right-click the session and select it on the menu that will appear). The user should get a message and once he approves you are now remote controlling the user.

It is worth mentioning that a chat window shows up on the user session so you can actually chat with the user. Yes, a feature from the 90s delivered to you by Microsoft 22 years later. Well better late than never.

But wait, things get better. Another cool feature is delivered with the “Project” button. You can “send” your screen to all your users what is useful during April Fool’s day. Seriously this opens up a lot of cool scenarios, especially when thinking about training.

Want to limit which sites all your RDS users can visit with one click? Yep it is there under “Web Limiting” and its “Configure” button. Add the sites you want to allow/block and click “Start”. Simple eh?

Before you bitch about this solution, let me remind you again:

  1. I am fully aware this is half-ass and it may have a cost associated with it. As I said the licensing monkeys may know what that means in dollars. I do not.
  2. I told you before this is Ghetto style IT solution a.k.a. typical half-ass IT delivered stuff.
  3. And unsupported.

Even with all the above I still think GRC (Ghetto Remote Control) is better than what Microsoft delivered with Windows Server 2012 RDS.

I will keep digging deeper to see what else I find on MultiPoint Server that we can use to make RDS 2012 better… So back to work.



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Citrix Evaluation Licenses – PITA

As part of one of our Citrix projects, we are helping out a customer with a brand new XenApp 6.5/XenDesktop 5.6 deployment. For the pilot we do not intend to run more than 20-30 users so the typical Citrix evaluation license should do the trick. These are usually good for 90-days/99-users what in most cases is all you need to see how things work, how they perform and so on.

My initial thought was to go on the Citrix website and grab evaluation licenses. Simple, correct? Well not that simple as it turned out. The Citrix XenApp license, not a problem at all. You simply select you want to do-it-yourself and after entering some information you do get a license key that you can fulfil on MyCitrix so you end up with your .LIC file. Perfect.

Problem is for XenDesktop it is not like that for some unknown reason and it should be. After you select the DIY route, first it assumes you will use the Express version (so you get 10-users). Once you enter all the info you see the following screen:

Licensing Error 1

As you can see on the right there is indeed a “Try XenDesktop Platinum Edition” link and I though that would be all I needed. So there I clicked…

Licensing Error 2

So what do we get? Oh, a 404 error. The page is nowhere to be found and you cannot get your XenDesktop Platinum trial license. Grrrrr.

Extremely annoying and a shame that for a flagship product for Citrix like XenDesktop, there is no damn anyone at least testing the stupid website to make sure potential customers can at least get a trial license.

And please do not give me the bullshit that all they need is to contact a reseller.


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PVS 6.1 Hell

I am currently working on a XenApp 6.5 design for a government agency here in Canada and as part of the whole thing we decided to use the latest and greatest platforms available. Yes, some may say this is a crazy approach. But my take is if I will deal with bugs, better deal with new ones than the old stuff. So we moved ahead and got VMware ESXi 5.0 as the virtualization platform and XenApp 6.5 (that is not that new) with PVS 6.1 (this is new, introduced with XenDesktop 5.6).

Everything seemed to be working fine. Creating and blowing up images, etc. All cool. Problem is the VMXNET NIC is what is supposed to be the best, supported by all vendors etc. You get the drill. So we decided to use the best performing, most supported NIC and here is where the nightmare started.

First problem encountered, after running the PVS Imaging Wizard and restarting the VM so the VHD creation would start, no matter what we would get the stupid “The vDisk is not available”. Tried everything you can imagine, from hiring a voodoo guy from Haiti to making sure the server was facing Mecca. No luck.

Once I had the brilliant idea to use the E1000 that damn P2PVS started working. Great. One problem down, a much bigger one to go.

All VMs to be deployed using PVS would blue screen, with the exception of the one where we created the image from. This was a known issue with PVS 5.6, addressed by hotfix CPVS56SP1E011. Thing is this is PVS 6.1 so that issue should not exist correct? Well, wrong. The same root cause still applies to PVS 6.1.

Once we opened the VM settings for the VMs that we would get BSOD when booting off the PVS image and changed the ethernet PCI to match the one shown on the VM used as a master for the image, everything started working perfectly.

So the lessons learned here:

1. Stick to the E1000 driver on your PVS images. Will probably make your life easier.
2. Make sure the ethernet PCI matches the master VM (found under Options, Advanced, General). Once that is done there will be no BSODs on your VMs.


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Tales from the Trenches: the Case of the Missing Server.

As most of you know, even though I run WTSLabs, I also spend quite a lot of time doing consulting work across the globe, having worked in all kinds of projects, from major App-V deployments to pure RDS Session Host setups. And that has been the case for several years and thanks to that I was blessed to be able to see all sorts of great and terrible things out there. So I decided to start a series of posts called “Tales from the Trenches” where not only myself, but other great names in the industry will share their best stories with us so we can all learn and realize there is indeed crazy people out there doing all sorts of unbelievable stuff.

So starting the series, this week, at one of my customers, very strange things started to happen with their XenApp 5 environment. Regardless of how it was architected and deployed (by the way, probably one of the worst environments I have seen in a LONG time, where pretty much every single worst practice out there was followed), the reasons and the outcome of how this whole thing happened is worth a post.

Couple weeks ago a maintenance window was scheduled due to some work on their electrical systems (generators, transformers, etc) and something went wrong. Really wrong. As far as I know one person got injured (or dead, do not remember – seriously) and power went out completely. No generators, nada. All gone.

This brought down the whole thing for a while and all Citrix servers were down. When power was restored, one of the six XenApp boxes (all Dell servers) had the hard drives toasted and it did not boot at all. They could access it remotely through the DRAC and it was indeed gone. So they let me know we had lost a Citrix server.

As I was away for that week after the power outage I told them I would check when back and to my surprise the farm was reporting the box as up and running and serving users. I checked my emails for any alerts from Resource Manager (yes, once I set it up for that, what they never did – please do not even start asking why EdgeShite is not there…) expecting to see a server unreachable message but no, nothing, nada.

So I go and RDP to that server IP address and indeed I get a session and it IS for sure a Citrix box, with the proper name, IP address and part of that farm. The funny thing once I started digging was this was no Dell server but an HP box…

At the same time most users started complaining their Outlook signature reverted back to what it was eight, nine months ago and some other very odd things…

After further investigation, here it is what happened… Someone had setup, back in July, 2010, a server for testing and as we had 5 boxes at the time on the farm, he created this sixth one and named it using the proper naming convention, just increasing the number at the end of the name so this became whatever-6. He also gave it a proper IP address and made the server part of the farm. Once he was done with his testing (what included allowing all users to use the server for a couple weeks) he simply shut it down, never removing it from the farm.

Later the need for a sixth server came up and a new Dell box was setup and given the EXACT name and IP as the now powered off HP one. When the power outage happened three to four weeks ago the guys at the data center powered on all servers that were off and as Dell #6 had a disk failure it did not boot but the HP one did and guess what? It started serving users immediately but as they keep the cached profiles on the servers, users started to get mixed things (meaning profiles started to get fucked up big time) thanks to 9 months old cached copies and the fact roaming profiles are not the most intelligent things in the world.

Thanks to great documentation and procedures in place no one knew or remembered about the HP server that was hiding somewhere in a rack. And of course due to the fact profiles were not properly handled with a decent and robust solution, hundreds of users got screwed up big time.

Next time you are done with your tests on a production environment (yes, this was production) try at least to disconnect the ethernet cables on the back.

Oh and do not forget to disable the wireless card on it, in case your company does think it is a great idea to use laptops as Citrix XenApp servers, serving users over the wireless card.

Well that is another story for another great post…


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