XenServer reviewed by an avid Citrix and VDI engineer
Updated February 12, 2016

XenServer reviewed by an avid Citrix and VDI engineer

Anonymous | TrustRadius Reviewer
Score 7 out of 10
Vetted Review
Review Source

Software Version

6.2

Modules Used

  • Standard Virtualization for VDI workloads some Server

Overall Satisfaction with XenServer

The XenServer workloads I have set up and currently provide are primarily for clients. These workloads cover anything from an IT lab, VDI and Server workloads for the entire data center. It is a mixed use hypervisor in most environments where it is placed for a purpose (such as VDI) at a cost savings and management supplement due to its ease of use.
  • Manages upgrades to the pool of hypervisor hosts with relative ease through a console (if licensed).
  • Makes it easy to create machine templates and clones and move them around within the pool of hosts.
  • Handles failures reasonably well through the use of the pool database copied on each host
  • Adding or presenting additional storage to the host can often be a task that is far more involved than competitive products.
  • The product can require reboots more frequently than competitors due to the DOM kernel getting "hung up".
  • Sometimes when a virtual machine is deleted it still leaves behind orphaned vdisks.
  • Recovering from the loss of a host can sometimes cause virtual machines to require lengthy command prompt scripting to fix so they can be powered back on from another host.
  • Positively, the ability to implement a XenServer pool for VDI workloads is a fast process. Thus a faster project getting into the pilot phase.
  • Negatively, XenServer has caused outages at client sites due to the pool master failing and a subsequent member not taking over properly (VDI).
  • Negatively, XenServer has failed to allow easy addition of storage or expansion to a SAN drive which required an outage to occur in order to properly see the new free space for growth.
XenServer like the similar product I've used in the hypervisor market stacks up well in regards to compatibility with virtual machine [operating systems]. It is also capable of allowing for large, powerful VMs to be run upon it. The main selection of XenServer in environments I've worked within was due to the price and supportability it entailed. With a Citrix license of XenDesktop you get the XenServer license included which means direct price savings over competitors (added costs) and a support channel for issues.
I feel XenServer is well suited for VDI based workloads at least within the Citrix product portfolio as it is extremely easy to set up and manage. It is also a reasonably well suited platform for smaller data centers which require less complexity and monitoring. Workloads requiring the usage of shared GPU are well suited for XenServer.

The product is less well suited for large enterprise data centers. However, new versions are bringing features to allow the hypervisor to contend. Complex virtual networking environments may not be well suited for XenServer.

Citrix Hypervisor Feature Ratings

Virtual machine automated provisioning
8
Management console
7
Live virtual machine backup
6
Live virtual machine migration
8
Hypervisor-level security
5

Using XenServer

Desktop workloads, access to applications through server virtualization, Active Directory through server virtualizations, web hosting, file services, print services, email services, database support and programming engines, classroom management services and student management service. The platform powers services for backup, recovery, banking services, patient management and doctor records management. Anyone from students, teachers, professors, nurses, doctors, administrators, CEOs and owners use the platform in some way.
3 - As a consultancy based role there is a small pool of engineers certified and experienced with the platform. The skills required to support XenServer include knowledge of NAS and SAN based storage; this required knowledge on the network and types of switches and interfaces leveraged by each technology as well as the ability to use a command line and scripts for a Linux based operating system.
  • Virtual Desktop infrastructure
  • Server workloads for branch offices
  • Server workloads for an entire company
  • Disaster Recovery capabilities for failed hardware
  • Allow access to GPUs for graphical workloads within a virtual desktop implementation
  • Cross site DR through use of SAN replication and some third part tools for backup management
  • Creating a lab environment within a production footprint without requiring excessive processing or power for what typically requires dedicated equipment
  • Replacing entire data centers
  • Replacing all compute within a branch office
  • Fast deployment of compute resources for acquisitions or new locations opening
With the knowledge and usage of solutions from VMware and Microsoft offering more compelling cloud integrated options it makes it more compelling in many environments which I consult. XenServer is a good product and fits the bill in many smaller environments but as clients look to the cloud or a hybrid cloud it can in some cases make it a bit more difficult.

Evaluating XenServer and Competitors

  • Price
  • Product Usability
  • Prior Experience with the Product
  • Vendor Reputation
  • Existing Relationship with the Vendor
  • Third-party Reviews
Price has always been a huge factor in the decision which ends up with XenServer in an environment. The XenServer product is licensed within all Citrix Enterprise level XenApp and XenDesktop suites. The latest edition of these products now includes full support and the usage of the XenCenter console which greatly enhances the ability to manage the solution.
Looking into the future many organizations are interested in how to begin or further leverage an investment in the cloud. The could mean Amazon, Microsoft, VMware, IBM or another solution provider to be able to offload the management and initial purchase required to provide the compute needed for their environment. The ability to move a datacenter effortlessly and expand or contract with little to no loss of investment is a huge proposition with evaluating this type of workload platform.

XenServer Implementation

Ensure you review the HCL (hardware compatibility list) and reach out to the hardware vendors to ensure they support the platform and in case they have documentation that can be followed for the implementation. Also ensure the prerequisites are completed prior to implementation so that as few unexpected delays occur as you can control.
  • Professional services company
My company is a professional services consultancy so I can't say I've worked with anyone but myself upon becoming certified with the solution and working with colleagues already experienced with the product. The name of the company is iAccess, Inc. in Richmond, VA.
Yes - Procurement of all necessary hardware is the first phase (blades, network cards, chassis, rack, power cords, network cables, switches, routers, hard drives, memory). The next phase is the checking to ensure all components are in place and functioning as expected (memory burn, etc). Storage is presented to the expected network interfaces or fabrics for the solution and the local hard drives are loaded with the installation of the XenServer kernel and operating system. Each server is installed manually (can be through PXE depending on size) and added to an initial pool to automate connectivity to storage and naming of networks.
Change management was a big part of the implementation and was well-handled - Ensuring that all groups are involved and prerequisites defined early help support a good implementation with change management or controls. Being as the solution requires network, storage, backup, power, data center, rack, cabling there are typically a few teams within an organization that must be present and knowledgeable to their tasks.
  • Incompatible hardware, check the HCL but also check with the vendor
  • Storage not being visible due to lack of zoning, or correct zoning
  • Networks not trunked to the appropriate switch ports for the virtual networks creates an unnecessary delay

XenServer Training

Part of a training for certification to become a trainer for Citrix included an in-person training with a Master CCI. The XenServer training at this time was pretty simplified due to the product primarily being installed however you did have to work with it and mildly configure the system.
Haven't given it a real go with any online training however there are some options out there. I have taught a course following Citrix material for XenDesktop which leverages XenServer and it is pre-built so not the best for XenServer specifically for installation but configuration is mildly touched on
It is relatively easy to learn, the install with current releases makes things even easier at the time of installation and initial configuration. There are some Linux commands that you'll have to learn for some tasks, but the documentation and searching the Internet will allow you to get down the right path with relative ease.

Configuring XenServer

It really depends on the expected workloads for the system. There are additional appliances or settings that are required for more enterprise level availability, along with a distributed vswitch which require more configuration than some competitors. For standard workloads it's pretty simple and the console for management is rather intuitive.
Ensure you review the HCL (hardware compatibility list) prior to planning to install XenServer on a host system (hcl.xensource.com). Ensure you are leveraging hard disks for installing XenServer (doesn't support SD cards - at least last time I've checked, which could be outdated info). Use like hardware (until the next release 6.5 SP2?).
No - we have not done any customization to the interface - I wouldn't consider adjusting the layout of the interface as customization. You can adjust what is shown from the environment rather easily with built-in console tools.
Some - we have added small pieces of custom code - Some custom code or tweaks that have been done in the past were put in place to ensure the Dom0 Kernel disks didn't fill up with logging data which was initially and issue in large VDI based environments. So essentially a script that would run to remove old log files.
I haven't seen any need to customize XenServer for the environments I've worked within. It is worth mentioning that XenServer is generalized by its implementation by CITRIX; however, Amazon uses the source code from XenSource to build and manage AWS which shows the ability to have a fully customized setup which is also quite robust.

XenServer Support

The staff I've worked with are very knowledgeable or able to get a very well articulated and capable support team member on the phone or helping them if necessary and they always want to ensure the best experience possible for you on the platform. The ability for the support team to reach out to hardware vendors for assistance is a nice plus too.
ProsCons
Quick Resolution
Good followup
Knowledgeable team
Problems get solved
Kept well informed
No escalation required
Support understands my problem
Support cares about my success
Quick Initial Response
None
On one incident occasion there was a complete lack of compatibility with a converged network adapter for a vendor which was stated to be fine with workloads on XenServer. This became an issue and incorrect information when a VDI environment was built but there was a lack of ability to stream the virtual disk image leveraging Citrix Provisioning Services. Citrix provided incredible support involving the hardware vendor and lining up options to replace the incompatible card to ensure project success and positive momentum. At this same time update drivers for XenServer were shared and made a world of difference in driving success with the project.

Using XenServer

XenServer is quite usable due to the simplicity the management and installation provide for an administrator. The console for management is very intuitive and can easily be installed on any Windows operating system. There is a relatively simple web console that can be implemented as well that enhances the usability to provide service to non-administrators.
ProsCons
Like to use
Relatively simple
Easy to use
Technical support not required
Well integrated
Consistent
Quick to learn
Convenient
Feel confident using
Familiar
None
  • Managing virtual machines and adjusting the view within the XenCenter console is very easy
  • Creating a new virtual machine is easy
  • Adding and browsing storage repositories is easy
  • Changing or updating storage repositories is very difficult.
  • Bringing up a failed hosts virtual machines can occasionally require some cumbersome scripting or command line work.
  • It is difficult to manage the virtual switches.

XenServer Reliability

The servers latest versions have made massive improvements to scalability. But from past experience there have been issues when running workloads for extended periods of time without reboot on the hosts. I would need to run similar workloads on the 6.5 release which has changed much of the bottlenecks or issues so I'd imagine its far more capable now, Perhaps able to stand near the best in the market.
It's been a little problematic in the past at larger VDI deployments requiring a bit more care and feeding than other vendors. But the latest releases (6.5.x) have brought about huge improvements in the stability and availability.
When running like a top XenServer is a fantastic hypervisor. There is relatively low overhead on the Dom0 so workloads get the most of the resources.

Integrating XenServer

Being as Xen is based on an open source project the ability to create or manage integration is very simple. It comes down to vendors that value the solution as to whether they'll have integration features supporting the platform.
Very low level of difficulty, lots of integration is built into the items above and there are management packs for easy SCOM integration.
  • Monitoring Solutions
  • Networking Solutions
Yes, there are quite a few that have options to pull metrics from the XenServer hosts in regards to the services supported on the hosts and their workloads
  • File import/export
  • Single Signon
  • API (e.g. SOAP or REST)
Dont forget to look beyond the big names in solutions for integration capabilities, there are numerous smaller companies doing great feature integration. Use that search engine!

Relationship with Citrix

Close relationship with local representatives. Ease of licensing through the provider we've used.
Again, great relationships with the local representatives.
Working as a partner there wasn't any need to negotiate. Options for adding software assurance or support are available, typically with a limited period included.
No special advice here, learn about the product, have licensing laid out simply and bullet point the features of interest. Ensure you choose only what you need, or what you want. No need to upgrade or go up a level if it doesn't fit.

Upgrading XenServer

Yes - On occasion the upgrade can hang or create an issue for needing a rebuild. This is typically within a pool of resources so it's a quick fix. Current releases have improved the upgrade experience and resolved a number of snags that used to occur so the upgrade is quite simple now and low in impacts.
  • 64-bit Kernel, drastically improves scalability and performance
  • Improved support for vGPU options
  • Ability to create VM's with much larger virtual hard disks
  • More supported GPU options
  • Storage connectivity options improved or augmented (SMB option!)
  • Further integration with virtual desktop environments (XenDesktop)
Yes - Simply by adding the licensing to the license server and pointing the resource pool to the licenses. Very nice experience.
No - Likely no need in most environments as XenServer is included for VDI workloads