My Chromebook Experience: Six Months later

After changing jobs nearly a year ago I found myself in need of a new laptop as I had handed back my corporate Sony Vaio and that left me with an old heavy weight dual core laptop with Windows 7.

I had wanted to try a Chromebook before and had seen several on demo stands at Citrix Synergy in LA. Having already moved over to Google apps where I keep docs, spreadsheets and pics, a Chromebook seem to be a logical move and I didn’t want to splash out hundreds of pounds in a Windows laptop with bulky updates and AV to maintain.

I had been using Google Docs to do some online coursework and found it very easy, reliable and was accessible on laptop, PC and my iPad.

So I set about reading up on product reviews and found some very capable devices ranging from cheaper sub £200 devices right up to the top Google Chromebook and HP models that come in at at £500-1000 pounds. A bit pricey for a first timer I thought. My old Sony was very lite with a dual core i7 CPU with 8GB Ram and a touch screen for £650 – a cracking price at the time some 5 years ago now.

In the end, I settled for a Acer Chromebook 14” with the full 1080 Full HD Screen and 32Gb local storage. Not a lot – but then Google kindly threw in an additional 100GB of online space.

When I went into my local PC World they made a big deal about telling me that the Chromebook didn’t have any Microsoft Office apps, and that it could not install any. This is not a problem to a Citrix guy, and a quick demo of published Word and a virtual desktop had them well impressed. I did try Word on Office 365 but was very disappointed when doing some documentation and found that Word was missing the Table Of Content feature and prompted me to download and instal the full application for local install. Google Docs just has it, and the ability to share docs from Google drive makes for easy collaboration. You can even have multiple people editing the same doc at the same time. Google Docs, Sheets and Slides is pretty much all I need. Business mail can stay in Outlook Web Access, and I’m writing this in Docs now before uploading to my blog.

As nearly all my work-work is designing, setting up and implementing Citrix virtual solutions, a Chromebook is a perfect tool for the job – both at home, in the office and on the move. Google Docs can be used offline – so I can work on the train with no connection quite comfortably. If I need Office or other business application – I just login to a Netscaler Gateway and launch any apps using the latest Citrix Receiver over HTML5. This is a great way to run published apps as the Receiver puts the apps along the bottom in a toolbar style – almost like running a full desktop.

Google Chrome web store has a load of techie apps including RDP connector, notes, screen snipping and even network troubleshooting tools. There are loads of others.

This little Acer has a great screen with 14”  full-hd, 4Gb RAM, and a nice keyboard, though it’s not backlit. Battery life is amazing at around 12 hours. Its silent, has USB3 and HDMI for external screen. The casing is finished in silver metal much like a Macbook Air and overall I’m very please with the quality for only a £300 layout. I could nearly buy four of these Acers for the price of one Macbook Air.

As for not having touch screen laptop – well, that novelty has passed me by. I have tried a Microsoft Surface – but I just don’t get Windows in tablet mode. Sorry, but I prefer the traditional laptop model, and would certainly prefer a £300 14” Chromebook to a 13” Surface Book  for £1300. I’ll keep using my Android phone or iPad if I need a tablet for other content.

For business users, I would definitely recommend giving Chromebooks ago. They can be centrally managed via Google MDM type service, and if you’re using Citrix already or moving apps to web or SAAS models – they make a great option for BYOD or CYOD without breaking the bank. This may be the first laptop that I buy twice, but there are plenty of great models to choose from.

Acer Chromebook 14 Review

http://www.trustedreviews.com/reviews/acer-chromebook-14

Citrix Receiver HTML5 Demo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qn5ypf3UEVw

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Building NVidia GRID and XenDesktop – Part 2

So how has that initial POC been going? After a year of production use the general feedback from the end user has been very positive with few calls to the customers helpdesk and no real issues passed onto me. With users designing detailed multi layer automotive diagrams from a country on the other side of the world – it’s been a very successful deployment.

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This year has lead onto a couple of new installations. One local customer wanted to use AutoCad on XenApp 7.8 servers running a shared desktop on Windows Server 2008 R2, and some standalone virtual PCs running Windows 10.  Provisioning Server 7.8 was used to spin up some 10 XenApp servers. This solution is for students  – so the need for intense graphical rendering is somewhat lesser than what you would need in vehicle design or in construction. Having a NVidia vGPU shared across some 15 users is a great way to introduce CAD beginners to the tools and apps they will use later in their career while the the system itself is very capable of dealing with all they can throw at it.

The XenServer buid was 6.5 and completed just before v7 was released. A pair of Dell R710 servers each with 2 x  NVidia K2 cards. One thing to look out for is that Citrix XenServer does not officially support installation on SD cards, unlike other hyper-visors. While it will install and works ok – the OS footprint of v6.5 and v7 is noticeably different. Stick to a local pair of hard disks in a Raid 1 mirror so there is plenty of room to upgrade to the new OS – and make sure the server comes with a Perc Raid card..and right cable. Don’t ask me about getting those later!

Another recent build on a Dell Precision R7910 Workstation was completed with XenServer 7, XenDesktop 7.8 and PVS 7.8.  The Workstation  technical spec is actually better suited to multi user CAD than the equivalent server. Again, the customer was looking to run AutoCad Revit on a pre-built Windows 7 virtual machine imported from Hyper-v. All possible!  The big Dell itself had two NVidia Grid K2 cards, eight 400Gb local SSD drives, eight NICS and loads of RAM.

With no students in sight, this time the solution was for serious users. Designing and constructing world class buildings around the world needs decent hardware and graphics – no XenApp this time.  

The initial import of the virtual machine completed with no issues, but we then came across some boot problems after importing the local C drive up to the PVS to create a vdisk for multiple devices to use. With recurring BSOD –  initially this was suspected to be due to ghost network cards in the Device Manager. True enough, there were a few extra cards listed in there from the previous hyper visor build and and from a Cisco VPN adapter. Once removed, booting was better – but still the occasional blue screen. Closer analysis of the error and some Googling turned up some hints that AV was interfering with the PVS-TFTP streaming to the disk less clone. With some further digging we found that AV was being auto-deployed on boot from an inherited Group Policy. Once disabled – the boot issues were no longer present.

The size of the vdisk also posed some problems when scheduling reboots in the Studio Delivery Group. Due to the size, other devices were struggling to boot up as the first one or two PCs were still streaming. This was resolved with some help from Citrix support who suggested a PowerShell script to increase the time between each machines restart and boot. This worked a treat. Also very helpful was a hands-on customer keen to get to know all the components – who patiently worked through many of the issues after I had left site. Many thanks for that. 

It may have been said before, but the feedback from this customer’s end user was again – “Better than the physical PC!”. Citrix and NVidia Grid – Pretty awesome.

Don’t forget Part1!

 

 

 

Enabling XenApp Administrative logs

If you have a busy XenApp farm with lots of published apps, users and administrators who have (I hope!) got delegated access – you may often want to check on who made a change, or removed a published app or affected some other settings. XenApp 7.5 Desktop Director has logging enabled by default.

 

It often gets over looked during setup, but the History node in the XenApp AppCentre console is all you need. If you click on it, and it’s blank – then it’s not enabled and you will need to configure it. Here’s how!

log1

Create a  service account for the DB owner- AD or a local SQL account on the database server, documenting the account and password.

Setup a new SQL database on your preferred server. By the way  –  If you want put the logs on the same server as your Farm DataStore server, you could look in the MF20.dsn and look for the “server=” line.  Start/Run  – \\citrixserver1\C$\Program Files (x86)\Citrix\Independent Management Architecture\  – should take you to mf20.dsn.

You can use Oracle, but all customers I come across are on SQL server.

Then create the database with a suitable name – eg xenapplog and assign the service account as the DB Owner.

Now – login to a DataCollector in your Citrix Farm. Right click on the farm name, and go to Farm Properties and click on Configuration Logging.

 log2

Then click on Configure Database.

log3

Enter the name of the database server, the authentication mode and the service account details.

log4

Then select the database you created from the list.

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Unless your database  uses encryption, select No for Use Encryption. Click Next.

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Then click on Test Database Connection – OK, then Finish.

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The only other option is to secure the delete options – by ticking the box for “Require Admin to enter database credentials before clearing log”. You did record that account password didn’t you?

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Click on Get Log – and recent changes should start to appear. You can also amend the columns and set Filters for tasks and data range if looking to narrow down the search for changes.

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So, a very useful addition to the console, and easy to setup. Happy Logging!