Zero to 5000 Citrix VDI Users Logged-in and Working in Just 30 Minutes!

January 28, 2013 - 8 Comments

Making sure your users don’t go to sleep (or worse) waiting to log-on
Hi Everyone! I am the team lead Technical Marketing Engineer for Cisco Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) solutions on UCS and Nexus. While I have done some blogging in my time – this is my first blog for Cisco. I have been in this space for over 22 years, before “virtualization” was called that, working with published applications and published desktops (MetaFrame and early RDP.)
With the Citrix and EMC teams, I have been focused for the past few months on validating what I think is a really exciting solution – even if I say so myself. So recently not much time for blogging I am afraid.
Over the last couple of years we have seen desktop virtualization, specifically Hosted Virtual Desktops (HVD,) become increasingly more mainstream – but today we are really experiencing an upsurge of deployments – and not just pilots – but full blown multi-thousand seat deployments.
As you are probably aware the worst nightmare is that you deploy the solution and the users don’t adopt it because it doesn’t provide them the user experience they need or want.
One of the key requirements for success is an infrastructure that won’t just provide the right experience for the first few hundred users – but that will scale linearly as you grow into the many thousands.
You can rely on Cisco Validated Designs to deliver for you! We use real world test scenarios to insure that you can implement our designs in your environment and be successful.
The keys to a successful deployment of a large scale HVD environment start with:

• Detailed characterization of the virtual workloads
• Desktop Broker that supports efficient streaming capabilities
• Reliable, fast User Profile management
• Compute platform that provides linear scalability, rapid expandability, and excellent management tools across hundreds to thousands of servers
• Network infrastructure that provides the right amount of bandwidth to the right traffic
• Storage system that is capable of efficiently handling massive IOs, both on the read side
for boot up and the write side for HVD ramp up and steady state
• A robust hypervisor capable of supporting advanced capabilities required for HVDs
• Fault tolerance at all levels of the solution, producing a highly available system

Cisco UCS together with Citrix technologies, EMC VNX storage, and VMware vSphere provide the key foundation for a high performance, highly available HVD environment:
• Login VSI 3.6 Medium workload was used to represent a typical knowledge worker
• Citrix XenDesktop 5.6 FP1 with Citrix Provisioning Server 6.1 provided the ultimate desktop streaming technology with the smallest storage footprint
• Citrix User Profile Manager was used to manage 5000 unique desktop user profiles
• Cisco UCS B230 M2 blade servers provided awesome compute resources and Cisco UCS 6248UP Fabric Interconnects (FIs) managed server hardware, network and storage for the environment.
• Cisco UCS Service Profile Templates and Service Profiles made server deployment fast, efficient and insured that each blade was provisioned exactly the same as the next.
• Cisco UCS Manager, with tight integration with VMware ESXi, handled management of all of the blades across the 5 VMware clusters used in our solution seamlessly
• Cisco Nexus 5548UP Access Switches and (for the first time in a Cisco VDI CVD) Cisco Nexus 1000V distributed virtual switches in conjunction with our FIs provided end to end Quality of Service for all traffic types from the HVD through the hypervisor, the FIs and through the Nexus 5548UPs – all at 10 GE or 8 Gb FC!
• EMC VNX7500 with Fast Cache, provided the outstanding read and write IO to support 5000 HVDs boot up, ramp up, steady state and log off
• For the first time in a Cisco VDI CVD, our design provides N+1 server fault tolerance at the VMware cluster level. Another real-world differentiator for Cisco!

Here is a look at the hardware used in the solution:


The highlight benefits of the joint validated design for deploying a scalable Citrix XenDesktop include the following:



I will be writing more about the in depth details of our Zero to 5000 solution in the coming weeks. Please let me know what you are interested in exploring!

For more information download the Cisco Validated design

And for more information on Cisco VXI solutions for desktop virtualization go to

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  1. Incredible! This blog looks just like my old one!
    It’s on a completely different subject but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Superb choice of colors!

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  2. Great post. I’ve been looking for people sharing experiences like this for a while now. I must be sure to thank Chris Fraser @CoureurDeNuage for posting your blog on Twitter.

    I agree,in a small part, with what David says above however; I feel solutions already exist to resolve most of the concerns his comment implies. For instance, there are agent-less security solutions such as Trend Micro’s DSVA, as well as VMware vShield which will resolve most of those concerns.

    The question I might have is what was the average boot times for end users and what impacts could users expect to experience as they ramp up to steady-state? Perhaps their session boots quickly, but can they open Outlook, a GIS solution and a complex linked spreadsheet without too much impact? With say 50 people doing such in a couple separate VLANs; who all is impacted? Or maybe there are no impacts?

    I’m familiar with the VNX 5300 however; I’m curious how you designed the storage itself. Surely you are using an auto-tiered solution, but how was the storage provisioned? Thin/Thin Thick/Thin?

    Again, thanks for the great post. And if you don’t mind answering a few questions, then thanks again. 😉

    • Hi Gary,

      Take a look at the Cisco Validated Design (CVD) from the link in the post. It will answer a lot of your questions.

      To address your specific questions, we booted 5000 Windows 7 SP1 HVDs from shut down to ready to log in 40 minutes.

      The Login VSI workload test logged in 5000 users who all started using eight applications immediately after login with a random delay of application startup after login of up to 15 seconds in 30 minutes.

      Every user is working productively on all of their applications concurrently within that 30 minute period.

      See page 187 in the CVD for a detailed description of the user workload simulation.

      The VNX7500 configuration is detailed in Chapter 6 on page 101.

      All of the HVDs ran on a single dedicated VLAN. See Chapter 6, page 49 for a list of all VLANs configured in the environment. We utilized our Cisco UCS Manager, Cisco Nexus 5548UPs, and Cisco Nexus 1000Vs to provide VM to L3 QoS priority for HVD traffic.

      Thanks for your comments!

  3. While the design is impressive in covering the basic infrastructure needs for 5000 users in a Citrix Environment, it does not mention EUM (AppSense, RES etc) or introspective AV protection (TrendDS McAfee Move, etc) not to mention application delivery which if used and depending on the solution, will require more horse power in this POD design.

    I do like the fact that it does include test configurations and key metrics for post deployment testing which could aid service and support teams across any design.

    • Hi David,

      We did use Citrix User Profile Manager to manage the end user data. We recognize that AppSense and others offer expanded capabilities in this area. You are correct that we did not use AV protection in this Cisco Validated Design. We did not utilize published or streamed apps into the virtual desktops, generally considered double-hop scenarios.
      Our objective in the Performance Solutions Team, is to demonstrate real world solutions at large scale. Our sister group, the Cisco VXI team, focus on integration of voice, AV, EUM, collaboration, and end points into their testing. Here is a link to their latest publication:

      They will publish an update in early calendar Q2 2013.

      Stay tuned for the next phase of our scale testing that will feature XenDesktop 5.6 HVDs with PVS write cache on local SSDs, XenDesktop 5.6 with Personal vDisk, and virtual XenApp 6.5 at a combined scale of 4000 seats.

      Thanks for your comments!

  4. Mike, thanks for sharing your experience and knowledge. Look forward to more of your posts.

  5. Good article Mike and Congratulations on your first blog!, Looking forward to follow you and learn some good insights from you!



    • Thank you, Eduardo! We have a Cisco Validated Design covering this large scale deployment and a Solution Brief that will be released later. This is Phase 1 of a two phase project. Phase II includes XenDesktop pooled desktops, XenDesktop with Personal vDisk and XenApp in a 4000 seat mixed environment. Stay tuned!