Measuring HDX User Experience Improvements from Citrix SD-WAN Network Performance Enhancements

Executive Summary

In a Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops environment, the length of time it takes a user’s action on an endpoint to get sent to the virtual desktop, get rendered and transmitted back to the user’s display determines the responsiveness of the session. This “graphical” round-trip time directly impacts the overall user experience.

Based on tests comparing a traditional routed network versus one using Citrix SD-WAN:

  • Citrix SD-WAN reduced the “graphical” round-trip time by greater than 500%, when severe network constraints were encountered, in comparison to a traditional routed network.

  • When redundant links were added into the environment, Citrix SD-WAN reduced the round-trip time by greater than 4 seconds, when severe network constraints were encountered, in comparison to a traditional routed network.

Citrix SD-WAN provides a better user experience than traditional routing when network conditions are not ideal.

SD-WAN seamlessly routes traffic, on a per-packet basis, over the best available path according to quality requirements whether on-premises or in the cloud. Citrix SD-WAN can uniquely analyze the HDX protocol flows, used to transport Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops sessions. It prioritizes delivery of each packet by class of service to maximize the user experience.

Success Criteria

Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops is heavily reliant on the quality of the network connection between the user and the virtual app or desktop. While Citrix’s HDX technologies and Independent Computing Architecture (ICA) protocol squeezes the best performance possible out of any network, a better network connection results in a better user experience. Citrix SD-WAN can enhance HDX session traffic performance, especially when network conditions are not ideal, with capabilities such as Quality of Service, prioritization, and intelligent steering. The following success criteria were used to evaluate HDX network performance improvements with Citrix SD-WAN:

  1. Use the default settings that come with a new implementation, using software-based Citrix SD-WAN instances (VPX) and the latest software version (11.0.3 at the time of testing). For the comparison network, also use the default settings on open source router instances, which would also be software based. Default settings include no special provisions that can improve forwarding performance such as custom queuing or load balancing.
  2. Both the Citrix SD-WAN instances and open source router instances are allocated the same amount of memory on the hypervisor host.
  3. Design an environment that Citrix customers, field employees, and partners can reproduce to observe similar results.
  4. Develop an isolated environment that provides consistent, reproducible, results free of variable networking conditions that occur in the cloud.
  5. The environment uses Citrix StoreFront to enumerate virtual apps and desktops in Workspace App. The results also apply to Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops service delivered via Citrix Workspace.
  6. Follow or highlight Citrix best practices and recommendations where possible.

Scenarios

Measurement

Citrix HDX technology stack is a set of capabilities that work together to deliver a high-definition user experience on virtual desktops and applications, to any device, over any network, from a central location. Citrix ICA is a proprietary Citrix protocol that provides a detailed framework for passing data between virtual server resources and client endpoints. Therefore, it includes a server component or Virtual Delivery Agent (VDA), a network protocol component, and a client component (Citrix Workspace app).

ICA Round Trip Time (RTT) is used to measure the delivery of virtual session graphics output on a user’s virtual app or desktop. It is the elapsed time from when the user requests content until the content response is displayed in the virtual app or desktop session.

Therefore, ICA RTT constitutes the actual application layer delay, which includes the time required for the action to traverse the following components:

ICA RTT

The ICA RTT counter was used to measure the quantitative HDX performance for each test. It was captured directly on the VDA during each test. The same client and server infrastructure were used for each test iteration. Therefore, only changes made to the network had a relative impact on the ICA RTT measured between tests.

Network Topologies

Every set of tests ran for three iterations using the following network topologies to compare Citrix SD-WAN HDX UX performance improvements:

Network Topologies

  1. Routed + MPLS – using this environment, HDX traffic from the London (LON) Client to the New York City (NYC) VDA traverses the routed “underlay” network’s MPLS path.

    The link throughput is rate limited to 2 Mbps, similar to a branch with an E1 or T1 (1.544 Mbps) leased line. This type of topology is commonly used to backhaul all traffic to a central data center to access apps and data on the intranet. This topology is also often used for central security inspection before being routed to the Internet.

  2. SD-WAN + MPLS - using this environment, HDX traffic from the LON Client to the NYC VDA traverses the SD-WAN “overlay” network, consisting of only a single MPLS path.

    Here we observe the Citrix SD-WAN appliance’s ability to automatically identify and prioritize ICA traffic classes, providing Quality of Service to flows transported across the WAN. While, it is ultimately delivered over the same routed network infrastructure, used in the Routed + MPLS scenario, its unique performance enhancement capabilities provide the best user experience for Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops session traffic.

  3. SD-WAN + MPLS + Internet - using this environment, HDX traffic from the LON Client to the NYC VDA traverses the SD-WAN “overlay” network’s MPLS and Internet (INET) paths.

    Here we observe Citrix SD-WAN’s ability to steer HDX flows, on a per-packet basis. When it detects poor quality on the MPLS path it securely sends the flows over the INET path. The link throughput is rate limited to 20 Mbps similar to a branch with a DSL or Cable link.

    Both SD-WAN instances analyze the conditions of each available path. They use real-time measurements of the best one-way latency, loss, jitter, and congestion, introduced in the test cases. Also, the instances provide dynamic Quality of Service to efficiently deliver the HDX traffic across the virtualized WAN, achieving optimal user experience.

Test Cases

The Citrix Cloud Direct service telemetry is able to monitor customer internet usage and availability. Aggregate customer connectivity reports have shown that the average business Internet connection, in the U.S., is completely down for 3 1/2 hours per month. Reports also show that the connectivity is unusable, or in an “up” state while effectively being “down”, for up to 23 hours per month. The test cases used were designed to replicate network constraints, a small branch office may face, that could cause connectivity issues.

During each test the following actions were repeated to measure and observe the effects of the network constraints:

  • ICA RTT was captured using the Windows Management Instrumentation Interface (WMI). From the NYC-VDA MS-DOS prompt the following commands were executed and the results were recorded:

    wmic

    /namespace:\root\citrix\euem

    path citrix_euem_RoundTrip get /value

  • On the LON Client, the playback of a video was looped. The video pertained to Citrix Workspace with Intelligence where a “virtual tornado” represented the many elements IT teams must manage was spinning rapidly. During each test case we observed the graphics quality, and how rapidly the “virtual tornado” was spinning.

Test Overview Description Observation
Baseline Steady state environment This test captured the ICA RTT “baseline” after the virtual desktop was launched on the Windows 10 client and in a “steady state”. Citrix SD-WAN instances are delivering the virtual desktop HDX flows, over virtual paths, using UDP transport. We notice a few ms delay added in the Citrix SD-WAN topologies, but we see the invaluable performance benefits in the results of the additional tests.
Latency (+) added “latency” This test captured the ICA RTT with a 100 ms delay added to the MPLS path, via a WAN emulator, between the Client and VDA. There is no visible effect to the video playback on the client. The ICA RTT increased by 100 ms in both the Routed and SD-WAN single-path iteration. However, the SD-WAN multi-path iteration remained the same since the HDX traffic was redirected from the MPLS path, with the added latency, to the Internet (INET) path.
Interactive Bandwidth (BW) (+) added “interactive” BW This test by ran a video loop, using a .mp4 file hosted on the VDA, with no caching on the player The video plays unimpeded by network constraints in each topology. The graphics quality is good and the “virtual tornado” is spinning rapidly.
Congestion BW (+) added “congestion” BW This test added “congestion” by sending CIFS traffic. It copied a large file from the VDA file system to the Windows 10 Client file system. ICA RTT increases significantly in the Routed iteration since it directly fights for transmit queue buffers on the LON_CE_Rtr. Here we see the “virtual tornado” begin to slow and pause intermittently. For the SD-WAN multi-path iteration again there is no effect since the SD-WAN instance is dynamically rerouting HDX flows over the INET path. For the SD-WAN single-path iteration there is some effect now. There are congestion queuing and policing measures taking place. However, since the HDX traffic ICA classes have appropriate queue allocations there is virtually no noticeable effect on the video playback.
Bulk BW (+) added “bulk” BW This test copied a large file from the VDA to the Client file system, from within the virtual desktop, which occurs within the HDX session. We observe that ICA RTT increases significantly in the Routed iteration. Now there is greater demand for bandwidth, while the client and VDA continue to need to retransmit lost packets, while fighting for transmit queue buffers on the LON_CE_Rtr. For the SD-WAN multi-path iteration again there is no effect since the SD-WAN instance is dynamically rerouting HDX flows over the INET path. For the SD-WAN single-path iteration there continues to be some effect. There are additional bandwidth demands while the client and VDA need to retransmit lost packets and congestion queuing along with policing measures are in effect. Yet effect on the video playback of the “virtual tornado” is mitigated. Here we observe the unique Citrix SD-WAN ICA classification benefits as the HDX flows are automatically streamed into four separate classes. These include class_0 voice and class_1 video flows which are prioritized over the class_2 bulk file transfer traffic.
Loss (+) added 25% loss This test added 25% loss directly to the MPLS path, between the Client and VDA using Wan Emulation. We observe that ICA RTT increases significantly in the Routed iteration. Now the client and VDA need to retransmit lost packets, while fighting for transmit queue buffers on the LON_CE_Rtr. For the SD-WAN multi-path iteration again there is no effect since the SD-WAN instance is dynamically rerouting HDX flows over the INET path. For the SD-WAN single-path iteration there continues to be some effect. However, since the HDX traffic ICA classes have appropriate queue allocations the effect on the user experience is minimized.

Results

When reviewing the quantitative results between the topologies Routed + MPLS and Citrix SD-WAN + MPLS, Citrix SD-WAN provided greater than 500% improvement. The improvement came while delivering HDX traffic running video, and a large file transfer, when faced with latency, congestion, and loss, using a single MPLS link. With a second path added, over the INET link, in the Citrix SD-WAN + MPLS + INET topology there was greater than a 4 second reduction in the ICA RTT using the same test scenarios.

Results

Following are the results and detailed test steps which were used to measure quantitative benefits of delivery with Citrix SD-WAN, versus delivery over a traditional routed network, without Citrix SD-WAN.

ICA RTT was configured for measurement every second by the VDA. For the Interactive BW, Congestion BW, Bulk BW, and Loss tests the RTT varied increasingly due to the growing bandwidth demands, subsequent queue policing, and retransmissions. Therefore, three measurements were captured, and the median value was recorded. Each complete set of tests, for all three scenarios, were further repeated three times and the median value was again recorded as the result.

Test Case Steps ROUTED + MPLS (ms) SD-WAN + MPLS (ms) SD-WAN + MPLS + INET (ms)
Baseline 1) Open a Google Chrome browser 2) Navigate to ddc.training.lab/Citrix/StoreWeb/ 3) Login as user1@training.lab / Citrix123 4) Launch desktop NYC. 5) RECORD ICA RTT on NYC-VDA 3 6 6
Latency 1) Open Google Chrome from the NYC_Util server and navigate to 192.168.10.26/WANem 2) Select “Advanced Mode” > eth1 3) Set the “Delay time” field to 100 and select “Apply Setting” toward the bottom of the screen 4) OBSERVE the Video on the LON_Client 5) RECORD ICA RTT on NYC-VDA 104 109 13
Interactive BW 1) Within the virtual desktop open VLC media player 2) Select Media > Open File > C://Citrix_Workspace_with_Intelligence.mp4 3) Select View > Advanced Controls 4) Set the video at the start of the ‘virtual hurricane’ and click the third button ‘Loop from point A to point B continuously’. You will see the first part of the icon turn red. Set the video to the end of the ‘virtual hurricane’ and press the button again. The second part of the loop button turns red too. Press Play to view the loop. 5) OBSERVE the Video on the LON_Client 6) RECORD ICA RTT on NYC-VDA 126 142 16
Congestion BW 1) On the LON_Client open File Explorer 2) Navigate to the “FILES” share on NYC_VDA and copy “LARGE_FILE.mp4” to the C:\outside-HDX-download on LON_Client 3) OBSERVE the Video on the LON_Client 4) RECORD ICA RTT on NYC-VDA 1606 485 63
Bulk BW 1) Within the virtual desktop running on LON_Client open File Explorer 2) Navigate to the C:\FILES (on NYC_VDA) and copy “LARGE_FILE.mp4” to the C:\inside-HDX-download on LON_Client 3) OBSERVE the Video on the LON_Client 4) RECORD ICA RTT on NYC-VDA 3486 465 62
Loss 1) Open Google Chrome from the NYC_Util server and navigate to 192.168.10.26/WANem 2) Select “Advanced Mode” > eth1 3) Set the “Loss” field to 25 and select “Apply Setting” toward the bottom of the screen 4) OBSERVE the Video on the LON_Client 5) RECORD ICA RTT on NYC-VDA 4243 536 64

NOTE: Find a worksheet with a detailed compilation of results here.

Conceptual Architecture

The architecture is based on a mock setup with a Windows 10 client, hosted in a London (LON) branch. The client connects to a Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops VDA, running on Windows Server 2016, hosted in a New York City (NYC) data center.

A Citrix SD-WAN Standard Edition (SE) VPX instance hosted in NYC, is configured as the Master Control Node (MCN). Another Citrix SD-WAN Standard Edition (SE) VPX instance is hosted in LON. The SD-WAN instances create virtual paths over an MPLS and or Internet (INET) link to optimize delivery of the Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops HDX session flows.

Citrix SD-WAN supports various deployment topologies to provide flexible options to integrate with Enterprise networks. The NYC_SDWAN_SE instance is deployed in “virtual inline mode”, which is a common deployment for Data Center networks. It relies on dynamic routing with the NYC_Core_Rtr (LAN) to take over routing for NYC LAN traffic and manage delivery of HDX flows to and from the NYC_VDA. While the LON_SDWAN_SE instance is deployed in “inline mode”, which is a common deployment for branch office networks. It sits as a bridge between the LON_Client LAN and the LON_CE_Rtr (LAN/WAN) LAN and intervenes to manage delivery of HDX flows to and from the LON_Client.

A series of Vyatta routers simulate an MPLS provider network and an Internet provider network. A WanEm virtual appliance is used to interject latency and loss.

Architecture

Environment

The environment is composed of various software and virtual machines hosted on a Citrix Hypervisor. It is based on an environment that is commonly used for Citrix readiness labs employed for field and events training.

To be hosted within the confines of a 32 GB hypervisor, including supporting management routers and servers, the open source routers used had limited memory. They would typically use more memory in production. However, the SD-WAN virtual paths traverse the same paths and open source routers as the directly routed traffic. Therefore, the absolute measurements should not be referenced, rather the comparative differences that demonstrate quantitative benefits of using Citrix SD-WAN to deliver HDX sessions. The NYC_Lan (Core_Rtr) and LON_LAN/WAN (CE_Rtr) edge routers were allocated the same 4 GB of memory that is allocated to the NYC_SDWAN_SE and LON_SDWAN_SE Citrix SD-WAN instances.

Hardware

Component Memory
Server (Citrix Hypervisor) 32 GB RAM

Software

Component OS/Version
SD-WAN Citrix SD-WAN SE VPX 11.0.3
Routers Vyatta OS
Wan Emulation WanEm open source tool
Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops V7 1912 LTSR
Deliver Controller and VDA Windows Server 2016
Domain Controller and Utility Server Windows Server 2012 R2
Client Windows 10

Citrix SD-WAN

Citrix SD-WAN simplifies branch networking while providing a reliable and high-performance workspace experience that helps accessing SaaS applications, virtual desktops, or traditional data centers.

The Citrix SD-WAN Standard Edition used in testing includes Virtual WAN features. It supports software-defined WAN capability to create a highly reliable network from multiple network links. It ensures that each application takes the best path to achieve the highest application performance.

Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops

Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops are virtualization solutions that give IT control of virtual machines, applications, licensing, and security while providing anywhere access for any device. Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops allow:

  • End users to run applications and desktops independently of the device’s operating system and interface.
  • Administrators to manage the network and control access from selected devices or from all devices.
  • Administrators to manage an entire network from a single data center.

Virtual Machines

Component OS Memory
AD.training.lab Windows Server 2012 R2 .5 GB
LON_LAN/WAN (CE_Rtr) Vyatta 4 GB
LON_Client Window 10 1 GB
LON_SDWAN_SE Citrix SD-WAN 4 GB
NYC_DDC Windows Server 2016 4 GB
NYC_VDA Windows Server 2016 3 GB
NYC_Lan (Core_Rtr) Vyatta 4 GB
NYC_INET_Rtr Vyatta .5 GB
NYC_MPLS_Rtr Vyatta .5 GB
NYC_SDWAN_SE Citrix SD-WAN 4 GB
NYC_Server Windows Server 2012 R2 .5 GB
PE_INET_Rtr Vyatta .5 GB
PE_MPLS_Rtr Vyatta .5 GB
PE_WANem WanEm .5 GB

Network

Component VLAN IP Address
AD.training.lab Internal / NYC_LAN 192.168.10.11 / 172.16.10.11
LON_CE_Rtr LON_SD / PE_WeMPLS_LON 172.70.1.1 / 169.15.70.3
LON_Client Internal / LON_SD 192.168.10.28 / 172.70.1.28
LON_SDWAN_SE Internal / LON_SD / LON_LAN / PE_WeINET_LON 192.168.10.201 / 172.70.1.27 / 172.70.1.28 / 169.15.71.3
NYC_DDC Internal / NYC_LAN 192.168.10.200 / 172.16.10.51
NYC_VDA Internal / NYC_LAN 192.168.10.202 / 172.16.10.53
NYC_Core_Rtr NYC_LAN / NYC_RtrMPLS / NYC_RtrINET / NYC_SD 172.16.10.199 / 172.16.20.2 / 172.16.30.4 / 172.16.40.1
NYC_INET_Rtr NYC_Rtr_INET / PE_INET_NY 172.16.30.3 / 169.15.60.2
NYC_MPLS_Rtr NYC_RtrMPLS / PE_MPLS_NYC 172.16.20.1 / 169.15.50.2
NYC_SDWAN_SE Internal / NYC_SD 192.168.10.200 / 172.16.40.2
NYC_Server Internal / NYC_LAN 192.168.10.12 / 172.16.10.12
PE_INET_Rtr Internal / PE_INET_NYC / PE_INET_WeLON 192.168.10.92 / 169.15.60.1 / 169.15.71.1
PE_MPLS_Rtr PE_MPLS_NYC / PE_MPLS_WeLON 169.15.50.1 / 169.15.70.1
PE_WANem Internal / PE_MPLS_WeLON / PE_WeMPLS_LON / PE_INET_WeLON / PE_WeINET_LON 192.168.10.26 / 169.15.70.2 / 169.15.70.2 / 169.15.71.2 / 169.15.71.2

Summary

Citrix SD-WAN significantly improves the network performance of Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops HDX sessions, over environments without Citrix SD-WAN, resulting in a better user experience. This value was demonstrated by measuring the quantitative results of test scenarios with various network constraints.

Two reasons behind the network performance improvements that were observed include:

  • The inherent nature of SD-WAN technology’s ability to route traffic dynamically based on real-time network conditions, as opposed to traditional routers that rely on routing protocol timeouts.
  • Only Citrix SD-WAN “Multi-stream HDX Auto-QoS” can dynamically identify and prioritize HDX flows, according to ICA class of service, resulting in the least delay for the most time sensitive data.

Measuring HDX User Experience Improvements from Citrix SD-WAN Network Performance Enhancements