Product Documentation

Provisioning Services product overview

Jan 15, 2016

Most enterprises struggle to keep up with the proliferation and management of computers in their environment. Each computer, whether it is a desktop PC, a server in a data center, or a kiosk-type device, must be managed as an individual entity. The benefits of distributed processing come at the cost of distributed management. It costs time and money to set up, update, support and ultimately decommission each computer. The initial cost of the machine is often dwarfed by operational costs.

Provisioning Services takes a very different approach from traditional imaging solutions by fundamentally changing the relationship between hardware and the software that runs on it. By streaming a single shared disk image (vDisk) rather than copying images to individual machines, Provisioning Services enables organizations to reduce the number of disk images that they manage, even as the number of machines continues to grow, simultaneously providing the efficiencies of a centralized management with the benefits of distributed processing.

In addition, because machines are streaming disk data dynamically and in real time from a single shared image, machine image consistency is ensured, while at the same time large pools of machines can completely change their configuration, applications, and even OS in the time it takes them to reboot.

Using Provisioning Services, any vDisk can be configured in Standard Image mode. A vDisk in Standard Image mode allows many computers to boot from it simultaneously; greatly reducing the number of images that must be maintained and the amount of storage that would be required. The vDisk is in read-only format and the image can not be changed by target devices.

Benefits for XenApp and other Server Farm Administrators

If you manage a pool of servers that work as a farm, such as XenApp servers or web servers, maintaining a uniform patch level on your servers can be difficult and time consuming. With traditional imaging solutions you start out with a pristine golden master image, but as soon as a server is built with the master image, you now must patch the individual server along with all of the others. Rolling patches out to individual servers in your farm is not only inefficient, but it can also be unreliable. Patches often fail on an individual server and you may not realize you have a problem until users start complaining or the server has an outage. Once that happens, getting the server back into sync with the rest of the farm can be challenging and sometimes it can require a full re-imaging of the machine.

With Provisioning Services, patch management for server farms is simple and reliable. You start out managing your golden image and you continue to manage that single golden image. All patching is done in one place and then streamed to your servers when they boot-up. Server build consistency is assured because all your servers are using a single shared copy of the disk image. If a server becomes corrupted, simply reboot it and it's instantly back to the known good state of your master image. Upgrades are extremely fast. Once you have your updated image ready for production you simply assign the new image version to the servers and reboot them. In the time it takes them to reboot you can deploy the new image to any number of servers. Just as importantly, roll-backs can be done in the same manner so problems with new images will not take your servers or your users out of commission for an extended period of time.

Benefits for Desktop Administrators

As part of XenDesktop, desktop administrators have the ability to use Provisioning Services' streaming technology to simplify, consolidate, and reduce the costs of both physical and virtual desktop delivery. Many organizations are exploring desktop virtualization. While virtualization addresses many of the consolidation and simplified management needs of IT, deploying it also requires deployment of supporting infrastructure. Without Provisioning Services, storage costs can put desktop virtualization out of the budget. With Provisioning Services, IT can reduce the amount of storage required for VDI by as much as 90%. At the same time the ability to manage a single image rather than hundreds or thousands of desktops significantly reduces the cost, effort, and complexity for desktop administration.

Different types of workers across the enterprise need different types of desktops. Some require simplicity and standardization, while others require high performance and personalization. XenDesktop can meet these requirements in a single solution using FlexCast™ delivery technology. With FlexCast™, IT can deliver every type of virtual desktop - each specifically tailored to meet the performance, security and flexibility requirements of each individual user.

Not all desktop applications can be supported by virtual desktops. For these scenarios, IT can still reap the benefits of consolidation and single image management. Desktop images are stored and managed centrally in the datacenter and streamed out to physical desktops on demand. This model works particularly well for standardized desktops such as those in lab and training environments, call centers, and "thin client" devices used to access virtual desktops.

The Provisioning Services Solution

Provisioning Services streaming technology allows computers to be provisioned and re-provisioned in real time from a single shared-disk image. This enables administrators to completely eliminate the need to manage and patch individual systems. Instead, all image management is done on the master image. The local hard disk drive of each system can be used for runtime data caching or, in some scenarios, removed from the system entirely, which reduces power usage, system failure rates, and security risks.

The Provisioning Services infrastructure is based on software-streaming technology. After installing and configuring Provisioning Services components, a vDisk is created from a device’s hard drive by taking a snapshot of the OS and application image, and then storing that image as a vDisk file on the network. The device that is used during this process is referred to as a master target device. The devices that use those vDisks are called target devices.

vDisks can exist on a Provisioning Server, file share, or, in larger deployments, on a storage system that the Provisioning Server can communicate with (iSCSI, SAN, NAS, and CIFS). vDisks can be assigned to a single target device as Private Image Mode, or to multiple target devices as Standard Image Mode.

When a target device is turned on, it is set to boot from the network and to communicate with a Provisioning Server. Unlike thin-client technology, processing takes place on the target device (Step 1 in the illustration that follows).

The target device downloads the boot file from a Provisioning Server (Step 2), and then the target device boots. Based on the device boot configuration settings, the appropriate vDisk is located, then mounted on the Provisioning Server (Step 3). The software on that vDisk is streamed to the target device as needed. To the target device, it appears like a regular hard drive to the system.

Instead of immediately pulling all the vDisk contents down to the target device (as in traditional or imaging deployment solutions), the data is brought across the network in real time, as needed. This approach allows a target device to get a completely new operating system and set of software in the time it takes to reboot, without requiring a visit to a workstation. This approach dramatically decreases the amount of network bandwidth required by traditional disk imaging tools, making it possible to support a larger number of target devices on your network without impacting overall network performance.