XenClient Install and First Look


A while back I wrote how I thought Windows 8 should be a bare metal hypervisor.  I won’t revisit the many advantages including VDI but, I’d be really excited to see a client based bare metal hypervisor with wide support.

That’s why I got really excited when I heard about XenClient.  I didn’t even know it existed, which for a virtualization geek is a bad thing.  I imagined of all the major vendors VMWare was the closest to delivering a client based Hypervisor for general distribution.  Citrix however, has announced the tech preview of their second .0 release of their client based hypervisor OS XenClient.

I was extremely anxious to get it in my lab and play around with it.  I have a pretty decent home and work lab.  But most of my resources are geared toward server based OS’s.  It took me a great deal trial and error to find a machine that could run the OS.

The biggest obstacle I ran into is that XenClient only really supports an all Intel platform.  Intel and Citrix markets machines supporting Intel vPro as a solution.  I didn’t have anything in my lab at home that had vPro and I figured a minimum of v-XT would be needed to run a 64-bit hypervisor.  I assumed my Dell XPS 420 with a Core Duo Quad Core 9300 would do the trick.  The problem was the video card.

The Xenclient install completed but since the NVidia GPU isn’t supported the OS fails to boot completely.  My 420 sports an NVidia video card.  I also had an older Core 2 Duo Laptop with Intel graphics but the Core 2 Duo doesn’t support v-XT and the same with my general purpose white box server.  The only machine I had at my disposal that would meet the specs was my brand new 3 day old Dell XPS 15.  It has an Intel i7-QM2630 processor and NVidia discrete graphics.  However, the great thing about the i7’s is that they have Intel graphics built on the chip.

Luckily, I had brought an Intel 40 GB SSD drive a few weeks ago on an impulse.  That turned out to be the perfect device to throw in to test the configuration.  Installing multiple operating systems on a really fast HD makes a world of difference.

One of the great features of XenClient is support for 3D graphics.  Unfortunately, XenClient relies on Intel v-XD technology to pass 3d capability along to the guest OS.  My XPS 15 doesn’t seem to support v-XD.  No matter what I tried I couldn’t get 3D features working as I couldn’t find any reference to the technology in my BIOS.  For my test environment 3D would have just been a bonus but in production I would think it would be a hard requirement.  I wanted to see just how far Citrix had come with XenClient.

Installation

Once I found a hardware platform that would work installation was fairly straight forward.  Not a lot of options and ways to go wrong.  XenClient is obviously Linux based.  The entire install took about 10 minutes.

v-XD error message

Guest OS Install

The number of operating systems supported is limited.  I’m not sure why but Vista 64-bit wasn’t listed as an option while Windows 7-bit was listed.  I decided to install a Vista and XP image.  I found the build times to be rather long.  But, I believe this is more to do with the fact the XP and Vista’s installs both take a long time.

I did notice that the default for the number of virtual processors was not nearly enough CPU.  I had to upgrade the Vista partition from the single core to 4 cores not to notice a delay in the guest system.  I could however notice the lack of graphics acceleration in Vista.  The interface was beautiful on my 15.6 inch 1080P display but sluggish at times.  XP was well XP.

OS Selection Menu

Networking is handled at the hypervisor level.  XenClient found my Intel based wireless adapter and I had no problem connecting to my WiFi network.  XenClient presents the network as wired Ethernet to the virtual guests.

Conclusion

I really want to like XenClient.  I actually like what I’ve seen so far.  My biggest complaint is that of my original article.  The lack of universal support across multiple machines will limit the potential of the solution.  I commend Citrix for under taking this challenge and putting it out there for geeks like me to play.  The hardware requirements are steep.  I really want the flexibility of using the solution as a bring your own PC to work solution.  But the requirement of vPro prices most home users out of this platform.  The lack of AMD and NVidia support also make for a limiting solution.

Citrix has done an admirable job on XenClient.  For a technical preview it’s a really cool example of what can be done using client side virtualization.  I just really wish they had the resources to expand the HCL beyond the few officially supported systems.  Until there’s broader support I can only see this as a niche solution.

If your interested in playing around with it you can download it here.

update: 5/31/2011

Thanks to Dominic Pedroza for pointing out another solution that may be a little more mature MokaFive Baremetal.  A short article on The Register can be found here.

9 thoughts on “XenClient Install and First Look”

  1. Keith: Take a look at MokaFive and Virtual Computer, both offer a baremetal hypervisor. Citrix’s offering is not as good because it is to complex to deploy and manage at the Enterprise level.

    Let me know what you think.

  2. Dominic thanks for pointing out MokaFive. I’m going to take a look at that solution. Looks like it has some potential. I’ve added a note to the original blog post.

  3. Hi Keith: You mentioned installing XenClient on your XPS 15 despite the fact it has a NVidia discrete graphics on board. (which is not (yet) supported by Citrix). Because the i7 has Intel graphics built-in you were anyhow able to install XenClient. I was wondering whether you had to turn off the NVidia GPU in BIOS or is XenClient detecting the Intel Graphics automatically ? (…besides an “active” Nvidia GPU on board). Does the NVidia in your XPS 15 includes the “Optimus” -technology ?
    Hope you are able to enlighten this one 😉

    1. I actually went to disable the NVidia card and forgot to do it. I was happy to see the XenClient found the onboard Intel chipset. The XPS 15 comes with the Geforce GT 420 which has optimus technology. I’m not sure if it is implemented in the Dell drivers or not.

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