Citrix Fixes the Provisioning Services – KMS Problem!

This is big news for anyone who wants to use XenDesktop to facilitate a Windows 7 migration. Here’s why: It only takes a moment’s thought to realize that if your desktop virtualization project simply trades inexpensive desktop SATA storage for expensive data center SAN storage, it’s not going to do good things for your ROI. So provisioning your virtual desktops from a shared Standard Image is a must. And that’s what Provisioning Services (“PVS”) allows you to do. If your standard Windows 7 OS image is, say, 15 Gb, you only need one instance of it on your SAN regardless of how many virtual PCs you’re provisioning from it. Then, using the Citrix Profile Management tool in conjunction with standard Group Policy folder redirection techniques, you can merge user personalization at logon time.

There was only one problem…turning a Win7 vDisk into a Standard Image broke the Microsoft license key. The only way around that was to use Key Management Services (KMS) to auto-activate systems as they were provisioned, but there were problems in using KMS with PVS, as we’ve documented in earlier posts.

I am happy to report that the problem has been addressed in PVS v5.6, SP1, which is now available for download at the Citrix download site. Not only that, but PVS v5.6, SP1, also works with a Multiple Activation Key (MAK) for smaller environments where KMS is not justified. Here’s the difference between the two activation methods:

KMS is a service that runs on a server in your own network. It supports Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2, Vista, Win7, and Office 2010. However, it requires a minimum number of systems checking in for activation before any systems will be activated. That threshold is 8 systems for server activation, and 25 systems for workstation activation. Prior to SP1, systems provisioned from a Standard Image looked to the KMS server like the same system checking in again and again, so the threshold counter didn’t increment. SP1 fixes that. Please note, however, that you must be running KMS on a 2008 R2 server if you want virtual machines to increment the threshold counter.

With an MAK, the activation server is hosted at Microsoft. The MAK is a reusable key that’s good for a predefined number of activations. With SP1, PVS will cache the activation confirmation code for each system, so they will automatically reactivate on subsequent reboots.

Here is the configuration process, straight from Citrix. First of all, the Imaging Wizard allows you to choose which activation method you’re going to use:

PVS Imaging Wizard

Choosing the Activation Method

Once you’ve chosen either KMS or MAK, here are the next steps:

KMS Activation

  • Reset the activation status on the vDisk image:
    • Boot the master target device from vDisk in Private Image mode
    • Run slmgr.vbs -rearm in console on master target device
    • Shut-down master target device
  • Put disk in Standard Image mode and stream. Target devices will automatically register with KMS server, and activate (provided there are at least 25 systems checking in).

MAK Activation

  • Put disk in Standard Image mode and stream.
  • Use “Manage MAK Activations” to remotely activate streamed target devices. This is done only once per group of devices.
  • Provisioning Services will cache activation confirmation code for each device so that devices will automatically reactivate on subsequent reboots.

Kudos to the Citrix PVS development team for getting this done and out the door. Great job!

7 replies
  1. Rashid Amin
    Rashid Amin says:

    This is unacceptable both how you have to do a hack job whether or not you are using MCS or PVS.

    Let’s take MCS for example first:

    Here’s my comment to Citrix about their so called workaround:

    Quick Deploy creates a shared desktop environment by default and Citrix advertises creating a thousand desktops in 10 minutes. But without KMS, you’r SOL… guess what, you guys jumped the gun again and released an immature almost-working product… again. Let the solution providers do the “workaround” in the mean time. Do you know how this looks when you are training a customer on this and handing the product over to them? A hack job… that’s what.
    And don’t get me started with the “supported” KMS activation method for PVS. That’s still a hack job. If you have Office 2010, the standard wizard will not render it’s activation successful. You will still have to “hack” into the vDisk and rearm windows and office and shut it down. Oh wait! Almost forgot, make sure you set the KMS to “none” when you are imaging a machine with Office 2010 on it and only set it to KMS mode after you have re-armed it and shut it down. Oh wait! There is one more thing… don’t forget to click “OK” after you set KMS mode on the vDisk but wait, I’m not done, BEFORE you set the disk to standard mode, otherwise it’s not going to work… so basically you will need to open the vDisk properties twice – once to set the KMS, close out and then set the Standard disk mode. The only reason I’m listing these out is for you to hopefully wake up and see how convoluted/confusing this can be to the customer!
    I’m frustrated, these new products just feels incomplete and immature if you have to hack all the time to make it work. I love how much performance and scalability is renders later and part of the reason I love Citrix but come on guys, I KNOW you can do better than that!

    • James Allen
      James Allen says:

      This is my question as well. It would seem that the master image would reactivate every time you booted it up for maintenance so you would need to rearm it again and again. If this is true, this could create a costly mistake when updating desktop catalogs…if this step is forgotten, you would need to update again.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] We’ve written extensively here about the challenges of using Citrix Provisioning Services to provision VMs that require key activation (i.e., Vista, Win7, and Server 2008/2008R2). We publicly rejoiced when the news broke that PVS v5.6, SP1, supported both KMS and MAK activation. […]

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