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. 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!

One Thought to “Citrix Fixes the Provisioning Services – KMS Problem”

  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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