Schools: Re-open your student labs easily, virtually! (part 2: technical setup)

In part one of this pair of postings, we covered the use case for extending your on-campus computer labs to your students (and potentially staff).This is a a strategy I have encouraged institutions to adapt long prior to the COVID-19 related closures of campuses (and thus closing access to computing labs), due to the multitude of benefits from having lab computing resources available 24×7, regardless of a student’s location or device.

Within this posting, we will cover the technical side (the FUN side) of this setup. Again, we can make this happen with ZERO datacenter (server and storage) investment. We’re simply taking your existing lab workstations and expanding their capability. If you are new to Citrix, we can enable this setup and student access with our hosted Apps and Desktops Service. Note:this walkthrough assumes previous experience with administration of the product, but again, if you are new to Citrix, contact me and we can provide the assistance you need.

Step 1: Install the Citrix VDA on your lab workstations

Out first step is to unlock the capabilities of our lab workstations by installing a small application. The Citrix Virtual Delivery Agent provides the desktop and computing resources of the lab workstation virtually (across the Presentation Layer) to any endpoint device.

Quick Tip: For campuses using deployment technologies, see here for an easier way to deploy Citrix VDA:

To install, download the VDA or select “Citrix Virtual Delivery Agent” from the Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops Media autorun.

Select the option to “Enable Remote PC Access

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Create a master MCS image
Select this option if you plan to use Citrix Machine Creation Services (MCS) to provision
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Select this option if you plan to use Citrix Provisioning or a third-party provisioning
tool (such as Microsoft SCCM) to provision virtual machines from this master image.
Enable Remote PC Access
Select this option to install the VOA on a physical or virtual machine that will NOT be
used by any provisioning tools.

Select the options for “User Profile Manager” to be enabled. This component is needed for proper reporting into Citrix Director.

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Citrix user Profile Manager WMI Plugin
Provides Profile management runtime information in WW (Windows Management
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Citrix Files for Windows
Allows users to connect to their ShareFiIe account and interact with ShareFiIe via a
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After clicking Next, we enter in our Delivery Controllers, or, as shown in this case, a Cloud Connector (for Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops Service)

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We then select both options below, to allow for helpdesk to shadow/assist in sessions and for optimal audio quality.

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Finally, we accept certain allowances in Windows Firewall.

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The default ports are listed below.
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80 TCP
1494 TCP
2598 TCP
8008 TCP
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2598 UDP
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16500 - 16509 UDP
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yourself.

Once complete, the VDA will reboot the workstation. Log in to complete the install.

Step 2: Create a machine catalog

Prior to beginning this step, if it hasn’t already been done, it is beneficial to group lab machines within your Active Directory. My recommendation is to give the machines specific names (example: LAB7-PC1, SMITH-LAB-PC1, DRAFTING-LAB-PC1, etc) and according to intended use (specifically in the case of specialized high end machines used for drafting, modeling, etc). In other words, we’ll want generalized, intended for all student type workstations separated from our special purpose workstations.Typically, this means grouping machines within their own Active Directory Organizational Unit.

Now, we shift focus into Citrix Studio. Select the option to create a new Machine Catalog.

Pay special attention here! The first intuition would be to select the Remote PC catalog. DO NOT CHOOSE THE REMOTE PC OPTION. Remote PC is a different use case intended for 1:1 user/desktop association. In a lab environment, machines are chosen at random and any student can generally access any open machine. We want to extend this concept remotely. Thus, we select the option to create a “Single Session OS” type catalog.

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Next, we select the option for non-power managed machines and “another technology.”

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Choose the option for a new, random desktop to be assigned (again, reproducing the experience of an open lab):

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Now, we select which machines (which AD computer accounts) we want included within our catalog. Recollect it was recommended to use a naming convention; the reason being is we will want a separate machine catalog to represent each use case (general purpose, specialized, high end, etc), Select these machine accounts accordingly:

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Helpful Tip: Once Machine Catalogs are created, Citrix provides a script to automate the import of AD computer accounts via CSV file: https://support.citrix.com/article/CTX129580

For the final step, give the catalog a relevant name.

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Step 3: Create a Delivery Group

Four our final step, we take the machines we’ve organized into a catalog and then specify which student/staff accounts we want to provide access to. Just as we organized lab machines within Active Directory, we will want to do the same for students if possible (i.e. if a certain segment of students need access to drafting/modeling labs or if individual schools on campus have their own labs, it would make sense to have their user accounts within a specific security group).

To begin, we create a new Delivery Group within Studio.Select the Machine Catalog created earlier. Important: Make sure to select the appropriate number of machines. Multiple Delivery Groups can make use of machines from a single Machine Catalog. If we wanted to split machines in a lab among several groupings of students, this would be the way to do so.

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After selecting our group of users, we’re then presented options on publishing of individual applications from our lab machines. I’d suggest skipping this option for this use case and instead proceeding to offer the full desktop experience (again, in order to provide an identical experience to the one in the on-campus lab).

It is important here to name the machine something your students will recognize. This will be the icon they choose when connecting to their lab from remote. Examples would include similar: “ENGINEERING LAB” or “DRAFTING LAB” or even the physical location they’re used to (“SMITH SCHOOL OF BUSINESS LAB”). Finally, make sure the option to “Enable Desktop” is selected.

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After giving our Delivery Group a name, we’re finished!

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STEP 4: Conclusion/testing

After completion of our setup, we should see an icon for our lab workstations in the Workspace/Storefront portal (accessible from the internet). Upon launch, we are connected to an available, randomly selected lab workstation. The experience should be the same as if we were sitting in front of the PC within our campus lab. With this setup, we can allow for the full learning experience to proceed, even at a distance.

Lab Workstation available remotely
above: Campus Lab Workstation PC (Windows) being used remotely from Chromebook

Let me know your results implementing this setup and your student/faculty observations. My guess is they’ll want to keep it an available option (or the preferred option!) long after the campus has re-opened.

shattuck

shattuck.world

In no particular order: IT enthusiast, musician, Alabama football fan, proud father, Sales Engineer for Citrix Systems.

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