Citrix Rolls Out Xen Desktop 4

Windows 7 will prompt a rethinking of the desktop in 2010 and lead many to virtualize, Citrix says.
The need to consider a Windows 7 upgrade and a refresh of desktop hardware will prompt many companies next year to switch from hardware on every desktop to software that supplies virtualized end user desktops.

"Desktop virtualization will be the hottest technology in 2010. It will be hotter than cloud, hotter than storage virtualization," predicts Sumit Dhawan, VP of product marketing for Citrix' XenDesktop 4. The latest version of XenDesktop was announced Oct. 6 and is now available. Citrix is trying to do on the desktop something that's been difficult to do on enterprise servers, namely, make some headway against VMware's strength in the virtualization market.

Dhawan addressed the point directly. Citrix is differentiated from VMware by its broader understanding of desktop users. It supports six different forms of virtualized desktops through the XenDesktop 4 release. "We don't think the desktop is an extension of server virtualization," he said in an interview.

The options range from virtualized desktops running on a central server and sending displays down to end user thin clients or PCs to running a blade workstation in the data center and giving a single high end user all the compute power he can use.

Dhawan said Citrix has also resolved some of the drawbacks to virtualizing desktops, a process that in some instances has lead to perceptions of unfavorable performance by end users and unsatisfactory delivery of video and multi-media. Dhawan claimed Citrix has addressed these problems in a more persuasive manner than other vendors.

Citrix uses its FlexCast technology to weigh network bandwidth, the nature of the content being sent to the end user, and the nature of the end user's device to insure delivery of a smooth presentation. An assessment and delivery technology such as FlexCast is needed to deliver a variety of virtualized desktops, depending on the user's needs, Dhawan said.

In addition, XenDesktop 4 incorporates what Citrix calls the high definition experience, or HDX, a speeded up network protocol for delivery of multi-media content to the virtualized desktop. It can use compression to get multi-media over the wire to the end user, where chips in the end user device decompress and display it. In rough terms, it's like a Citrix' ICA protocol for Adobe Flash, video and intense graphics. ICA is supported by Windows Server and is used for speeding up foot-dragging standard terminal services. Dhawan contrasted the HDX approach to VMware's delivery of desktop multimedia via PCoIP, which generates a high resolution bit map of end user content but requires more server cycles to deliver it to the virtualized desktop, he claimed.

Xen Desktop 4 now includes Citrix Receiver, which Dhawan described as a lightweight client for accessing a given virtual desktop on a central server from any type of device.

Citrix is also promoting the idea of virtualized end users serving themselves from a smorgasbord of enterprise applications, styles of desktop and content from an online store, produced via a product called Citrix Dazzle. A Dazzle store is, accessible via either Windows or the Macintosh.

Wyse announced concurrently that its thin client machines and Wyse ThinOS have been upgrade and will support XenDesktop.

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