With XenDesktop 4, Citrix says IT managers will be able to configure virtualization options for various sets of end users.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

October 6, 2009

4 Min Read

Citrix Systems Tuesday announced a flexible approach to desktop virtualization that integrates formerly disparate options into one XenDesktop management console.

Desktop virtualization has been slow to take off due to its complexities and the inherent possibility of generating dissatisfaction among hundreds or thousands of end users if the user experience deteriorates in a virtualized environment. Citrix said that with its XenDesktop 4, however, IT managers will be able to find the option that is right for each set of end users, despite widely varying needs.

"2010 will be a watershed year for desktop virtualization, ushering in a new era that will revolutionize the way we work," Mark Templeton, president and CEO, predicted in the announcement of XenDesktop 4. In effect, Citrix is attempting to parlay its 20-year history of distributing virtualized applications to what is now 100 million end users via XenApp, formerly known as Citrix Presentation Server. Using XenApp to virtualize core Windows applications centrally and allowing users to plug into application services off a central server remains one option in Citrix XenDesktop.

But Citrix is trying to combine the virtualized application approach, which imposes a one-size-fits-all type of application experience on all users, with five more flexible options. For the first time, it has integrated the five additional options into one XenDesktop managment console, said Mick Hollison, VP of product marketing, in an interview.

A second option is virtual desktop infrastructure. It's typically a fully virtualized desktop, including operating system and applications, configured for the individual end user but stored centrally. It is piped down to the end user's machine at the start of the day to run locally on a desktop device. Such an approach gains savings in administration but adds to central storage costs, and thus far has failed to ignite the desktop market.

A third option is to implement a standard Windows desktop per large user set on a central server. Groups of users are defined and virtual desktops reflecting each group's interests are accessed centrally by up to 500 end users per server.

For power users, a fourth option is a blade server in the data center serving as a virtual desktop, guaranteeing all the processing power needed by high performance, end user applications. The blade and its virtual machine software are administered centrally, negating the need for technicians to individually configure application sets for each end user.

Yet another option is to generate the desktop on a central server but stream it to the end user to run on a local device, while still storing and managing the operating system, applications and data on central servers.

A sixth option is similar but the local desktop already has a Windows operating system, and only an application set is streamed down to it. Both applications and operating system run on the desktop but this approach still requires technicians to circulate to each desktop to upgrade the operating system.

Noting that other major virtualization vendors offer just the VDI option, Hollison said: "VDI can't get there by itself."

Citrix can manage all six forms of virtual desktops from its central management console because of improvements in its virtualized end user experience delivery technology. Citrix starts out with its ICA protocol supported by code inside Windows Server. Citrix has added what it calls an improved, high definition user experience, or HDX.

Hollison said HDX can deliver a high performance to the virtual desktop, including Flash multimedia, video, audio, 3D graphics and real-time communications. Advanced users of CAD/CAM and other engineering applications can be supported in virtual desktops.

"HDX can deliver Flash multimedia or video at 60 frames per second," said Hollison. At that speed, live action video is smooth, not jerky with seemingly missing parts of an image. It can also deliver voice over IP and Webcam video.

HDX also now includes Intellicache, which caches data and graphics throughout the network infrastructure and delivers them from the most efficient location, speeding desktop performance.

XenDesktop also includes FlexCast which eighs bandwidth availability against the type of user experience being delivered, and optimizes the network to deliver a smooth appearing user presentation.

XendDesktop 4 will be available Nov. 16 on per user basis. Standard XenDesktop will be available at $75 per user as a one-time license charge; Enterprise, $225 per user; Platinum, $350 per user.

InformationWeek Analytics has published a guide to the business realities of virtualization. Download the report here (registration required).

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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