I’ve had a great opportunity to travel the world this year and meet with a wide range of our customers and partners. I’ve been struck with the number of CIO’s, IT Managers and Admin’s who are consistent in their frustrations and questions around finding a better way to manage desktops. In one meeting with the IT team of a Japanese company with more than 100,000 employees, the CIO summarized this well with his comment, “We can’t go on with the current desktop model as we need to reduce the overall cost of IT while continuing to deliver innovation to our businesses”. I hear something similar to this in customers large and small across geographies and industries. This is a classic headache looking for aspirin IT challenge. The next part of the conversation generally turns into something like: “We know we have a problem, but how do we work our way out of this mess?”.

VDI, What is all the fuss?

The cost and complexity of the current default model of: purchase personal computer’s/laptop’s, install standard operating environment, deploy with user, then patch/fix/secure & repeat is hitting the breaking point. Maybe this is just the edge of the pendulum swing between mainframe/dumb terminal to networked PC, but it’s clear that there is a big “headache” today. Desktop Virtualization represents a new way forward that can be radically simpler than the current managed desktop model. The benefits of desktop virtualization are now within the reach of every organization. Customers deploying XenDesktop are seeing total cost of ownership per desktop reducing 10%-40% annually, time to value is pretty much instantaneous and information security is significantly increased.

After a recent customer event I had one IT manager ask me, “so for my 5,000 desktops I can use just one image of XP and manage 1 copy rather than 5,000? Wow, my management challenge just disappeared”. With ah-ha moments like this, you can see why more and more organizations are making the move to centralized delivered desktops. The current economic headwind that businesses are facing is creating an opportunity for every company to take a look at current models and make large scale changes to emerge from this downturn in a stronger position. With this in mind here are a few principles and key points when considering Desktop Virtualization.

1) One size DOESN’T fit all

As we worked with customers to define and develop XenDesktop, we attacked the biggest pain point first -> the cost of delivering and managing desktops inside the company on the local area network. We partnered with a number of our hardware partners to build a new class of end user device called a Desktop Appliance - meeting a base level of capabilities to ensure a great user experience and options to increase capabilities over time. The Desktop Appliance combined with XenDesktop becomes the primary device for Office Workers and delivers a user experience better than a desktop PC.

Desktop virtualization can provide a user customized desktop for Office Workers; however it is an over-kill for task workers and does not address the needs of mobile workers. Task Workers include call center agents, retail clerks and shop floor workers, generally accessing a set of specific applications. A shared server based desktops (delivered by XenApp) combined with a traditional Thin Client device is the most secure and cost effective way to deliver applications to this group of users – 20 million task workers operate in this model every day. When you consider that a shared server can accommodate the needs to 300-400 users vs 30-50 virtual desktop users per server for VDI, the cost comparison is fairly straightforward. Mobile workers include sales execs, service personnel and executives who carry a laptop and need their applications with them on the road, both on and off the network. Application virtualization is the best solution for cutting down the cost of managing applications for mobile worker laptops. Citrix has a long history supporting mobile workers and now we have the only product, XenApp, that acts as a single application hub that can deliver line of business applications hosted from the data center and productivity applications like Microsoft Office streamed to run locally on the users laptop for offline use in locations like airplanes and at customer offices.

2) IAATHUX – It’s All About the User Experience

I’m a virtual desktop (XenDesktop) user and it really is a fresh, personal & fast experience every time I log-in. My XenDesktop starts up faster than I can get a cup of coffee and absolutely screams when I launch and use applications throughout the day -> apps and data live close together on servers in the data center. Knowing there is no spinning hard drive or humming fans makes me feel good about reducing power and air conditioning in our offices. With anytime, secure remote access, I can work from home with my customized desktop when needed and not make unnecessary off-hours trips to the office. I have accessed my virtual desktop from all locations, broadband, our small regional sales offices, offshore during my international trips. With the EasyCall feature of XenDesktop set to make calls from the office, or the users cellphone or home telephone, I can be productive with voice and data access from anywhere – and see significant savings in my cellphone & telephone bills.

3) The Desktop: Just Another Datacenter Workload?

Server virtualization is primarily focused on the wringing efficiency from under-utilized servers. Virtualizing desktops, on the other hand, is more an end-to-end solution including servers, networks and client devices. Defining the desktop as Operating System + Applications + User Profiles is useful to highlight the key components. The dynamic assembly of these components and delivery as a service are critical to realize the cost advantages of desktop virtualization and improved user experience.

4) App Virtualization: Key to Succesful VDI

In much the same way that having a single copy of the operating system to be delivered to all users, application virtualization can deliver a single image of each application across a broad range of users. XenApp delivers applications on a hosted or streamed basis to virtual desktops (in addition to physical desktops). Keeping individual copies of applications for each user and maintaining these across users just doesn’t make sense and destroys the cost benefits of desktop virtualization. Managing each application separately from the desktop image is the only way to make the virtual desktop projects cost effective.

5) Storage, storage and more storage – Why Storage is a Critical Factor

The first versions of early virtual desktop infrastructure seemed designed to increase IT’s spend on back end storage. Virtualizing applications and managing them separately, as explained above, not only helps in cutting down the cost of desktop and application management but also becomes one of the key factors in reducing the storage requirements of the desktop images. In addition, this virtual desktop image along with applications should be dynamically assembled and provisioned into a virtual desktop on-demand at the time when a user logs on. XenDesktop has been architected to optimize storage requirements by dynamically assembling users’ desktop at the time when they logon. The only unique storage required for each user is their profile and application data. This approach has unlocked the business case for Desktop Virtualization using any hypervisor – XenServer, Hyper-V or ESX.

6) Real distance, real networks

With the move to centralized data centers and more virtual workforces, the distance between users and their desktops and applications is increasing. Hence, the delivery of the virtual desktop is equally important regardless of where the end user is. Citrix has a long history with delivery applications over networks ranging from current high speed 1Gb networks with lots of bandwidth and low latency to the skinniest of networks with high latency and failure rates. Our larger customers operate with 10’s of thousands of users operating across public and private networks built with wired and wireless network infrastructure from different network infrastructure vendors including Cisco, Juniper, Nortel and others. Since application and networking professionals have lots of hands on experience with Citrix traffic on their networks, we decided to have the same proven virtual delivery protocol, Citrix ICA, in both XenApp and XenDesktop.

7) Client Hypervisor – Fact vs. Fiction

Based on the strategy above, all task workers and office workers should have their desktops centrally hosted in the datacenter, enabling them to securely access their desktop from anywhere. For mobile workers, who need to work offline, I expect more innovation to come where IT can virtualize and stream full desktop images to laptops. Citrix is helping to make this a reality by working closely with the Xen.org, Xen Client Initiative (XCI) to create a fast and free embedded hypervisor for laptops, PC’s and PDAs. XCI is an exciting and fast-moving initiative driven by all the biggest names in microprocessors, BIOS, PCs and laptop hardware. Because when it comes to client hypervisors, trying to build something proprietary and closed simply won’t cut it. Anything that doesn’t have broad, open and compatible implementation across the industry is likely to fail. An embedded client hypervisor will, of course, provide a foundation to deliver local virtual desktops. However, a client side hypervisor alone is not enough for IT to have a complete solution. At Citrix, we’re working on a complete solution that integrates a client side hypervisor, application and desktop streaming, application and desktop hosting, and end user profile and context management – this complete solution will ensure that the mobile users can quickly get their personalized desktop and their applications available to them offline and IT can centrally manage the lifecycle of the desktop at lowest possible cost.

In our experience to date with XenDesktop in the market, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at both the level of interest and speed at which our customers are deploying virtual desktops. It seems that the headache with current desktop management crosses industries, geographies and customer size and that many of these organizations are reaching for the aspirin or already starting to breath a sigh of relief with their virtual desktops.

If you are interested in a third party evaluation of XenDesktop, check out this InfoWorld test by Paul Venezia:  http://www.infoworld.com/article/08/09/16/38TC-citrix-xendesktop_2.html

Gordon Payne,
Senior Vice President
Delivery Systems Division