Government, healthcare and financial organizations are heavily evaluating virtual desktops, and due to the nature of these industries, one of the big requirements is for secure authentication via smart cards. Frankly, when XenDesktop first came out, it didn’t have the goods in the smart card + VDI department, but no one else did, either. There was no integration to speak of, from either Citrix or VMware, and this meant these industries could only deploy VDI in limited use cases.
Citrix quickly addressed this in product updates, and the newly released Feature Pack 1 for XenDesktop 3 includes even more functionality. VMware has been kinda quiet on the smart card integration front – so I was curious, how are the two products faring in head-to-head evaluations in customer accounts? So I went and polled several of our SEs, some partners and some customers and learned a few interesting tidbits in some key categories:
- Seamless integration of authentication: With XenDesktop, you get the typical black “carbon fiber” log in screen on boot-up, then you insert the Smart Card and are prompted to enter your PIN. Just like a normal desktop. We’ve heard reports that for some reason View is requiring PIN entries for the broker, then the desktop – and for every desktop subsequently. Seems complicated for end users.
- Active Directory object clean up: With XenDesktop, when virtual desktops are opened and closed, the AD objects are created and removed cleanly. We’ve seen customers struggle with how View creates the objects for each virtual desktop, but then fails to clean them up and leaves them orphaned. So in a typical enterprise, this can result in thousands of AD objects being created every day and clogging up the works.
- Coffee breaks: If a user leaves for a coffee break and takes their card with them (as proper policy would mandate), the desktop should lock. When the user returns and enters the PIN, it should unlock with the and return the user to their desktop as they left it. XenDesktop handles this, but it seems that customers have reported View “loses” the Smart Card when it is withdrawn during a session. Re-inserting the card does nothing, and the desktop has to be fully shut down and the user has to start from square one to get back into the desktop.
- Multi-card reader roaming: A lot of organizations don’t have identical readers at each endpoint, but the user needs the same desktop. Feature Pack 1 adds the ability to roam between different devices even when different readers are attached.
- Endpoint device support: With Feature Pack 1, XenDesktop offers both Windows and Linux endpoint support for Smart Card readers. At this time, View’s ability to support Smart Cards (with the above integration challenges) is limited to Windows endpoints.
Obviously, with these considerations taken into account, XenDesktop is winning these bake-offs. But I don’t think it’s just about smart card integration. It’s a fundamental understanding of the virtual desktop experience that is burned into the Citrix DNA – the smart card functionality is just a manifestation of that know-how.