Summary of announcement

Today Citrix announced XenDesktop 4 – a complete desktop virtualization solution to address the needs of all users across an enterprise. XenDesktop 4 includes on-demand apps by XenApp as well as FlexCast delivery technology offering different methods to deliver desktops tailored to meet the performance, security and flexibility requirements of each user. In the future we will also see XenClient to further extend our desktop virtualization strategy to include local VM-based desktops. XenDesktop 4 will be available under a new simpler per user license model more in line to support desktop deployments. XenApp will continue to be available standalone with today’s CCU model. We are also providing incentives to move to a XenDesktop license. Since XenApp application virtualization is a critical component of our desktop virtualization strategy we will continue to invest in it with additional capabilities on the horizon as early as the first half of 2010. 

Wham! There you have it, finally a single product option.  Something that I have wanted for a long time to address a far broader range of use cases and truly enable desktop virtualization that goes beyond a simplistic one dimensional VDI view of the world.

So what are those use cases and drivers?

I’ve written in a past blog the time is now! about why I feel WIndows 7 is a long awaited stimulus to drive the next desktop refresh. In addition, the analyst data I have seen strongly indicates that 2010 will be the year of the PC refresh after years of skipped upgrades. This I believe will lead to many more people seeking to understand how desktop virtualization fits into to their strategic plans to ensure that they make the right investments in 2010 for their IT infrastructure as the economy begins to recover.

When I talk about drivers for desktop and application virtualization to customers from CIO to hardcore techie, I generally find that everything fits into three buckets. Here are some common perspectives that I have shared that resonate with our real world customers who are implementing at scale today.

Business Perspective
  • Simplify business continuity and build it into the core architecture.
  • Enable quicker and easier office moves and enable mobility from any connection from a broad device set.
  • Invest in M & A and global expansion.
  • Enforce stronger data standards and security through centralization.
  • Drive increased consistency, more efficient staff based on location.
  • Enable outsourcing.
User Experience Perspective
  • Ensure consistency of user experience across any network. WAN and bandwidth matter.
  • Improves performance when latencies are managed down by moving apps closer to the desktop.
  • Enable telecommuting and access from any device/connection.
  • Recover faster from faults to increase productivity.
  • Introduce new productivity models like BYOPC.
Technology Perspective
  • Leverage power and cooling efficiencies in the data center to reduce costs.
  • Consolidate data centers and extend reach of existing data centers.
  • Build greener user buildings in metropolitan areas and reduce carbon foot print.
  • Reduce complexity in workplace and datacenter management OpEx by reducing the # of instances to manage.
  • Ensure reliability of simple clients to reduce helpdesk calls and end user break fix visits.
  • Reduce management costs and risk for infrequently connected devices such as laptops.

Once people start to understand the potential from their respective points of view, it usually boils down to desktop virtualization is a way to drive costs down over time and increase productivity very quickly.

To solve for the above use cases with the current distributed computing model is very difficult. Primarily this is because at scale distributed computing is complex to manage with a lot of overhead and many moving parts. This then leads to many points of control to make a change – flexibility is next to impossible. All this adds up to slow time to value for anything that needs to get done quickly, and hence the model is not very agile.

When it comes down to picking the right technology option to enable a new desktop model, the predictability and performance over a diverse network infrastructure become key considerations. Many customers realize that to reduce support complexity and achieve service delivery consistency it is better to use a technology that addresses the majority of your use cases.  If you truly understand the above use cases, it becomes obvious that to truly leverage your investment, WAN and smart utilization of bandwidth is a must. I’d argue it is the lowest common denominator, and  it takes more than a protocol to deliver the best possible user experience. For example, working in the office you may be on a LAN or MAN depending on the location of your data center, but when you travel or go home network latency and bandwidth matter. If you have to switch display protocols with varying bandwidth requirements from site to site then the complexity of supporting this when a user calls just erodes the cost benefits. In addition, some customers simply reject the idea of implementing solutions that lock them into proprietary client hardware solutions, or hypervisors as they lose price leverage. Many customers have told me that they want technologies that let them choose what type of client device to run on and hypervisor choice. That could be a Thinclient or simply a repurposed commodity PC, but with a mature protocol that is proven to run over diverse networks and uses bandwidth intelligently. Similarly these customers understand that hypervisor diversity is inevitable and so want to invest in management layers that support this coming trend.

Today Citrix has a range of HDX technologies to address a plethora of user experience use cases. We also run our solutions on multiple hypervisors and on physical hardware. This is why we are winning large XenDesktop customers including a 100,000 seat deal that we recently closed.

Is XenDesktop needed since XenApp also enables desktop and application delivery?

Not having XenDesktop 4 resulted in an artificial TS vs. VDI debate thanks to Citrix that has just continued to brew. Yes it’s true, XenApp can host desktops and apps on a server operating system, so this leads to the logical question why do I need XenDesktop? In a blog last week on Brian Madden’s site this sentiment was highlighted once again. I believe this is now a moot debate. With XenDesktop 4, it really does not matter which model you choose.  What’s more important to understand is that you choose the right model to address your business need that fits the right economics and time to market for you.

Despite my pre-XenDesktop implementation experience and choices due to technology availability, I’ve always wanted and believed in a move towards a desktop OS. Why? It was largely driven by:

  • It’s a desktop.  It makes the most sense to deliver it with a desktop OS and avoid any issues or optimizations that may come up in the future that I may not have been aware of.
  • App compatibility is not a problem on a single session desktop OS. Yes you can use 1-1 XenApp, but for reason 1 I still prefer a desktop OS.
  • 3rd party vendor support is not an issue on a desktop operating system.
  • Consistent service delivery of running a desktop OS across all use cases. This includes users being familiar with their Laptop OS – corporate or personal.
  • Reason 3 above makes it easier for in house developers to adopt.

Now that said, I’ve lived through large scale XenApp desktop and application deployments and seen that the app compatibility issue is marginal after 20 years of Citrix pioneering the Server Based Computing model. Most vendors support their software on multi user operating systems like Window 2003 and 2008 and XenApp 5 Feature Pack 2 now addresses those edge cases by enabling VM hosted applications delivered from a desktop OS.

However there is a twist. In my opinion this is the advent of Windows 2008 R2 – only available as a x64 operating system. This presents several additional considerations.

First, how fast is the world going to move all their desktop applications to a x64 operating system and have the hardware on the backend to host x64 desktops and apps? Note I did not say application compatibility, because based on my experience most x32 applications run just fine on a x64 Windows operating system. There is some repackaging and testing to be done, and there are of course exceptions like apps with 16 bit installers etc. but in general I have not seen compelling evidence to suggest that this will not work for the vast majority of apps.

Second, Windows 2008 R2 and Windows 7 share the same code base. At the technical level their kernels are the same version. Thank you Microsoft for finally pulling this off! This will vastly improve application compatibility. At a very high level of assurance I can be confident that applications re-packaged for Windows 7 will run just fine on Windows 2008 R2. Now customers can choose what is most comfortable based on their requirements (well they will once we release XenApp for x64 which is slated for beta towards the end of 2009) because it really does not matter – their investment moving to either operating system is well protected from an application compatibility perspective.

Finally, for users on XP or Vista, I don’t know of anybody new who at this point will adopt desktop virtualization by migrating to Windows 2003 given the effort to get all your applications re-certified and then do it again when Windows 2003 will reach end of life in a few years. It’s just not worth it. Windows 2008 x32 is certainly an option, but again to ease the application migration effort it seems more prudent to me to get your applications ready for Windows 7 and Windows 2008 R2 to future proof yourself and have application portability between the operating systems.

Now I fully expect many people reading this to say, but I want to do X with operating system Y for reason Z. That’s ok, and clearly as I elude to above, given the world is so diverse it’s foolish to assume a single prescription and proclaim this is how you do it. As I illustrate below, XenDesktop 4 let’s you choose the best model for solving real world business problems. I like to think of it as a sliding scale that is a pragmatic realization by Citrix that customers want many ways to skin a cat. I believe this flexibility will enable our products to be more easily consumed now that every use case can be addressed irrespective of your OS choice, application compatibility concerns or x32 vs x64 belief system – all with the most predictable user experience powered by HDX.

Key considerations and takeaways

Virtualization is already forcing a datacenter re-architecture. I would argue that those who do not believe virtualization is a force driving consolidation in the data center that has past the hype and inertia stage are in the minority. As this shift happens it is very important to design your virtual infrastructure and organization to handle desktop scale and service levels. I’ve blogged about this in the past desktop virtualization is not server virtualization. And I can’t begin to emphasize enough how important this point is. It’s a mistake to think desktop virtualization is a simple extension of your existing server virtual infrastructure.

The forces of globalization, offshoring, teleworking, mobility, and green are causing more users to be mobile. Forces such as consolidation, data security, business continuity, and green are driving us towards centralization. Business are becoming more complex and diverse, and the distributed computing model will only get more expensive to manage and is not designed to handle the needs of an agile organization that requires a lot of flexibility.

As a result, XenDesktop 4 is a landmark release in our history. It brings together the best technologies and reaffirms our commitment to enable customers to deliver IT as a service with desktop and application virtualization. XenDesktop 4 demonstrates how at Citrix we understand that desktop virtualization is so much more than just VDI. This is at the very heart of where we have come from as an organization over the last 20 years. It’s in our DNA how to deliver user experience over diverse infrastructure, and this is just the beginning. We continue to innovate and expand our reach through diverse devices, HDX, new delivery models such as Dazzle, continued investment in application delivery and so much more to come. It’s an incredibly exciting time for us at Citrix, now that we’ve stepped up to heal the broken hearts of TS vs. VDI and enable a new tomorrow that represents pragmatic choice.