There is a bunch of meaningful news for our industry today and some key topics that I’ve been itching to talk about for weeks. So let’s start with everybody’s favorite topic, licensing.

VECD is free if you are a Microsoft Software Assurance (SA) customer

Yes it’s true, thank you Microsoft! Starting July 1 2010, Microsoft will remove a key barrier to the adoption of the VDI model of desktop virtualization. I can’t begin to express my relief at this. I have been in far too many customer meetings where VECD becomes a barrier to adoption for customers who are already current on SA, and frankly complicates the conversation. I think this is significant for our industry and now makes desktop virtualization a reality for many customers who have been on the fence and simplifies the whole process.

VECD has always been a requirement for implementing the VDI model within the desktop virtualization solution portfolio. For SA customers it used to be $56/device/year, and then was slashed to $23/device/year, which was significantly cheaper than buying VECD without SA which was $110/device/year. However, it still remained a barrier to many. I know from personal experience that buying SA made a lot of sense to entitle you to a number of benefits including upgrades to Microsoft products. However, I was always looking to get more value from SA, and I think waving VECD for SA customers will make this a no brainer for the vast majority of customers who understand the strategic drivers for desktop virtualization

I think it’s also important to note, that with the centralized management that desktop virtualization brings to the table it’s far easier to perform software upgrades and take advantage of SA. Usually the main objection I have observed to SA, is when a customer is unable to absorb new updates fast enough in a market downturn and opts to stay on existing software. While I can certainly empathize with this, I see this as an incredibly risky strategy for many organizations. Adding desktop virtualization really helps simplify upgrades and extract value from SA while giving you all the organizational benefits of centralized management.

For those customers that will not upgrade to SA, but still want to use the VDI model of desktop virtualization, you will be required to subscribe to Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) which will replace VECD. This license will be $100 /device/year instead of $110. In addition roaming use rights have been added. This will allow users with an office device covered by VDA to use secondary, non-business devices, to access their VDI environments without additional license fees. If you want to use the hosted shared desktop model (Terminal Server hosted desktops) of desktop virtualization then this is not required.

My personal view is, it’s far simpler and more strategic to have SA and have the flexibility of all the FlexCast desktop virtualization options which is not VDI alone.

RemoteFX (formerly Calista) is not going to be for just RDP

In January 2008, Microsoft acquired Calista Technologies Inc. which is now called RemoteFX. This technology virtualizes the GPU for virtual desktops. Each VM sees it’s own virtual GPU to enable sharing of the power of hardware graphics acceleration to improve the performance of media-rich, 2D and 3D graphics intensive applications. In my opinion this is a smart way to leverage the ever increasing number of cores.

RemoteFX will be a key virtualization capability of the Windows Server 2008 R2 service pack 1 release, running on Hyper-V only. Citrix and Microsoft have a new collaboration agreement where Microsoft will develop an API for RemoteFX which Citrix will leverage to add RemoteFX into it’s HDX technology. If you are looking to enhance the graphics experience for Windows 7 via virtual desktops and RemoteFX you will be able to do so via XenDesktop in conjunction with Microsoft Hyper-V. At a technical level, think of this as adding a RemoteFX virtual channel to HDX for VDI use cases, which means support for RemoteFX on a Window 7 host running on top of Hyper-V. You will be able to connect from any client that supports Citrix Receiver which has the RemoteFX virtual channel implemented.

I think this will be great for customers, because now they can benefit from all the additional HDX features and leverage all the Citrix know how of delivering user experience across diverse networks and devices with RemoteFX. With HDX, RemoteFX can be extended beyond the LAN to a broad set of devices, networks and use cases via the Citrix Receiver. Citrix will look to add this capability to HDX approximately six months after RemoteFX ships. Before you ask, this is not an exclusive agreement and no money is exchanging hands. Citrix and Microsoft are free to continue development of solutions with other partners. Personally, I think the terms of the agreement are very healthy for the industry and encourage future innovation from everywhere. I am delighted Citrix was able to leverage their relationship with Microsoft to make this happen.

From a Hyper-V customer point of view, this is a great addition of an integrated solution that will be fully supported. However, Citrix will continue to provide the flexibility to run XenDesktop on other virtual platforms to protect existing investments that customers have made. I believe that the world continues to move towards being more hypervisor agnostic. This has a number of implications that should not be overlooked. Firstly, management infrastructure for virtual environments needs to support more than one Hypervisor. Secondly, delivering user experience needs to retain the flexibility to allow one to take advantage of innovations on virtual infrastructure. To me, over the coming decade this trend will be magnified once emerging technologies like cloud computing take hold. Trying to lock in smart customers to proprietary stacks is going to be next to impossible to sustain. Therefore giving customers lot’s of choice, whether that is FlexCast delivery options or user experience technology that supports diversity, I believe will continue to remain a key differentiator for Citrix in the eyes of real world customers and positions us well for the future.

Add to all of this XenDesktop 4 Feature Pack 1, which includes all the recent upgrades to XenApp 6, our VDI Kick Start promotion, Rescue for VMware VDI offer, joint 100-city worldwide road show with Microsoft, a round of applause for simplifying VECD and we certainly have a milestone date in our industry.