(Before I get to the exciting news, please note that this Tech Preview is targeted at our nearly 2,000 Citrix Service Providers, who have been waiting for a way to get some of the benefits available with VDI, but have not had a cost-effective Microsoft SPLA-compliant option. If you are an enterprise customer deploying VDI, you already have tons of options with XenDesktop and VDI-in-a-Box.)

I’m extremely pleased to announce the immediate availability of a Tech Preview of a new solution that enables cloud providers to leverage Microsoft SPLA to host VDI-style desktops – an industry first. With the new “hosted server VDI” technology added to their portfolio, cloud providers can use pay-as-you-go monthly subscription licensing to offer customers the ability to install applications and use a wide variety of USB peripherals.

Previously, service providers were unable to cost-effectively offer these capabilities to multiple customers with Windows 7-based VDI without being in conflict with Microsoft licensing, because client operating systems are not included in the SPLA program. If you aren’t clear on the implications, I can net it out for you: if you host Windows 7 for a customer, none of the infrastructure you use can be shared with any other customer. That of course makes it more expensive and complicated to offer. Those in the industry that claim to offer a multi-tenant VDI solution using Windows 7 are only legally able to share some management consoles across customers, since they are required to dedicate hardware for each customer’s Windows 7 VMs.

However, the new Hosted Server VDI Tech Preview uses Windows Server 2008 R2 instead of Windows 7. That substitution makes the solution fully enabled for multi-tenancy in the Microsoft program.

What makes this “VDI”?

Despite having “desktop” in the name, the real heart of the appeal of VDI isn’t in the client operating system – it’s in the way that one user is isolated from another at a VM level. Of course, that’s different than a hosted shared desktop (XenApp, RDS) which is isolated at a session level. That VM isolation makes it possible to give users the ability to install apps. It also makes it easier to support USB peripherals, dedicate CPU and RAM to individual users, and support apps that aren’t compatible with a multi-user environment. With the new Tech Preview, whether the guest OS is Windows 7 or Windows Server doesn’t materially change those benefits.

Is it a “real” desktop?

At a technical level, the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system is functionally identical to Windows 7 by design. The main differences are the default theme settings, the pre-configured default apps and tools (PowerShell instead of Media Player in the task bar, for example) and the ability to control more services on the server. The interface differences can be addressed by simply using the Desktop Experience Pack, introduced by Citrix at Synergy 2011. With that applied, end users get a familiar, fully featured desktop experience that is indistinguishable from conventional VDI. It’s a real desktop.

What licenses do I need?

You can use the normal SPLA options for Windows Server, and an RDS-SAL for each user. Make no mistake – it’s still going to be more expensive in terms of licenses and infrastructure than a hosted shared desktop. But for advanced customer use cases where they need a private VM environment for a user, this is the most cost-effective and practical option. Keep in mind that you can always combine the various desktop models in your service offering – they are not mutually exclusive. For more details on proper licensing, be sure to contact your Microsoft representative.

Try it now!

Citrix Service Providers can download this Hosted Server VDI Tech Preview today at MyCitrix. The Tech Preview follows closely on the heels of the release of the Cloud Provider Pack in March 2012 that offered new multi-tenant app orchestration, seamless app technology and mobility enhancements to increase operational efficiencies and improve customer experience for CSPs. In conjunction with CloudPortal Services Manager 10, these leading edge technologies for the cloud are contributing to the tremendous growth of the CSP program which now encompasses nearly 2,000 providers that deliver app and desktop cloud services to hundreds of thousands of users. Get them all today!