Citrix desktop virtualization push: any device, any location

Citrix unveils XenDesktop 4

Citrix on Monday said its latest desktop virtualization software will give users access to high-definition desktops from any location and from just about any device, including PCs, Macs, thin clients, laptops, netbooks and smartphones.

Citrix is betting that Windows 7 will drive a new wave of desktop virtualization adoption, and is releasing XenDesktop version 4 to take advantage of these expected new users. The latest version offers a range of server-and client-side virtualization options, including offline desktops hosted in local virtual machines; desktops hosted on blade PCs; hosted desktops based in virtualized servers; and hosted shared desktops.

"Traditional PCs were designed for a very different world," Raj Dhingra, XenDesktop general manager, said during a press conference Monday. "Today, the world is flat and small. We need to work in entirely different ways than before. A traditional PC that is locked to an office or a laptop is too confining."

Citrix hinted at its all-devices strategy earlier this year when it brought virtual desktops and applications to the iPhone. Now it says XenDesktop with its accompanying FlexCast delivery technology is Citrix's first product "to support every major desktop virtualization model in a single, integrated solution."

Citrix said XenDesktop will support high-definition graphics for all users with its HDX technology, which has been improved with support for flash multimedia, 3D graphics, webcams and VoIP, with optimized delivery to branch offices over WANs. Citrix claims that HDX requires 90 per cent less bandwidth than competing technologies.

XenDesktop 4 will be generally available Nov. 16 for prices ranging from $US75 to $US350 per user. Customers using XenApp, Citrix's application virtualization technology, will be able to trade up to XenDesktop with discounts of up to 80 per cent. Citrix is also enabling centralized management of virtual desktops and applications by integrating XenApp with XenDesktop, the company said.

The desktop virtualization market has lots of room for growth. Fewer than 10 per cent of data centers worldwide have virtualized desktops, according to ITIC lead analyst Laura DiDio. Thirty-one percent of customers plan to virtualize in 2010, according to an ITIC poll of 400 corporations.

Citrix, Microsoft and VMware are all going after the virtual desktop markets, although surveys show mixed results when comparing the vendors. According to ITIC, 41 per cent of companies using desktop virtualization went with Citrix, compared to 28 per cent for Microsoft and 16 per cent for VMware.

But when measuring by deployed seats, VMware has about a two-to-one lead over Citrix, according to Burton Group analyst Chris Wolf.

Citrix said XenDesktop 4 contains 70 new features to enhance performance and security. But the key is delivering the right type of desktop based on users' varying needs, the company said.

For example, task workers who share a similar set of applications may be best served by a shared, server-based virtual desktop, Citrix said. "This model gives each user a standardized, locked-down desktop ideally suited for jobs where user customization is not needed or desired," Citrix said.

As many as 500 users can be accommodated by a single server in this model, according to Citrix.

By contrast, office workers who need more personalized desktops may be best served by a virtual desktop infrastructure model in which each desktop is a dedicated virtual machine. This model supports about 60 to 70 desktops per server, according to Citrix.

Blade PCs in the data center are ideal for delivering high-end applications to "power users," Citrix said. Another option lets companies stream desktops to each user's device, which lets the user device run the desktop locally while letting administrators centrally manage the operating system, applications and data.

But for companies just starting out with virtualization, the simplest option may be to deliver virtual applications to traditional PCs, Citrix said. The virtual applications can run offline, making them popular with mobile users, the company said.

"By centralizing apps and delivering them as an on-demand service to existing desktops, this option offers many of the ROI and management benefits of a fully virtualized desktop with minimal setup costs, making it an ideal starting point for customers new to desktop virtualization," Citrix said in its XenDesktop announcement.

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