Citrix goes storage light with XenDesktop

Bundle pumping

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Citrix is throwing its hat into the desktop virtualization ring.

Okay, we know what you're thinking. Citrix already has a desktop virtulization play. It's done the whole pumping applications out of the data center to the desktop thing for ages. And it has that whole desktop-like kiosk thing going on with XenApp, which used to be Presentation Server.

As Citrix tells it, however, the company is more serious about desktop virtualization than ever and will use a new product called XenDesktop to help it ship full-on client rapture down to PCs and thin clients.

In the past, Citrix would help stream one or a couple of shared server-side applications onto desktops. But now it will deliver the whole Windows experience.

With XenDesktop, Citrix thinks it has a unique approach over the other desktop virtualization players.

To date, the virtualized desktop has often just meant that a company runs Windows and related software in a data center instead of on client machines. Companies can use virtual machines to put multiple client packages on a single, physical server and handle desktop management in a centralized fashion.

Citrix argues that this approach results in a couple of problems. For one, customers need to create various desktop images to meet the requirements of different users. So, they end up managing a vast set of OS and application bundles. In addition, they have to purchase a ton of back-end storage hardware to deal with all the OS and application copies.

With XenDesktop, Citrix does the assembly of OS, application and user setting bundles on the fly. So, the company maintains a single OS image and then sends out the desired applications to users based on their individual requirements. By using this attack, Citrix claims a management advantage and a massive reduction in storage overhead. [Update: This isn't entirely accurate. Please see our update that details how the app delivery works in detail.]

Users often complain that streamed desktops arrive with annoying lag. Citrix, however, claims that its ICA delivery protocol provides a proper client experience and that work is underway to delivery acceleration technology for things like 3D images and graphics.

The single image approach of XenDesktop does appear to differ from VMware's Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) technology, which requires that individual images have their own home on back-end storage. Meanwhile, other players such as newcomer MokaFive skirt around these storage issues altogether by hosting the virtual machines for customers.

XenDesktop is in beta today and will ship in final form on May 20. There will be Standard, Enterprise and Platinum editions of the software available. The Platinum edition comes in at $275 for a perpetual license and $140 for an annual license. This package includes optimization, monitoring and support services. The Enterprise edition will cost $175 for a perpetual license and $95 for an annual license. This package does not include the optimization fanciness but does include the dynamic assembly of the applications. The low-end bundle is aimed at smaller firms with 50 to 100 users and will start around $75 per concurrent user without any of the dynamic assembly goodness.

You'll find a detailed breakdown of the different flavors here. ®

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