If you have Microsoft 365 and Windows Virtual Desktop, do you need Citrix? Apparently

Redmond's Azure-based system pals up with virty dinosaur

Microsoft has agreed to make Citrix a "a preferred digital workspace solution" for its Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD), part of its Microsoft 365 suite.

Described as a "multi-year agreement", the deal includes joint tools and services for migrating on-premises Citrix to Azure, joint products including Citrix Workspace (a combination of virtual desktops and virtual Windows apps), and Citrix SD-WAN (software-defined wide area network) to be sold by both Microsoft and Citrix though their direct sales forces, Azure Marketplace, and channel partners.

Citrix for its part is making Citrix Workspace integrate not only with WVD, but also Office 365 and Teams. Citrix is also moving to use Azure and Microsoft 365 for its own internal operations. Today the company said that Azure will be its "preferred public cloud for companies using Citrix solutions".

WVD was launched in February 2019 as an adjunct to Office 365. It is bundled with the Microsoft 365 E3 and E5 enterprise licences, and also with Business Premium, aimed at smaller businesses. Although it does not require additional licences for Windows 10 or Windows 7, WVD customers do have to pay for the additional Azure resources required, including virtual machines (VMs), storage and networking. Considering the high cost of licensing Windows Server Remote Desktop Services, though, WVD can be seen as a bargain.

There are also some special features in WVD licensing, including the ability to run Windows 7 with support until 2023, and to use multi-session Windows 10 Enterprise. "Windows 10 Enterprise multi-session can't run in on-premises production environments because it's optimized for the Windows Virtual Desktop service for Azure. It's against the licensing agreement to run Windows 10 Enterprise multi-session outside of Azure for production purposes," stated the FAQ. A single user or device CAL (Client Access License) for Windows Server Remote Desktop Services, which you can run anywhere, currently costs £186.53.

Microsoft's platform is a hybrid, with desktop applications (not least the Office suite) and custom Windows applications still playing an important role, unlike Google's cloud-centric approach, where you can do all your work in a web browser. This makes WVD and the ability to run desktop applications in the cloud of key importance for fully remote working, and accounts for surging demand for WVD following the COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown in March this year. "Windows Virtual Desktop usage has grown more than 3x," said the company at the time.

The advent of WVD was therefore significant as a way of enabling Microsoft customers to have a complete cloud platform, including desktop applications, at a reasonable price. However, involving the likes of Citrix would increase the cost, and when WVD appeared as part of Microsoft 365, it looked possible that the business of partners like Citrix and Parallels could be under threat.

That is not what the mood music of today's announcement implies. The Citrix proposition is that it adds value in terms of manageability, easier deployment and additional features such as HDX optimisation, for enhanced audio and video with application such as Teams; and it looks as if Microsoft endorses that view, describing it as a "deepening partnership".

The remote desktop support built into Windows is among its best features, and historically that technology is associated with Citrix. Microsoft licensed Citrix technology for Windows NT back in the '90s. Perhaps therefore a tilt towards Citrix in WVD is not unexpected, though buried in the press blurb it also said "both Citrix and Microsoft will maintain their long-standing policies of supporting choice for those customers who request alternatives to meet their business requirements." ®

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