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The next generation of Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp will give administrators more granular control of Windows application delivery to mobile devices and support cloud-hosted desktop deployments.
Citrix updated XenDesktop 7.5 and XenApp 7.5 this week for the first time since they were combined under the FlexCast management architecture in May 2013. The enhancements bring more flexibility to desktop virtualization administrators that want to deliver individual applications rather than full desktops.
"Users and IT both want the ability to run the one or two critical line of business apps they might need versus a full Windows desktop," said Matt Kosht, an IT manager at a utility company based in Michigan. "A desktop is clearly overkill for many of these users […] who don't need the full functionality."
Death of the full desktop?
In many organizations, virtual desktop infrastructure has been about replacing full PCs with thin clients. The mobile workforce has changed that as users want access to single applications on their smartphones and tablets. Arthur Blakely, a senior systems administrator at Progrexion, a credit repair services provider based in North Salt Lake, Utah, said he uses XenDesktop and XenApp to deliver desktops and apps to mobile devices such as iPads and Android tablets.
"We haven't had much need for full desktops [on mobile devices]," he said. "We have some users that require full desktops and others that all they need is one or two applications."
Blakely said he only accesses a full desktop on his smartphone (using RemotePC through XenDesktop) when he needs to deal with a work task in a hurry. There are plenty of applications that just don’t look or feel great on a mobile device, so it make sense for IT to pick and choose which apps they want to deliver to employees.
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XenApp 7.5 now offers shared-session multi-user delivery to present individual applications to end users. In the past, administrators that attempted Windows app delivery from different OSes had to give the user access to multiple different virtual desktops.
In XenApp 7.5, administrators can select apps from any of the five most recent Windows generations and run them side by side, rather than needing to create separate farms. That reduces OS compatibility issues, and the application looks the same to the end user, whether it came from Windows 7, Windows 8 or even XP.
Citrix's recent acquisition of Framehawk could even factor into the new XenApp capabilities, Kosht said. A Windows application could be "refactored" into a mobile app without rewriting it.
Also in the new generation, Citrix improved AppDNA, its application analysis tool, to include more application packaging assistance and virtual application and platform migration capabilities.
XenApp meets cloud
XenDesktop and XenApp 7.5 now include a feature called hybrid cloud provisioning that allows administrators to deliver desktops and applications through the cloud. This brings Citrix into closer competition with VMware Inc. and Amazon, which both recently released Desktop as a Service (DaaS) offerings.
With the new provisioning feature, admins can choose the cloud delivery option from a dropdown menu in the same Studio management console that they use for XenDesktop and XenApp management. This generation includes built-in support for Amazon Web Services and Citrix’s own CloudPlatform, as well as other cloud provider partners. The company said it will integrate with Microsoft Azure in a future release.
Despite the uptick in DaaS support and acceptance, cloud-hosted desktops still bring complexity, performance and security concerns. Moving back-end databases and application servers into the cloud, for example, isn't worth the trouble yet, Kosht said.
"Much of the monetary incentive for cloud- hosted apps/desktops gets lost in just getting the systems there," he said.
Security is especially a problem for companies that work with sensitive data such as Progrexion.
"We require such tight [payment card industry] control," Blakely said. "Cloud and PCI don't play together very well."
Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop 7.5 will be available in March 2014. The new versions cost the same as previous ones: XenApp starts at $350 per concurrent users. XenDesktop starts at $95 per user or per device, and the VDI edition is per concurrent user at $195. In a promotion until Sept. 30, 2014, XenDesktop Platinum customers can get XenMobile mobile device management edition for the price of software maintenance or XenMobile Enterprise edition at a 20% discount.