Understanding Citrix VDI: XenDesktop and VDI-in-a-Box
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With XenApp 7.5, Citrix has shown that Windows' future is all about the apps. Lots of other vendors are coming around to that fact, too.
For the past few years, I've been saying that how we use Windows now will be different from how we use it in the future. For the past 15-20 years, Windows has been an aggregation point for applications, an interface to the world, but IT is in the midst of a pretty major shift in how you access those applications, not to mention the data. You no longer need it to access many of the services you use -- a truth that is backed up by the dropping sales of laptops in favor of non-Windows tablets, Google Chromebooks and reliance on phones.
I've yet to hear the term AaaS (Applications as a Service), but I suspect it's not far off.
Of course, that's on the consumer side. Enterprises are left feeling somewhat trapped, especially those ones that are still trying to use software and practices that were put in place years ago (which is ages ago by IT timeframes). It's why so many companies think that they can embrace this non-Windows culture that's developing by using virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to deliver desktops to those devices that go against the grain.
The problem is that shoehorning Windows on a device that wasn't intended to run it results in both a sub-par experience for the end user and more management for IT. Any time Windows is involved, you have to deliver the entire stack: hardware, OS and apps.
XenApp isn't the only one
That's why Citrix's announcement of XenApp 7.5 makes sense. You could argue that XenApp should have never gone away in the first place, but hashing out the past is a fool's errand. With this XenApp release, Citrix realized that the future of Windows is applications, not desktops.
That's not to say that desktops will be going away anytime soon, but as time goes by and the devices everyone is using are increasingly Windows-free, IT won't want to have to deploy an entire stack to users for one or two Windows applications. That's where XenApp comes in, both in-house and in Citrix's CloudPlatform product for cloud access.
Citrix isn't the only company acknowledging the trend of Windows' future. Microsoft's Project Mohoro has been described as RemoteApp from the cloud, which is to say, seamless published Windows applications from Azure (just like XenApp). MainFrame2 has built their entire business around delivering applications rather than desktops. Even VMware Horizon View (and presumably its Desktone offering) has the ability to publish applications rather than give access to entire desktops. Since it now embraces the concept of Remote Desktop Session Host-based desktop virtualization, it's not too much of a leap to say that VMware is on board. Even Parallels Access could be considered part of the trend.
Each of these tools (well, maybe not Microsoft's) has some sort of mobile client enhancements that make interacting with Windows apps from mobile devices better than it has been. They can be context-aware, knowing which keyboard to display depending on if you're writing in Word or typing in a Web address, or they have enhancements to make the touch interface more user-friendly in applications that were made to use a mouse.
Coming full circle
I'm reminded of an article Brian Madden wrote about "the inverse bell curve of Terminal Server/SBC" in which he describes the exact thing that's happening today. IT has come full circle (and then around again a little bit, actually) with desktop virtualization. It started out in the early 1990s, remoting desktops because that was a huge need in the industry. Then, Citrix invented seamless applications, which caught on quickly.
When the remote desktop and virtualization technologies matured enough and converged, we did VDI, more or less because we could. Still, remoting applications remained the primary use of the technology. Now, as IT shifts its focus away from Windows, we're seeing a renaissance of application remoting.
So, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Desktops and VDI aren't going to disappear anytime soon, but expect to see additional interest in published applications both in-house and from service providers. I've yet to hear the term AaaS (Applications as a Service), but I suspect it's not far off.