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Citrix Linux Virtual Desktop provides Windows VDI alternative

Windows isn't going anywhere, but with Citrix's Linux Virtual Desktop, VDI admins who want to work with open source desktops can actually do so.

Citrix Linux Virtual Desktop gives IT the power to deliver Linux desktops and their applications along with Windows-based...

systems.

The move to Linux territory represents a significant step for Citrix, especially considering Windows traditionally rules the VDI roost. With Linux Virtual Desktop, which is part of XenApp and XenDesktop, customers can implement more flexible and customized VDI. It's not a Linux revolution and Windows is not at its end, but companies such as Citrix are taking the open source operating system seriously.

What does Citrix Linux Virtual Desktop support?

Linux Virtual Desktop 1.3 in XenApp and XenDesktop 7.9 supports various enterprise editions of Red Hat and SUSE Linux, as well as CentOS -- a free Linux-based OS -- but version and service pack restrictions apply. Still, customers have reported success installing Linux Virtual Desktop on other Linux distributions, and even Citrix encourages VDI shops to create Linux desktops based on nonsupported systems. At the same time, the company warns admins to expect the unexpected because no two Linux distributions are the same.

Linux Virtual Desktop works only with XenDesktop 7.1 or later. Similar to the Linux distributions, XenDesktop compatibility comes with feature pack and edition restrictions, so be sure to check.

It's not a Linux revolution and Windows is not at its end, but the Linux expansion shows companies such as Citrix are taking Linux desktops seriously.

VDI admins can implement Linux virtual desktops directly on the machine or in conjunction with any of the hypervisors XenDesktop supports, including XenServer, VMware ESX or ESXi and Microsoft Hyper-V. If the VM runs on a hypervisor, admins might need to tweak the Linux OS to run correctly, but these changes are not necessary if the OS runs on bare metal, according to Citrix's documentation.

Linux Virtual Desktop also supports Active Directory integration through Samba Winbind, Quest Authentication Services or Centrify DirectControl, helping to achieve a centralized approach to access control and user management across disparate systems.

Linux Virtual Desktop supports a wide range of clients through Citrix Receiver, which is agent software that runs on a user's device and connects it to the VDI deployment. Windows, Linux, Apple Mac OS X and iOS and Google Android all run versions of Receiver. Any device that runs the Receiver client can access a Linux virtual desktop as long as admins keep client device constraints in mind.

Receiver for Linux is particularly noteworthy because it allows users working on Linux devices to access the XenApp or XenDesktop infrastructure just like users on Windows devices. This expands Citrix support for Linux even more, and consequently increases the flexibility admins have for incorporating Linux into their VDI deployment.

The Linux VDA makes the connection

The Virtual Desktop Agent (VDA) is integral to Linux Virtual Desktop. VDI shops must install VDA on each Linux system they offer as a virtual desktop. The VDA is a Linux daemon that communicates with the XenDesktop server to support connectivity and management operations.

The VDA must run on the Linux desktop so it can register with the XenDesktop controller and communicate with other services. If IT uses XenDesktop or Provisioning Services to configure the VMs, it needs to set up the VDA only once. Admins can also use Group Policy Objects  in Active Directory to deploy the VDAs to all the Linux VMs in a managed domain. If admins manage standalone desktops, whether physical or virtual, they must manually install the VDA on each one.

Although installing the VDA is a fairly straightforward process, preparing the Linux OS for installation can be more cumbersome. For example, IT must properly configure network settings, such as ensuring the correct DNS resolution and hostname. In addition, admins must configure the VM with PostgreSQL, OpenJDK and other necessary software. If they don't prepare the VM correctly, the VDA might not work properly or at all.

After admins install the VDA on each Linux desktop, adding the desktops to the XenDesktop infrastructure is similar to adding Windows desktops. Creating machine catalogs or delivery groups for Linux VMs, for example, works just like creating them for Windows VMs.

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What Citrix's push toward Linux means

Even in today's fast-moving world of technology, the Linux desktop is still a relative newcomer to mainstream VDI vendors such as Citrix, in part because Linux represents such a small share of the desktop market. Yet Citrix is pushing forward, supporting Linux virtual desktops and Linux clients. The company is not alone. VMware is also making serious inroads into Linux territory.

Even so, the future of Linux desktops is still up in the air. Windows is not going away anytime soon, but the ability to virtualize Linux might make a difference in the long term. What matters now, however, is organizations can more easily virtualize mixed deployments to deliver exactly what their users need, without swearing allegiance to one camp. This fact alone could change how vendors play the virtualization game.

Next Steps

Deliver Linux virtual desktops with VMware Horizon

Complete guide to VDI thin clients

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This was last published in November 2016

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What do you see as the best use case for Linux virtual desktops?
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Because we have all these enterprise applications that run on Linux? Isn't VDI primarily a fix for making legacy windows applications available remotely? If so, which Linux applications are we talking about that need fixing?

Seriously, I'm wondering about the use case. Who's using Linux on their desktops?
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