Dissecting XenDesktop, Horizon View VDI software

If you're thinking about buying VDI software, you're probably looking at XenDesktop and Horizon View. Both products do pretty much the same thing, but with different hypervisors, protocols, storage and management tools.

Although there is plenty of lower-cost VDI software out there, many shops find themselves deciding between Citrix XenDesktop and VMware Horizon View.

That may be because shops already run other Citrix or VMware technology, because they're looking to switch from one vendor to another, or they're just starting out with VDI software and need to choose a product that fits business needs and tech goals.

Whatever the case is, these two packages are often at the top of IT's list. The trouble is that a comparison between XenDesktop and VMware can get pretty complicated. There are a lot of things to consider, and it doesn't just include product specs. IT administrators also have to get to know their shop's requirements and think about how the technology they already run factors in.

Here's a simple breakdown of the most important aspects to consider when looking at both Citrix XenDesktop and VMware View.

Citrix XenDesktop 7.5

The latest version of XenDesktop has been combined with XenApp under the FlexCast Management Architecture. Unlike View, which is confined to one hypervisor, XenDesktop can run on Citrix's own XenServer, VMware ESXi or Microsoft Hyper-V. That's something to take into consideration if you already run one of those hypervisors or you're considering a switch to a different one. Citrix also provides some useful resources for implementing XenDesktop on VMware vSphere.

Citrix's HDX technology, which optimizes desktop and app delivery over the network, is one of the things that Citrix customers say sets it apart from other VDI software. It is based on the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), but can also use the User Datagram Protocol (UDP) in certain situations. HDX is especially effective over WAN connections, and it supports 3-D graphics, multimedia delivery and a variety of peripherals. HDX 3-D Pro provides even more graphics acceleration for applications that need it. Plus, HDX for mobile in Citrix XenDesktop 7 improved gesturing and swiping capabilities, so it's better tailored for touch.

More recently, Citrix has worked to simplify XenDesktop implementation and management. In version 7 of the VDI software, Citrix significantly decreased the number of consoles admins need to deal with. Now, there is one management console (Studio) and another for monitoring the environment (Director).

Administrators can provision images using either Provisioning Services, which provides centralized disk management, or Machine Creation Services, which uses linked clones. Then, admins can deliver desktops and apps to users through five different FlexCast methods: Hosted Shared desktops; Hosted VDI; Streamed VHD, which runs the desktop locally; Local VM, which runs a virtual machine on a hypervisor on the computer; and On-Demand Apps, which delivers individual virtual applications. Citrix XenDesktop 7 also added a bulk publishing feature to increase provisioning automation.

To simplify things for the end user, Citrix added Receiver support for more devices, which now has clients for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone devices, Mac and PCs.

Administrators have plenty of options for Citrix certification, and the company added new certs for XenDesktop 7.

VMware Horizon View

Formerly known simply as "View," Horizon View is now part of VMware's Horizon line of products for desktop and app virtualization, plus mobility. This VDI software runs on the company's ESXi hypervisor and does not support the others. It natively supports the PC over IP (PCoIP) protocol, which is based on UDP instead of TCP. Administrators manage Horizon View through vCenter and the View Administrator component.

Where experts say VMware Horizon View stands apart from other VDI software is its storage capabilities. SE Sparse Disks and View Storage Accelerator help provide disk capacity optimization and prevent bottlenecks. The newer VSAN feature pools drives and flash storage from the hosts to make one large data store rather than isolating traffic the way traditional virtual storage area networks do. Storage has long been a pain point for VDI administrators, so these kinds of advancements are a huge plus.

Both VMware Horizon View and Cirtix XenDesktop support virtual desktop pooling -- which admins can do with simple wizards -- but the processes are slightly different.

Horizon View is also easy to integrate with vSphere, which many companies already run for server virtualization purposes. Plus, most admins in the virtualization field today are VMware-certified in some way, so there may be less of a learning curve for staff who implement Horizon View rather than other VDI software.

One of the biggest knocks against View has always been its profile management; most organizations go to a third party for that.

Mobility and virtual GPU support

Both Citrix and VMware have made moves to support GPU virtualization and integrate their desktop virtualization products with enterprise mobility tools.

Citrix XenDesktop can work with XenMobile and Citrix Receiver to deliver virtual desktops and applications to mobile devices, while VMware Horizon View works with Horizon Workspace to provide desktop access on mobile. Both companies have also worked to improve their remote desktop protocols to account for poor connections and the increasing need for complex applications running on mobile devices.

With Nvidia leading the GPU virtualization charge, both Citrix XenDesktop and VMware Horizon View now offer capabilities to run virtual GPU-accelerated desktops and apps. Citrix's GRID vGPU feature is native to XenDesktop 7.1, while VMware offers Soft 3D, Virtual Shared Graphics Acceleration and Virtual Dedicated Graphics Acceleration, depending on admins' desired user density and level of acceleration.

Next Steps

VMware Horizon Suite components explained

VMware Horizon View features

Guide to VMware Horizon View

VMware Horizon 6 RDSH won't have profile management

VMware GPU virtualization options: Soft 3D, vSGA and vDGA

This was first published in August 2014

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