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Understanding Citrix VDI: XenDesktop and VDI-in-a-Box

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Feature highlights and pricing for the top VDI platforms

What do the top VDI platforms have to offer? Get the skinny on the most popular software and the key features that differentiate them.

One of the primary goals of VDI platforms is to provide a consistent user experience across devices, enabling employees to be more productive by working anywhere, on their own schedule.

There are many options when it comes to virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) software and platforms. A few vendors offer lower-cost products and others provide converged infrastructure offerings that are built from the major vendors' offerings. Let's take a look at the most popular VDI platforms deployed in enterprise environments. Each of the VDI platforms featured here provides secure environments with centralized and single-console management, while still allowing for user productivity.

Citrix XenDesktop 7

Citrix XenDesktop 7 is an enterprise-class, secure VDI platform that delivers virtual desktops and apps. XenDesktop with FlexCast technology supports many different types of desktop-related services virtually, such as Windows apps for tablets and mobile devices, high-end graphics and centralized security for corporate laptops.

One capability that sets XenDesktop apart from others is that the platform supports a variety of hypervisors: Citrix XenServer, VMware ESXi and Microsoft Hyper-V, among others. The platform also supports 16-, 32- and 64-bit apps on Windows Server 2008 and 2012 R2, Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8, as well as apps on Mac OS X, iOS and Android.

To support a mobile workforce, XenDesktop lets organizations roll out virtual desktops and apps to nearly any type of device, optimizing them for large and small screens, as well as touch. Users may select authorized apps from an enterprise app store, and WAN networking is optimized to limit latency and provide highly reliable connections.

XenDesktop 7 is available in Enterprise and Platinum editions. Customers can purchase XenDesktop 7 concurrent or perpetual licenses, or opt for a hosted desktop option that has a monthly subscription fee. A concurrent license for the Enterprise edition costs $397; the user/device perpetual license with support costs $405.

VMware Horizon 6 Enterprise edition (with View)

VMware Horizon 6 Enterprise edition, including the View desktop virtualization product, offers secure delivery of desktops, apps and online services through a unified workspace. The platform supports central image management for physical and virtual machines (VMs) running Windows XP through Windows 8.1, as well as devices operating on Windows, Mac OS or Linux. View is designed only to work on VMware's own hypervisor, ESXi.

The workspace enables administrators to deliver many different kinds of applications and services, including XenApp 5.0, apps hosted by Microsoft Remote Desktop Services (RDS), desktops hosted by Windows Server 2008 and 2012, software as a service applications and VMware ThinApp 5.0.

One of the most enticing features for enterprises is the platform's Blast technology, which provides optimized access over WAN and LAN connections. It also supports virtualized graphics, multimedia streaming and unified communications. With Blast, users get a consistent experience regardless of which device they're using.

With its suite of products for the mobile, cloud-enabled workplace, VMware's VDI platform takes things a step further than some other platforms. Horizon 6 Enterprise is designed to support software-defined data center operations, allocating resources dynamically to support user workloads on demand, providing self-service options, and securing user computer resources.

Horizon 6 editions include Horizon View Standard, Horizon Advanced and Horizon Enterprise. Sold in 10-packs, Horizon Enterprise costs $3,630 for a one-year Named User license (dedicated to specific users), or $6,050 for a one-year Concurrent User license (virtual machines shared among users).

Microsoft VDI/Remote Desktop Services

Microsoft VDI is an enterprise-level virtual desktop and application delivery platform, based on Hyper-V, which requires the Windows Server Remote Desktop Services server role in Windows Server 2012. The platform supports user PCs (through the Remote Desktop Gateway component), personal and pooled virtual desktops, session-based desktops and RemoteApp programs.

Microsoft VDI provides a consistent, personalized user experience on a variety of devices running Windows or Windows RT, iOS, Mac OS X and Android.

The Deployment Wizard enables administrators to configure server roles and automate a Microsoft VDI rollout. To store and access VMs, administrators may use their choice of direct-attached, network-attached, clustered or storage area network (SAN) storage. A unified management console enables central management of server roles, users, VMs and much more.

Typically, there are two licenses involved with a Microsoft VDI implementation: one for connecting to the virtual desktop infrastructure and another for accessing a virtual installation of the Windows client OS. If you use RDS to access the infrastructure, you must purchase an RDS client access license, either per device or per user. For accessing the Windows client OS, customers covered under Windows Client Software Assurance (SA) do not pay an additional charge for VDI. Without SA, however, customers must license each device through Windows Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) for $100 per year, per device.

Dell vWorkspace 8.0

More on VDI platforms

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Citrix VDI options: XenDesktop vs. VDI-in-a-Box

There are few low-cost VDI options left

Dell vWorkspace vs. VDI competitors

Originally created by Quest Software, vWorkspace is Dell's VDI platform aimed at the small to medium-size business but is also used by enterprise organizations.. Integrated with Microsoft Hyper-V, vWorkspace 8.0 enables organizations to virtualize applications, provide hosted VDI and deliver local VDI and Remote Desktop Services.

Dell vWorkspace provides fast provisioning, scalability, load balancing, diagnostics and integrated user-experience monitoring and reporting. The platform supports every major hypervisor and many different virtualization platforms, such as Microsoft Hyper-V, Parallels, VMware ESXi and Virtual Iron, as well as Windows desktop and server operating systems through Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012, respectively. VWorkspace supports devices running iOS, Android, Mac, Linux and Java.

The platform provides high-quality audio and video using Microsoft Lync 2013 with the Lync VDI plug-in, and enables organizations to use direct-attached storage rather than a SAN.

Dell vWorkspace comes in two editions: Desktop and Premier. Desktop Edition supports hosted VDI and App-V, and costs about $150 per concurrent user. Premier Edition supports hosted VDI, Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH) and App-V, and costs about $200 per concurrent user.

Non-enterprise desktop virtualization products

Two popular virtualization software packages geared for non-enterprise environments are Citrix VDI-in-a-Box and Oracle VM VirtualBox.

Citrix VDI-in-a-Box is wizard-driven, desktop virtualization software aimed at small- to medium-sized businesses, and it costs about half the price of XenDesktop. VirtualBox is open source virtualization software best suited to testers and home or small office users. It runs on Windows, Linux, Macintosh and Solaris hosts, and supports Windows NT 4.0 through Windows 8, Linux, Solaris, OpenSolaris, OS/2 and OpenBSD as guest operating systems.

About the authors
Kim Lindros is a full-time content developer who also writes on technology and security topics. Coming from a background in project management, she has run large multifunction teams to produce entire book series, online curricula and classroom training classes. She has also contributed to several books on Windows technologies and applications and IT certification.

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus year IT veteran who's worked as a developer, networking consultant, technical trainer, writer and expert witness. Perhaps best known for creating the Exam Cram series, Ed has contributed to over 100 books on many computing topics, including titles on information security, Windows OSes and HTML/XML. Ed also blogs regularly for TechTarget, Tom's IT Pro and PearsonITCertification.com.

This was first published in May 2014

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