Four ways Citrix VDI-in-a-Box management differs from XenDesktop

Citrix customers can decide between VDI-in-a-Box and XenDesktop, but there are four areas where these products diverge, starting with scalability.

Citrix's VDI software for small businesses, called VDI-in-a-Box, has its differences from XenDesktop: cost, complexity,

high availability capabilities and more. Digging into the box a little deeper, it's important to see how the products differ in usability and management. 

Citrix VDI-in-a-Box is designed for simplicity and ease of support. XenDesktop, on the other hand, has a more extensive feature set and allows for more options as you design your desktop virtualization project. Here are some key management-related differences between these VDI software products to help you choose what's best for your organization.

Citrix VDI-in-a-Box scalability

There is no officially defined limit for the scalability of Citrix VDI-in-a-Box. I've seen customers with single and multiple grids of VDI-in-a-Box servers serving thousands of users. This VDI software does not currently limit you, except by the licenses you purchase.

The difference between XenDesktop and Citrix VDI-in-a-Box is how the environment can scale to support more users. With VDI-in-a-Box, you simply follow the same procedures as the initial setup: Import and power on the VDI Manager appliance, then join an existing grid in the third step of the setup wizard. The VDI software will replicate the host configuration files between the hosts to keep them in sync so they understand each other's utilization and configuration. It then automatically copies and keeps the images synchronized between the servers in the grid.

Scaling XenDesktop starts off easily by adding a new host, but the simplicity ends there. The next set of steps depends on your desktop-provisioning method (i.e. pooled and/or dedicated through Machine Creation Services (MCS), physically assigned or streamed).  

Graphics performance

Both Citrix VDI-in-a-Box and XenDesktop use the same protocol to access the virtual desktop: ICA/HDX. But only the XenDesktop Enterprise and Platinum editions allow you to use HDX 3D. This feature may only matter initially to those that require graphics-intensive applications such as computer-aided design and geographic information system software, but companies looking to implement VDI can't ignore the fact that 3D graphics may enter into other office applications.

Additionally, HDX 3D allows the use of the multi-GPU pass-through feature that comes with XenServer and works with XenDesktop. With this feature, virtual machines (VMs) can be granted exclusive access to the graphics-processing hardware on the server. This is a great feature for even general applications, such as Adobe Photoshop, that display and render quality images.

Managing images

This is where the two Citrix VDI software options have significant differences. Both products allow you to create and manage different images; however, the procedures for maintaining and updating these images are very different.

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Whether you're using MCS or Provisioning Server (PVS), XenDesktop manages images using different versions. That makes it easier to visually identify and organize images because the interface ties the different iterations together. Using PVS requires additional steps, however, because the VDI software needs to prepare each image for provisioning.

Citrix VDI-in-a-Box creates images by importing a VM that's created outside of the software. A wizard then guides you through the agent installation, connection test, image preparation and final image testing. Prepared images can then be copied and edited to create new iterations. The system, however, does not provide a versioning feature.

Persistent desktops

Both Citrix VDI-in-a-Box and XenDesktop allow for the creation of persistent desktops. I usually recommend minimizing the number of persistent desktops, but experience shows that they are almost impossible to avoid. If you need a persistent desktop in a VDI-in-a-Box environment, you can create one by simply setting up a desktop with a "manual" refresh policy instead of using the "on logout" refresh policy. This preserves the desktop for any allowed user to log in, but it means that you must manage and maintain the dedicated desktop image independently.

For larger environments with hundreds or thousands of persistent desktops, you can use the personal vDisk feature in XenDesktop. XenDesktop provides more granular control over the changes made by users and better visibility through the console. This allows you to manage the user's changes while preserving user profile data stored on the dedicated VM. In Citrix VDI-in-a-Box, that kind of refresh would cause any and all changes to be lost.

These are just some of the differences between these two Citrix VDI software products. VDI-in-a-Box leaves out some features that are more relevant to larger enterprises, but it returns value through its simplicity and simpler scalability. Plus, the vendor now offers an upgrade path for customers from Citrix VDI-in-a-Box to XenDesktop, which may also factor into your choice.

This was first published in July 2012

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