Getting to know XenDesktop Remote PC: Too simple or just enough?

The XenDesktop Remote PC feature allows users to connect to both physical and virtual desktops, but it lacks some features you'll wish it had.

The Remote PC technology in XenDesktop is simple to install and manage, but users may find it's missing some important

features.

Remote PC is a small management server broker that uses the Virtual Desktop Agent (VDA) in XenDesktop and allows users to be assigned to physical computers along with their existing virtual desktop assignments. The new FlexCast technology comes with Citrix XenDesktop 5.6 Feature Pack 1 (FP1).

When I first heard about the updated XenDesktop, I assumed that Citrix was doing the smart thing and finally bundling in its GoToMyPC offering. I was wrong. Unfortunately, the vendor won't be incorporating its flagship remote desktop control software with its desktop virtualization product to provide a complete, well-rounded remote desktop offering.

Where is the file transfer functionality?

Instead, Citrix incorporated a very basic Remote PC option. The company said that it wanted to keep it simple and not have the overhead of a full-featured remote control product. So, XenDesktop Remote PC is very limited in its functionality. Here's how the technology can -- and can't -- help you in a remote desktop environment.

How to run XenDesktop Remote PC

In keeping with Citrix's goal for simplicity, getting Remote PC up and running is a very easy process. You need to be running XenDesktop 5.6 FP1, and you can opt to install the Remote PC management server software (just a PowerShell script, believe it or not) on your existing Desktop Delivery Controllers.

This script allows you to create groups, assign physical computers to users and create policies in the Desktop Studio. You do not need to install the management software if you have no desire to manage the physical desktops and want to assign machines manually.

You also need to install the client piece on every physical computer you wish to host in your XenDesktop environment. The client is just the usual VDA that's installed on your virtual desktops. After that installation, you can either add a user manually to a desktop or add the computer to a new catalog and assign it a user in the Desktop Studio -- depending on whether you installed the management server script. If you didn't install that script, just have the user log in to the desktop (not in a remote desktop session, but physically at the computer) and he or she will be automatically assigned to the machine.

What Remote PC can -- and can't -- do

Now that you have your physical machines assigned and running, let's take a look at what you can and can't do with the XenDesktop Remote PC functionality.

More on XenDesktop 5.6

What's new in XenDesktop Feature Pack 1

XenDesktop features boost virtual desktop performance

VDI smackdown: XenDesktop vs. VMware View and more

Of course, you can remotely control the computer from anywhere that you can access a XenApp or Storefront connection. This control includes using all the local resources of the machine, printers, network drives, USB peripherals and more. You also get the benefits of Citrix's HDX remote desktop protocol, which allows for DirectX and 3-D graphics acceleration (great for playing games remotely, but who has time to do that?).

Remote PC in XenDesktop should be able to do more, especially for users who are accessing remote machines for an extended period of time (business trips, sabbaticals or extended leaves, even vacations). Those users will probably wish they had the extra pieces missing from this simple version of Remote PC.

For instance, where is the file transfer functionality? Where are the remote reboot and reset control options? And most of all, where is the Mac support, let alone Linux support? Citrix treats the Mac capability as an afterthought in many of its products, even though the bring-your-own-device culture means a lot of users today are connecting to Mac devices. Frustrating.

I'm curious why Citrix isn't putting more effort into integrating a more expensive and feature-rich XenDesktop Remote PC option. The current product offers a great way to connect to physical desktops, but it needs more. For the cost of VDI licensing that users are paying for Citrix's Platinum suite, they should have the full-featured software included.

This was first published in October 2012

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