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VDI comparison: Citrix XenDesktop vs. VMware View

A VDI comparison of XenDesktop vs. View reveals more similarities than differences, but organizations must decide which features are essential.

When it comes to virtual desktop infrastructure, administrators have a lot of choices. You may have wondered about the differences between VDI software options, remote display protocols or all the licenses out there. In this series, we tackle some of the biggest head-scratchers facing VDI admins to help you get things straight.

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Organizations that need to deploy an enterprise-grade virtual desktop infrastructure will no doubt compare Citrix XenDesktop and VMware View.

These products are two of the most popular choices for VDI and have a lot in common, but they also have differences. For instance, XenDesktop is more flexible than View, and each platform integrates with its own vendor's remote display protocol. With all the different features and uses for these offerings, it's time to get this straight.

Infrastructure components

Series: Let's get this straight

Comparing remote display protocols

Application virtualization smackdown

Clearing up Microsoft VDI licensing: SA vs. VDA vs. CDL

How cloud-hosted desktops differ: Comparing VDI, DaaS

Both Citrix Systems Inc. and VMware Inc. take very similar approaches to desktop virtualization, at least from an architectural standpoint. Each vendor offers its own hypervisor, on which the actual virtual desktops are hosted. For both XenDesktop and VMware View, connections to virtual machines (VMs) are managed by a server that acts as a connection broker.

Although the basic architectural components are largely the same for the two virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) systems, Citrix and VMware support their hypervisors differently. VMware View is designed to work with ESX and/or ESXi servers. Furthermore, these servers must be a part of a vCenter server.

Citrix, on the other hand, is much more flexible. Citrix has its own hypervisor, XenServer, but XenDesktop can alternatively be run on vSphere or even on Microsoft's Hyper-V.

Connectivity

VMware View and Citrix XenDesktop both support client connectivity via Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). Even though RDP has become almost a universal standard for remote session connectivity, VMware and Citrix each offer their own protocols as well.

XenDesktop supports Citrix's HDX (High Definition Experience) protocol, while View allows PC over IP, which is based on the User Datagram Protocol. Both protocols are designed to improve the end-user experience over slow or potentially unreliable network connections. As with XenDesktop versus View, there is debate over which protocol is better, but there is no clear winner.

Client support

As is the case with other VDI platforms, XenDesktop and View depend on the end user's physical device running a client that can link to the connection broker. Both VMware and Citrix offer full support for Windows, Mac and Linux clients.

Mobile clients also exist for XenDesktop and View that provide Apple iOS and Google Android support. Likewise, both platforms support a number of less popular client types. For instance, VMware has a Kindle Fire client, and Citrix has a Java client.

Virtual desktop types

A comparison of XenDesktop versus View reveals that they support similar types of virtual desktops. They both support the creation of virtual desktop pools in which users are connected to a random desktop from the pool.

Both products also support dedicated virtual desktops (also known as personal virtual desktops). These are virtual desktops that are assigned to specific users. Personal virtual desktops are helpful when users need to control their desktops' configurations or application sets.

In addition, both support offline mode. Offline mode is a technology that allows a user's VM to be copied to a physical device so that the virtual desktop can be used offline. Offline virtual desktops are useful to mobile workers who do not always have connectivity to the corporate network.

Although the products support offline mode, IT may need to set up extra infrastructure components. For example, VMware provides a special client with "local mode" support. Local-mode clients are not available for all platforms.

IT shops can be assured that both VMware View and Citrix XenDesktop are enterprise-grade platforms for hosting virtual desktops. Each offers unique capabilities, but the core feature set is largely the same. Likewise, XenDesktop and View can be easily scaled to meet the needs of midsized to large organizations.

This was first published in April 2013

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