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VDI software for SMBs: Citrix VDI-in-a-Box vs. XenDesktop

Small businesses now have a tricky choice: Citrix VDI-in-a-Box 5 or XenDesktop? The all-in-one VDI software suite VDI-in-a-Box gets points for pricing and simplicity.

Many customers still choose Citrix XenDesktop as their VDI software, but another Citrix product, VDI-in-a-Box,...

has some advantages in its corner: simpler management, easier deployment and better pricing.

Citrix acquired VDI-in-a-Box when it bought Kaviza Software in 2010. The product is built for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), many of whom still view XenDesktop as the go-to VDI software. To complicate things further, Citrix VDI-in-a-Box and XenDesktop have overlapping features and capabilities.

To determine whether VDI-in-a-Box is right for your organization, you need to understand the differences in how Citrix VDI-in-a-Box and XenDesktop address SMB customers' business problems. VDI-in-a-Box pricing, management and support capabilities are all important factors.

XenDesktop vs. VDI-in-a-Box pricing

Most small VDI customers use cost as a primary factor when choosing VDI software, so we'll start there. Citrix VDI-in-a-Box pricing is extremely competitive, but it also encourages customers to purchase the VDI software alone, with no add-ons. VDI-in-a-Box pricing comes to less than half the cost of Citrix XenDesktop, but this VDI software does have a few cost disadvantages to consider:

  • Citrix VDI-in-a-Box does not come with the rights to run XenServer Enterprise as your hypervisor, but you can run it on the free version of XenServer.
  • If you need to run applications in XenApp, you must purchase XenApp separately -- making VDI-in-a-Box more expensive than XenDesktop because XenDesktop comes with a XenApp license.
  • Device licensing is not an option, making VDI-in-a-Box pricing less cost-effective for environments with many users sharing devices (for instance, manufacturing plants or schools).

VDI software complexity

Citrix claims that you can set up VDI-in-a-Box in less than two hours and provision desktops immediately. That's probably true, but you'll spend more of your time on whiteboards designing the system -- not in front of a keyboard running installation packages. Still, Citrix VDI-in-a-Box is easier to install because you just deploy a single package, rather than the different layers of XenDesktop (PVS, XenApp, DDC, the Web interface and more).

Once you deploy the VDI software and provision desktops, you still have to design the environment, define desktop pools and set up access and resource allocation. However, the simplicity of Citrix VDI-in-a-Box means it will take you much less time to customize the environment than XenDesktop.

Citrix VDI-in-a-Box manageability and support

The simplicity of VDI-in-a-Box also makes it easier to manage and support. This VDI software doesn't offer high availability, for instance, so there are no considerations for monitoring resource allocation. Plus, provisioning new desktop images is just a matter of a few clicks. That means desktop administrators who may not have experience with virtual infrastructure could easily learn to handle this VDI software.

More on Citrix VDI-in-a-Box:

Small IT shops get VDI-in-a-Box with refreshed Citrix Kaviza

Citrix answers the call for simple VDI with Kaviza acquisition

In addition, you can manage Citrix VDI-in-a-Box through a single URL that accesses a single console. Monitoring a XenDesktop environment, on the other hand, requires access to at least four consoles: XenDesktop, XenApp, PVS and Edgesight.

As for supporting Citrix VDI-in-a-Box, help desk personnel find the VDI software console so easy to use that they can often directly monitor virtual desktops themselves rather than depending on the infrastructure admins. This setup not only improves the responsiveness of support but also reduces the cost of support because you don’t have to depend on personnel with higher salaries.

Downsides to Citrix VDI-in-a-Box

As I mentioned, Citrix VDI-in-a-Box does not support high availability. That's because the servers can't use shared storage and, therefore, can't fail over systems from one host to another. A server failure will unavoidably result in a desktop being shut down unexpectedly. If the user chooses to reconnect, the desktop would be redirected to an available server, but the previous desktop session would not be recoverable.

Additionally, integration of multiple sites into a single farm is not an option with Citrix VDI-in-a-Box.

Citrix VDI-in-a-Box has proven itself in the field to be easier to deploy, manage and support. Plus, VDI-in-a-Box pricing is attractive to small businesses. However, it does have limitations in its ability to address some business needs that may matter to some SMBs. The result is a lower total cost per user -- initially and long-term -- but it does require some compromises.

Look out for part two of this series, which will cover more technical differences between Citrix VDI-in-a-Box and XenDesktop.

Eugene Alfaro
leads IT Engineering for Cornerstone Technologies, an IT engineering services firm in San Jose, Calif. He has architected, managed and operated corporate IT environments for multinational companies since 1998. He has been a speaker on topics such as virtualization, WAN optimization, enterprise storage, Voice-over-IP and others. You can follow him on Twitter @Eugenealfaro.

This was last published in April 2012

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For a small VDI deployment, which Citrix option do you prefer?
The CAPTCHAs for contributing to the conversation are too difficult!
VDI-in-a-box does have high availability inherent in the grid architicture. Lack of Business Continuity (with SAN) would be a better description of how XenDesktop differs from VDIIAB. I'm sure in part 2 you will cover flexcast and PVD technologies which futher distinguishes the 2 VDI solutions. Great job.
For large deployment too
Great article! We just wanted to clarify a few of the items on VDI-in-a-Box:
i) XenServer: VDI-in-a-Box actually automatically upgrades the XS free to XS-enterprise at no additional charge. Simply download the free XenServer, use it with ViaB, and you will get the full features of XS Enterprise.
2) Device licensing. VIAB provides a Kiosk mode for manufacturing, class labs, nurses station where many users can indeed share a device.
3) VIAB has no high-availability. As a previous comment mentioned, VDI-in-a-Box provides high-availability built-in using local storage. Key things here are that it is automated and built-in and so IT administrators don’t have to spend any time at the whiteboard designing in and verifying HA which is what you must do with all the shared-storage VDI systems available on the market today. HA means that if a server goes down, you can lose that current session but you can reconnect to a new session. This is the same for other shared-storage HA solutions. If a user does not lose their session or any data you have a fault-tolerant system. None of the VDI solutions on the market today shared-storage or otherwise are fault-tolerant. So VIAB provides full on HA without shared storage.
Both XenDesktop and VDI-in-a-Box provide high availability options at multiple levels. Both support shared storage and redundancies in connecting to the environment. XenDesktop has additional considerations for HA on the database; however, while VDI-in-a-Box uses local configuration files on each host as opposed to a central database. VDI-in-a-Box also has the HA capabilities built-into the product with no additional requirements outside of adding two or more hosts to the grid.
ViaB is easier to SMB
Easy to install, setup and maintain
VDI-in-a-Box - start small and easy to expand
Citrix VDI-in-a-Box is best solution for small budget company.
Simpler implementation
VDI-in-a-Box is easy to size and scale. I like that both have HDX.
If they require a basic VDI implementation.
XenDesktop is more powerful solution
Xendesktop coming with the license of XenApp, so, it's actually more cost-efficient.
simpler = better
VDI in a box
More options with xendesktop...
Xendesktop as even though in future the environment needs scalability the cost will be in control & it is scalable too
I think for small college labs, school labs etc. VDI-in-a-Box is much prefered solution.