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Citrix updates XenClient with Service Pack 1, but limitations remain

Citrix released Service Pack 1 for the XenClient client hypervisor and Citrix Synchronizer, addressing some limitations. But is XenClient ready for enterprise deployment?

You probably know that Citrix released the first version of its XenClient bare-metal client hypervisor in October. I wrote on BrianMadden.com that while I was excited about the product in general, I was disappointed with the "v1" release and felt that it lacked many key capabilities.

Fortunately, Citrix just released Service Pack 1 for XenClient, and it promises to address some of the key limitations.

The biggest improvement is that XenClient now supports disk images streamed from Citrix Provisioning Services (or Citrix "PVS"). PVS is a capability that lets many client machines boot from the same "master" disk image. It has been around since the days of Citrix MetaFrame running on physical servers, where it enabled entire racks of identical MetaFrame servers to "share" a disk image. Later, with the popularity of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), PVS became a popular way to let multiple virtual machines (VMs) to share the same Windows disk image.

Unfortunately, while the initial release of XenClient did have the ability to share disk images, it was not compatible with Citrix PVS. Companies needed two different systems for managing shared master disks, and it was one of the reasons I felt that XenClient wasn't ready for real use. But now that's fixed. Cool!

Citrix also improved the boot experience, making it faster and adding the capability to boot directly into a VM. This is a key enhancement because it will help to "hide" the fact that XenClient is there at all -- a feature that's important for broad user adoption.

Service Pack 1 also includes many fixes for the "little" problems, including Blu-Ray Disk support, volume-control improvements and proper handling of multibattery reporting.

Of course, the actual XenClient hypervisor is only part of the solution. Successfully deploying it to real-world users is only possible if admins have a way to centrally manage and control which users get which images, and that's done via a separate component called the Citrix Synchronizer. The Synchronizer was also released in v1 last October and was updated last week with Service Pack 1.

The biggest new feature in Synchronizer SP1 is that it supports using virtual hard disk (VHD) images created with Citrix's free XenConvert tool. XenConvert is used for "P2V" conversions of physical disks into virtual disk images. In other words, with P2V, it's now possible to migrate a physical laptop to a XenClient VM.

So, now that we have an updated XenClient and an updated Synchronizer, is XenClient ready for prime time? Even Citrix still admits the answer is no.

While it is an official product that is officially supported, Citrix recognizes that XenClient represents the future of local desktop management. Today, the limitations of the product mean that its usefulness is also limited. And even with SP1, several key XenClient features are still listed as "experimental," including dynamic disk image sharing, 3-D applications, and secure app sharing between the guest and host.

So, go download XenClient. Play with it. Think about the future. Be happy that SP1 is here, but look forward to Versions 2 and 3 in the years to come.

Read more from Brian Madden

Brian Madden is an independent industry analyst and blogger, known throughout the world as an opinionated, supertechnical desktop virtualization expert. He has written several books and more than 1,000 articles about desktop and application virtualization. Madden's blog, BrianMadden.com, receives millions of visitors per year and is a leading source for conversation, debate and discourse about the application and desktop virtualization industry. He is also the creator of BriForum, the premier independent application delivery technical conference.

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