Comparing Citrix VDI options: XenDesktop vs. VDI-in-a-Box

VDI-in-a-Box and XenDesktop differ in a few important ways, especially when it comes to use case, cost, features and deployment capabilities.

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.

Let's Get This StraghtWith Citrix VDI, customers have two software options: XenDesktop and VDI-in-a-Box. Each one has different features, support and management capabilities -- not to mention a cost difference.

Citrix XenDesktop is the vendor's proprietary virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) platform. It integrates with XenApp to provide desktop virtualization and application delivery, and it is available in Enterprise and Platinum editions for the enterprise. Citrix VDI-in-a-Box is all-in-one VDI software built for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). The product is more suited to SMBs because those companies tend to have lower-end hardware, their servers will require little configuration to run VDI-in-a-Box, and they typically don't have the manpower to manage more complex systems. 

If you decide to use Citrix for desktop virtualization, get to know these two platforms and how they compare. Let's get this straight.

Scalability and pricing

Although XenDesktop is generally seen as more suited for enterprise VDI deployments, VDI-in-a-Box can handle just about the same scalability as XenDesktop. It's easy to add more users to a VDI-in-a-Box environment; you simply add more servers by using the VDI Manager appliance and going through a few steps with a wizard. Scaling with XenDesktop is more complicated because there are more choices for desktop provisioning (pooling, streaming, etc.)

The cost of VDI-in-a-Box comes to less than half of the cost for XenDesktop, particularly because it requires lower infrastructure costs and doesn't rely on shared storage. Most customers purchase VDI-in-a-Box with no add-ons, but be aware that it does not include a XenApp license (while XenDesktop does).

Deployment and provisioning

Both options for Citrix VDI can run on just about any hypervisor, including VMware ESXi, Microsoft Hyper-V and Citrix XenServer.

When you deploy XenDesktop, you have to install a number of different components, including the Web interfaces, XenApp and Provisioning Services. VDI-in-a-Box, on the other hand, installs as a single package onto one server and is managed through a single URL and console. Although Citrix reduced the number of consoles required to manage XenDesktop, the platform still uses two separate consoles for management and monitoring.


Management tasks in VDI-in-a-Box are far more simplified than XenDesktop. While XenDesktop allows for extensive automation through Powershell commands, the other software uses wizards and limits configuration options.

When it comes to user management, XenDesktop requires Active Directory. VDI-in-a-Box can use Active Directory but can also access an internal user database, which is more common among SMBs.

These Citrix VDI options also differ in the way they manage and copy desktop images. XenDesktop manages them using different versions of the images, while VDI-in-a-Box does not use versioning. Instead, VDI-in-a-Box prepares images using a simple wizard, then allows admins to copy them and edit the new images.

Feature sets

There are major differences between VDI-in-a-Box and XenDesktop when it comes to two important features: graphics delivery and high availability.

If you need to deliver high-end graphics applications to virtual desktops, Citrix suggests using the HDX 3D Pro feature offered in XenDesktop Enterprise or Platinum. VDI-in-a-Box does not support HDX 3D; it only supports the basic HDX remote display protocol technology required to deliver virtual desktops over a network. 

XenDesktop also has more options for high availability (HA). Both products support shared storage and redundancy, but VDI-in-a-Box high availability is built-in and doesn't use a central database. To keep things simple, HA with VDI-in-a-Box is done just by adding a second host.

The latest version of VDI-in-a-Box saw greater parity with XenDesktop by adding Windows 8 support and single sign-on for remote users. Version 5.2 added integration with Citrix Cloud Gateway Storefront, allowing users to access VDI-in-a-Box virtual desktops from more devices.

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