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Citrix improves graphics to boost virtual desktop performance

Citrix HDX 3D for XenDesktop takes on one of the biggest obstacles for IT managers considering desktop virtualization deployment -- high-end graphics performance.

SAN FRANCISCO -- IT managers reluctant to deploy desktop virtualization because of end-user performance issues are finally starting to see vendors address these concerns.

The latest example comes from Citrix Systems, which this week disclosed HDX 3D technology designed to improve the performance of graphics-intensive applications running on XenDesktop. Graphics performance is one of the biggest obstacles to desktop virtualization deployment, and by making enhancements in this area, vendors are laying the groundwork for mass adoption.

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"It's too early to say whether this marks the turning point or not," said Andi Mann, research vice president at Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) in Boulder, Colo.

But it can't hurt. The end-user experience is the top decision-making factor for 75% of businesses considering desktop virtualization deployment, according to EMA research.

Citrix said HDX 3D targets users of computer-aided design (CAD) software and geographic information systems (GIS), as well as those in the engineering, manufacturing, oil and gas, aerospace and automotive industries. IT managers in other industries are also looking for better performance; even in organizations that have deployed desktop virtualization, only one-third of desktops on average are virtualized, Mann said.

"Desktop virtualization adoption is still relatively low, especially when we're talking about the remote-desktop, traditional VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure] model," he said.

HDX 3D works by using graphics processing units (GPUs) in the data center, which in turn frees up processing power on the local desktop. The software also uses MPEG-like compression to improve motion-oriented graphics, and it will even deliver these graphics capabilities to users over a WAN, said Calvin Hsu, a Citrix director of product marketing.

HDX is Citrix's term for "high-definition user experience," and the initiative was launched in February. Other HDX technologies include MediaStream, which compresses data to endpoints and renders it locally, and Plug-n-Play, which improves USB device compatibility (responding to another major desktop virtualization complaint).

Citrix will release HDX 3D for free at the end of September, Hsu said. Existing XenDesktop customers with Subscription Advantage will be able to download the software, and new customers can choose it as an option when configuring their XenDesktop deployments.

Competitors boost graphics performance too
Other vendors making similar plays include Microsoft and Teradici. The latter offers a hardware-based approach called PC-over-IP and is partnering with VMware on a software-based approach. Citrix has the most experience in the market, and its approach of boosting performance both in the data center and on the endpoint gives the company more of an advantage, Mann said.

VMware has to do things like partner with other companies to match the benefits of Citrix, whose mature ICA protocol is another advantage, said Karin Kelley, an analyst at The 451 Group in San Francisco.

"[Citrix isn't] partnering as much as VMware, and VMware has been struggling with RDP [Remote Desktop Protocol] for years now," she said. "Citrix is still happy with the ICA technology."

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