Many predicted that 2010 would be the year of the virtual desktop, but despite significant technology improvements from VMware, Citrix, Microsoft and a host of smaller vendors that need enterprises to buy into the hosted desktop model, virtual desktop uptake was a mere trickle.
This year, Citrix Systems released XenDesktop 5.0 with improvements that address some of the most significant roadblocks to VDI adoption -- offline support and complexity. Complexity has been a problem with VDI because it involves desktops, servers, storage and networking, and the desktop IT pros aren't used to buying servers and storage, said Citrix Chief Technology Officer Simon Crosby, explaining the slow adoption rate.
"That means there is potential for things to go wrong," Crosby said. "There is also potential for delivery and performance problems. So we are trying to simplify the IT admins' jobs, which is what we have done with '10 minutes to XenDesktop.'"
The 10 minutes to XenDesktop capability is based on Machine Creation Service (MCS), an integrated provisioning tool that lets administrators create and update hundreds of virtual machines (VMs) using a single image.
Citrix also improved the end-user experience with a better self-service portal and enhancements to the HDX protocol. With those enhancements and a simpler way to install XenDesktop, Citrix hopes hosted virtual desktops will make better sense to enterprises.
Steve Greenberg, founder of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based virtualization services company Thin Client Computing, said there is "interest in XenDesktop 5 for next year, but it will be contingent on production-ready versions of MCS and IntelliCache," a new storage management feature in XenServer 5.6 that should alleviate some of the storage problems in virtual desktop environments.
The offline support dilemma and XenClient
This year, Citrix also released XenClient 1.0, which integrates with XenDesktop 5 for offline use. Many IT shops aren't satisfied with this first edition, particularly having to install it on end-user PCs.
For example, one desktop engineer at a major mobile device company uses XenDesktop but said he wouldn't want to install XenClient on employee-owned devices, "particularly Mac users who don't want anyone messing with their OS." So even with XenClient available, he considers virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) an online-only product and supplements MokaFive's technology for users who need offline access to corporate desktops from their own devices.
The limited XenClient Hardware Compatibility List (HCL) is another reason XenClient isn't an option, the desktop engineer said.
Crosby said Citrix will release an updated version of XenClient in Q1 of 2011 with a much expanded HCL.
VMware's Type-2 client hypervisor approach supports offline use without intrusive installation, but Citrix has no plans to offer anything similar.
"People say, 'What about doing a Type 2?' but the challenge with that is running a corporate desktop VM on a laptop that lets users download apps locally is not secure," Crosby said. "There are known issues where the guest VM can be attacked and get to the host machine. The VM is running on a host OS, and if that OS is compromised, that attack can take control of everything else. It is fundamentally insecure, and we don't like it, and neither does Microsoft."
App delivery in XenDesktop 5
Citrix Receiver, formerly Dazzle, is a self-service portal in XenDesktop 5 that gives users access to Web-based applications and corporate apps with a single-sign on. It also screens applications for prerequisites defined by IT, such as having patches up to date.
Apps can also be saved locally on a secure virtual hard disk that is managed by the enterprise and encrypted. "So, if a client device goes walkabout, the employee merely needs to tell IT the device was lost, and instantly, all access to corporate VMs are cut, and all the data is wiped," Crosby said. "Since all the user data is backed up when the user is online, their desktop can easily be rebuilt."
Citrix Receiver was announced after VMware's Project Horizon but delivered first. Project Horizon is slated for early 2011.
Improving VDI adoption
With both Citrix and VMware making important improvements to virtual desktop technologies and with Microsoft's enabling tools -- MDOP and App-V -- interest and adoption are on the rise. Crosby said Citrix has sold 4 million hosted VDI offerings so far.
"Citrix and Microsoft technologies are just starting to make their way into deployments. These tools are accelerating adoption and making it easier to use VDI, which is a No. 1 priority for us," Crosby said.
Citrix has also prioritized broadening its use cases, and the company plans to deliver more technologies to enhance the broad appeal of hosted desktops, according to Crosby.
"When it comes to virtual desktop companies, Citrix has the best total package," said Dave Bartoletti, a senior virtualization analyst at The Taneja Group, a technology analysis firm in San Francisco. "They are unfolding a menu saying whatever you want to do, we can do it."