SAN FRANCISCO -- Citrix is heavily invested in the success of XenDesktop for VDI, but one top company executive said he believes XenClient is a better way to deliver virtual desktops.
XenClient works with XenDesktop to offer offline virtual desktop support, and it can also be used alone. In fact, the bare-metal client hypervisor provides all of the same security benefits of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), including encryption, the flexibility to work from anywhere, support for multiple virtual machines (VMs) on one device, and centralized desktop management through Citrix Synchronizer.
"VDI is not the future for virtual desktop delivery -- XenClient is proof of that," said Simon Crosby, chief technology officer of Citrix's data center and cloud division, during a one-on-one interview at Citrix Synergy 2011 here.
Plenty of IT pros agree that VDI is not the best approach to delivering virtual desktops. Many companies use client hypervisors from vendors, such as Virtual Computer's NxTop, to deliver virtual desktops without building a full VDI environment.
In fact, MokaFive launched a "BareMetal" client hypervisor last week that it claims cuts server and infrastructure costs by 90% compared with VDI products such as VMware View and XenDesktop.
VDI vs. client hypervisor -- licensing caveats
Client hypervisor vendors also say that Windows licensing costs are lower than with VDI, because the OS runs directly on hardware. Delivering Windows desktops from the data center requires Microsoft's Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) license.
IT pros need to be careful here, though. Microsoft stated in an email that for VDA or Windows, Software Assurance is still required for XenClient and other VDI products running on a hypervisor. Depending on each product's end-user license agreement (EULA), IT can install a single VM on XenClient hypervisor. For more than one VM, the customer needs SA or VDA, according to the company.
Using XenClient 2 and Citrix Synchronizer
While client hypervisors can deliver virtual desktops at a lower cost than a full virtual desktop infrastructure, this approach has its drawbacks.
Eugene Alfaro, director of IT engineering services at Cornerstone Technologies LLC, said client hypervisors require resources on the endpoint and defeat the purpose of centralizing compute power.
"CIOs look at XenClient and see a $1,400 laptop that needs the resources of a typical PC, as opposed to a $300 netbook running virtual desktops from the data center," Alfaro said. "The movement is toward centralization and putting more power in the data center core, not on the endpoint."
To reduce the cost of running XenClient, Citrix XenClient 2 has a much longer hardware-compatibility list that includes systems without expensive Intel vPro chips.
While it supports more platforms, a drawback to running XenClient on older hardware is that performance can suffer. "Sure, you can put XenClient on a Windows 7 system with non-vPro chips, but the graphics will die," Alfaro said. "No one wants to run new software on old hardware, so this just buys companies more time before a hardware upgrade."
Synchronizer data backup tool improvements
Along with the release of the XenClient 2 tech preview, Citrix also upgraded Synchronizer to make it scale for enterprises managing hundreds of virtual desktops. Synchronizer is the tool administrators can use to centrally back up user data whenever XenClient users connect to the Internet.
Synchronizer doesn't support automatic synchronization of offline desktop images with XenDesktop when users reconnect, however. "The Synchronizer I want to see is seamless and intelligent, and it isn't there yet," Alfaro said. "IT still has to get involved in the synchronization process."
Still, Citrix has improved Synchronizer and XenClient over last year's versions, and that trend continues, Alfaro said.
The XenClient 2 tech preview, which includes both XenClient and the Synchronizer, is available for free download by any IT pro who wants to try it for up to 10 clients.