A new client virtualization product from Citrix will allow users to access Windows virtual desktops from Mac devices -- whether they’re online or offline.
Citrix DesktopPlayer for Mac is the final piece of the company’s FlexCast architecture, which includes XenDesktop for desktop virtualization and XenClient for client virtualization. Mac has become more prevalent in enterprises as the BYOD trend increases, especially in companies’ executive offices. Those on-the-go users need access to corporate Windows apps or on-premises applications such as ERPs on their MacBooks.
“Some things just won’t run on a Mac,” said Paul Kramer, an information systems manager for Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing based in Lincoln, Nebraska. Kramer runs XenDesktop for Windows desktop virtualization but does not support Macs.
“Companies that want to use, say, 95% of the Macintosh as their main machine but have an app that only runs on Windows, they can load a Windows machine as a virtual machine on top of the native Mac. I can see value in that.”
IT security fears answered by DesktopPlayer
For IT, the biggest concern with virtual desktop access outside the office is often security. DesktopPlayer for Mac can take advantage of the Mac firewall running on the host, and any controls that IT has placed on the Windows desktop will be the same when it’s accessed as a virtual instance from the Mac. DesktopPlayer also includes lockout and expiration policies, as well as remote wipe and kill capabilities.
The wipe/kill feature is of the utmost importance for highly secure environments, especially after an employee leaves the company, said Michael Thompson, a virtualization engineer at a large financial organization that participated in the DesktopPlayer for Mac beta.
“You can’t connect to anything in less than five minutes, once you’ve left [the company],” he said. “That’s very important to us, to make sure that [data] gets reclaimed and is no longer usable.”
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Thompson, who beta-tested six Macs in an environment that already runs XenDesktop and XenClient, said DesktopPlayer for Mac was simple to install and integrate with the other Citrix tools. That’s because administrators can manage DesktopPlayer images through the centralized Web-based Synchronizer management console -- something a lot of Citrix admins had been hoping for after dealing with numerous consoles before the release of XenDesktop 7.
“Citrix has done a lot of pushes to put everything in one console,” Thompson said. “I think they heard what everybody was saying. That to me is a big thumbs up.”
For end users, the key feature of DesktopPlayer for Mac is its ability to provide Windows virtual desktops online or offline. It’s a seamless experience, where disconnected users can still work and access apps as though they were online; that’s possible because DesktopPlayer for Mac is not server-hosted, so it’s not dependent on a network connection, according to Dan Cote, a Citrix senior marketing manager. It also takes advantage of Citrix’s vDisk technology that allows users to customize their desktop without affecting IT’s ability to centrally manage the base image.
Until now, Citrix did not have a client-based virtualization product aimed at Mac users. XenClient could accomplish the same access to Windows on a Mac, but since it is a Type 1 hypervisor, it would require reimaging the entire machine to get the virtual desktop working on the device.
“That just doesn’t fly for the BYOD case,” Cote said. “No one wants to have to tinker with their personal device and wipe everything out.”
DesktopPlayer for Mac is a Type 2 hypervisor that installs on top of the Mac OS like any application would, so it’s more suited to the bring-your-own scenario. Thompson said he hopes Citrix comes out with a similar client-based offering with a Type 2 hypervisor for Windows.
DesktopPlayer for Mac is available for download and trial immediately. The trial is free for 90 days, on up to 10 MacBooks. Customers that already have the appropriate licensing for XenDesktop or XenClient can add a license for DesktopPlayer right away. The DesktopPlayer for Mac license is a $75 perpetual user device license.
Citrix acquires Framehawk for mobile access
Citrix also this week acquired Framehawk Inc., a software provider for virtual desktop and application delivery on mobile devices.
Citrix will combine its HDX remote display protocol technology with Framehawk’s to enhance the application experience over unreliable networks such as Wi-Fi and 3G or 4G.
The increase in remote and mobile workers means that more employees are subjected to those sometimes-low-quality networks, Citrix said in a blog post. Citrix said the Framehawk technology will extend its HDX portfolio to handle high levels of congestion, packet loss, and latency.
In a blog post on BrianMadden.com, desktop virtualization expert and blogger Gabe Knuth wrote that a big part of the acquisition will be Citrix’s ability to “iPad-ify” applications and make them easier to deploy on non-Windows devices. Enhancing the protocol with Framehawk’s Lightweight Framebuffer Protocol is central as well, and it could even be used in conjunction with Citrix’s HDX if the use case arose, he said.