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VMware's Horizon 6 faces uphill battle against Citrix XenApp

VMware is trying to usurp Citrix's throne with Horizon 6, but the suite faces some challenges, including Citrix's years of app remoting experience.

While industry watchers await the official arrival of VMware's Horizon 6, they wonder how badly the new products will hit Citrix's domination in the application remoting space -- if at all.

IT pros who have used VMware for virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) will get Remote Desktop Session Hosting (RDSH) with Horizon 6, an area Citrix has dominated for nearly two decades.

But industry experts agree that VMware has a long way to go if it wants to catch Citrix XenApp in the RDSH space, especially because Horizon 6's published applications will be a first-version feature. But VMware has opportunities to fill gaps in Citrix's end-user computing (EUC) products, including XenApp and XenDesktop.

Having the new application delivery feature in Horizon 6 is going to take that to the next level.

Jon Howe,
systems architect, Parata Systems

With an opportunity there for the taking, companies such as Parata Systems, a pharmacy automation technology provider in Durham, N.C., have taken notice.

Many of Parata's 500 employees work in the field and use Apple iPads and laptops, so the ability to access key information and store it safely and within federal regulations are important to the company.

VMware's Horizon Workspace has been Parata's product of choice to help sales representatives access data from sources such as on their iPads. The company recently conducted a beta test of Horizon 6 to rave reviews, according to Jon Howe, Parata's systems architect.

In the past, Parata used VMware ThinApp for application virtualization, but that tool doesn't work for everything, Howe said. Horizon 6 RDSH could change that.

"Horizon Workspace has been a game changer," he said. "Having the new application delivery feature in Horizon 6 is going to take that to the next level."

Howe used XenApp and XenDesktop in a previous position and believes VMware Horizon View's usability and management capabilities are much more favorable than Citrix's offerings. He found the creation of virtual desktop pools in Horizon View to be much easier and less time-consuming than XenDesktop.

"We want to consolidate our other systems into one and really drive everyone to use this unified workspace," he said.

Will Horizon 6 work for Citrix customers?

Not everyone is convinced VMware can bring XenApp customers on board. To move from XenApp to Horizon 6 would require a *forklift upgrade, according to Matt Kosht, an IT director at an Alaskan utility company.

"You're basically taking the old stuff and throwing it out the window," Kosht said. "If you've got to do a forklift, are you really going to gamble on VMware, with them [being] brand new to this space?"

The news that Horizon 6 RDSH won't include a built-in feature for profile management support may also dampen the view of some IT administrators considering a switch. Citrix provides that support with its User Profile Management tool in XenApp and XenDesktop.

Plus, Citrix has nearly two decades of RDSH experience under its belt, and it is unlikely VMware will hit all of Citrix's usability checkboxes right away, according to Gunnar Berger, research director at Gartner Inc.

"But if [VMware] can hit the major ones and make it simple, that's a big win for them," he said.

VMware's previous VDI products have been easier to deploy than competitors', and maintaining that advantage will be key in Horizon 6, Berger said.

"Someone with little to no experience can sit in front of [VMware's VDI offerings] and figure it out relatively quickly," he said. "So as they approach the [app remoting] market, that's something they absolutely must deliver on."

The differences between what VMware and Citrix will offer for RDSH and an overall EUC environment won't be entirely clear until Horizon 6 is generally available and administrators can put it to the test later this quarter. But VMware hopes to bait Citrix customers with some parts of Horizon 6. In fact, part of the allure for admins could be the option to run Horizon 6 alongside XenApp in the same environment.

"The intention of the XenApp compatibility in Horizon is obviously to entice Citrix customers," said Michael Cote, analyst with 451 Research, an IT analysis firm based in New York.

Horizon 6 Mac client could unlock Horizon 6's potential

VMware is also seizing an opportunity with its Mac client in Horizon 6, with an impressive demonstration of the product at the Horizon 6 launch earlier this month, according to Berger.

"[VMware] immediately built a Mac client that was superior to the competition, and I thought that was a wise move," he said.

That could be a key advantage, given the prevalence of consumerization and bring your own device in an increasingly mobile work environment. It makes app remoting potentially more important now than it was 15 years ago, Kosht said.

"[End users] don't want a whole desktop," he said. "They want one or two legacy line-of-business apps that the enterprise is running, and they want [them] on a device they pick. They don't want a whole Windows desktop, necessarily, because they don't need it."

While VMware's RDSH play is viewed as significant to the overall EUC landscape, it's still just one part of a bigger picture. Issues with VDI cost-efficiency make app remoting an important piece of the puzzle, but not a cure-all, according to Berger.

"It's important because you can just deliver the application to a remote device," he said. "But in the end, that application is still Windows, and [it's] still not going to be easy to use on a remote device like an iPad. … I see [Horizon 6 RDSH] mainly as a play that you've got to tell the whole story. VMware is now able to tell the full story."

VMware has said it expects some Citrix customers to come to its side, in part because of a potentially easier migration path to Horizon 6 than to the current versions of XenApp and XenDesktop. Meanwhile, Citrix stands by its years of RDSH experience and said it best understands the intricacies of publishing apps and the types of policies and controls the process requires.

*Editor’s note: VMware Horizon 6 can run alongside XenApp, however, it is not recommended as a long term strategy. A clean move from one product to another would require the “forklift” upgrade.

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Would you consider VMware Horizon 6 over Citrix XenApp?