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Citrix, Microsoft bring Windows 10 DaaS to life

Microsoft is finally letting up on its desktop as a service rules. Plus, Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp 7.9 come with new features around desktop image management, Microsoft integrations and more.

LAS VEGAS -- Citrix users will be able to deliver Windows 10 desktops as a service on Microsoft Azure, and virtual desktop delivery and storage get more efficient in XenApp and XenDesktop 7.9.

The new versions of Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp will include improvements to virtual desktop image management, provisioning, graphics performance and single-sign on (SSO) for external users, plus other updates, Citrix shared here at this week's Synergy 2016 user conference. Plus, it is expanding the Citrix-Microsoft partnership to allow IT to deliver Windows 10 virtual desktops as a service (DaaS) with XenDesktop from Microsoft's Azure cloud platform.

That integration between Azure and XenDesktop is the biggest announcement to come out of Synergy 2016, said Tucker Gibson, technologist at Liberty Mutual Insurance in Boston.

"We're migrating to Windows 10 right now, but at the same time, we want to move to the cloud," he said. "That capability and that support is going to allow us to do that."

Citrix-Microsoft to offer XenDesktop DaaS

The expansion of Citrix and Microsoft's longstanding partnership is significant because, until now, Microsoft licensing has not allowed third parties to deliver Windows virtual desktops from its cloud. DaaS providers could get around that problem by offering hosted Windows Server-based sessions.

"It's a very big deal," said Sam Jacobs, director of technology development at IPM, an IT consultancy in New York. "This is the strongest that the Microsoft and Citrix partnership has been for years ... with a real big punch."

Under the agreement, Citrix customers with per-user Windows Software Assurance can now host XenDesktop Windows 10 Enterprise Current Branch for Business apps and desktops on Microsoft Azure, according to a Microsoft blog post. There is still no Services Provider License Agreement for Windows 10, however.

"I have not seen any change in licensing rules that would permit desktop OS licensing, but Microsoft did say there was going to be a change," said Paul DeGroot, principal consultant at Pica Communications LLC in Camano Island, Wash. "This is the first time that [Microsoft] would permit hosting of Windows desktop OS bits ... Microsoft has been adamant about forbidding this."

Liberty Mutual's Gibson said he also expects Azure Resource Manager, which the company uses, to now integrate with XenDesktop -- 7,000 of the company's employees use virtual desktops.

"If Citrix didn't announce this ... we'd be limited to using other cloud providers," Gibson said.

With XenDesktop on Azure, Microsoft will maintain the back-end cloud infrastructure, and Citrix will maintain the hosted virtual apps and desktops. That leaves IT to manage the front-end user experience. This setup also allows VDI customers to scale their XenApp and XenDesktop deployments more dynamically and pay as they go. 

Cloud technology makes life easier for IT.
Sam Jacobsdirector of technology development, IPM

"Cloud technology makes life easier for IT," Jacobs said. "It leads to less cost and is easier for admins to manage."

Still, running XenDesktop in the Azure cloud could be expensive because of the licensing, DeGroot said.

"Organizations could just use [cheaper] Chromebooks to access Windows on Azure," he said. "Why would I waste money on a buggy and vulnerable Microsoft OS loaded onto a $500 device, when I can access a buggy and vulnerable Microsoft OS with a $150 device?"

What's new in XenApp, XenDesktop 7.9?

Expanded SSO in XenDesktop will make it easier for IT to provide secure access to users outside their organizations, such as partners or contracted employees. This Federated Authentication Service feature will integrate with businesses' Active Directory domains to authenticate external access based on SAML.

Citrix has also improved its Machine Creation Services virtual desktop provisioning tool to take advantage of high-performance RAM on local endpoints, which helps lessen the load on an organization's VDI storage system. End users get faster performance on graphics-heavy apps with new support for Intel Iris Pro graphics technology.

XenDesktop and XenApp 7.9 include a new version of the StoreFront enterprise app store, as well as new versions of Citrix Receiver for iOS, Android, Chrome and HTML5 clients.

Citrix also previewed some XenMobile integrations with XenApp and XenDesktop that are in the works. In a Synergy 2016 session, "What's New and Exciting in XenMobile," attendees learned that XenApp and XenDesktop's SmartAccess feature is coming to mobile devices. SmartAccess analyzes whether an endpoint is secure enough to launch a virtualized application, but it currently only works on the Web on Windows and Mac.

In addition, Citrix will integrate XenMobile's Worx apps with its Secure Browser. When a user clicks a link in a Worx app, the WorxWeb browser will determine whether it is compatible with the website. If it's not, WorxWeb will instead launch a virtualized browser that is compatible.

Also on the mobility side, Citrix and Microsoft will integrate XenMobile and NetScaler with Microsoft's Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS) to provide VPN capabilities on Intune devices. Citrix WorxMail and WorxForms apps and Citrix Receiver will support EMS, so IT can manage them with the same application management features of Office 365.

Citrix technologies will also join with Microsoft to improve Windows 10 migrations. Microsoft device management tool System Center Configuration Manager will work with XenApp to deploy virtualized Citrix apps, and Citrix AppDNA can test applications for compatibility with Windows 10 before deployment.

Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop 7.9 will be available in June. Citrix did not say when the XenMobile integrations will be generally available.

Editorial director Colin Steele and news writer Ramin Edmond contributed to this report.

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