Citrix, in conjunction with Microsoft Azure, has announced XenApp Essentials and XenDesktop Essentials—two distinct offerings—as basic cloud-based virtualization solutions. At a price of $12 per user per month, this is going to be an offer that enterprises need to consider.
CIOs and CTOs reading about XenApp and XenDesktop Essentials will no doubt halt existing projects and purchases upon learning that they can acquire a Citrix virtualization solution for $12 per user per month. Who wouldn’t think that’s a bargain???
$12/user/month + x + y + z
While this price sounds extremely appealing, understanding exactly what is and isn’t included as part of this low price is important. First and foremost, this low price provides the Citrix virtualization infrastructure on Azure and support, and that’s about it. Microsoft holds the subscriber responsible for obtaining per-user workstation licensing for XenDesktop Essentials, and the subscriber must likewise purchase Remote Desktop Client Access Licenses for XenApp Essentials. In all cases, Azure consumption is in addition to the Citrix services. It seems odd but NetScaler Gateway is included with the XenApp Essentials package but not XenDesktop.
The cost for Azure consumption in particular should be carefully considered. When you are hosting Citrix infrastructure in your own data center, keeping your virtual machines running all day and night is common. After all, with the exception of electricity, it doesn’t cost you any more or any less to run your servers 24x7. But when paying for consumption by the minute, administrators must carefully consider whether some, most, or all of the Azure-based resources should be kept running after standard business hours. Why pay for 168 hours a week when you only need a percentage of that? On the flip side, what happens when the VP of Sales travels to another continent or needs to gather data for a report outside of standard business hours only to find that pertinent virtualized resources have been turned off to save money?
The minimum subscription is 25 users, which makes it appealing for businesses of varying sizes, with the exception of very small businesses. But how many small or even medium businesses have expertise in Citrix that makes them self-sufficient such that they can support this model? Keeping in mind that complex aspects of a Citrix deployment include items such as user profiles and database servers, this appealing offer requires far more than just a few simple clicks.
The configuration of XenApp and/or XenDesktop itself is not a task to be undertaken by beginners. Minimally, some experience with both Azure and Citrix is required. Should users be able to map local drives? Will only the Universal Print Driver be enabled? These and many other decisions are required, and a newbie may not fully understand the impact of many configuration options. Most likely, the services of a Citrix partner will be required for initial deployment and maintenance.
The initial expectation may be that XenApp Essentials and XenDesktop Essentials are so easy that anyone can administer it—at least that’s what the marketing briefs lead you to believe. For applications like Office, that’s somewhat true. Hosting the virtualization infrastructure on Azure is exactly what will make Office 365 the ultimate solution for every organization. Online mode, wherein no data is cached, should perform as if a massive Exchange server were directly connected to the virtualized desktop or Outlook application, because it basically is just that.
And for SaaS and web-based applications, using Citrix through Azure provides the best of both worlds: browser security to eliminate remnants of applications that would otherwise remain on the local device, and screaming fast internet access.
But from there, it gets complicated. Much more complicated. Applications are no doubt the most complex aspect of any virtualization infrastructure. For this, a key requirement is that the IT department and/or a partner will take responsibility for configuration and applications.
Most enterprises have a multitude of applications already deployed. Redeploying applications, especially on XenApp, isn’t as easy as it sounds. While XenApp is an awesome 1:many platform, the ability to support multiple users simultaneously is exactly what can sometimes make application installation difficult. XenDesktop, on the other hand, is based on a 1:1 platform and is simpler from an application deployment perspective.
And then there are databases to consider. Being that most applications have a backend data source, standing up SQL Servers in Azure will be required because when data hops between data centers, a poor user experience follows. For example, if you install the client software for your ERP application on XenApp or XenDesktop in Azure and keep your backend data in your data center until you can complete migration to Azure, the user experience will be less than stellar because all queries must be initiated from Azure, communicate with the offsite database server, and then go back to Azure. Consider that network round trip time within a data center is often a few milliseconds, whereas communications to another data center takes significantly longer. The moral of that story is don’t move to Azure without your databases!
The new XenApp Essentials and XenDesktop Essentials just may be the right solution for your virtualization requirements. However, before jumping into it, careful consideration of the full cost—as well as the technical expertise and work effort requirements—should be undertaken in order to get a true picture of the total price tag.