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Citrix and VMware ignore physical desktops, add management complexity

Citrix and VMware push virtual desktops and ignore the fact that enterprises continue to use Windows PC and laptops. Here's how their disregard for physical desktops impacts IT.

There's a lot of talk about which desktop virtualization vendor is better -- Citrix or VMware. While both companies race to check off more boxes in their VDI product feature lists, there's one thing they are both missing: support for traditional, physical desktop and laptop computers.

As I mentioned in my speech about the "State of the Desktop Virtualization Industry" during Citrix Synergy in San Francisco last month, I believe desktop virtualization will continue to be only a small percentage of all corporate desktops. The default approach organizations should take is to have Windows 7 installed locally on traditional desktops and laptops, with desktop virtualization used only for additional functionality that a traditional desktop or laptop can't provide.

Unfortunately, that's not quite the approach vendors like Citrix and VMware want you to take.

Citrix and VMware are in the business of selling desktop virtualization software, so they want you to virtualize as many desktops as possible -- it means more money for them. I don't fault them for that, and, of course, I'd do the same thing if I were them.

At the same time, these vendors aren't naïve. They know they can't really go out and say customers should virtualize 100% of desktops, because that would make them look arrogant and clueless. So, they say you should only virtualize what makes sense.

But if you look at their products, neither Citrix nor VMware really embrace the traditional desktop space at all. They both only have products for virtual desktops -- which means, despite what they say, they want customers to virtualize as much as possible. And if they don't, they're forced to use multiple management solutions from multiple vendors.

The problem with ignoring PCs
Let’s start with VMware. Their View desktop virtualization product is essentially a VDI-only product. Sure, they have a local mode, which allows you to run a central desktop VM locally, but the local mode client software only runs as an app on existing Mac and Windows desktops and laptops. And how do you manage, deploy, secure and update the base image that's required in order to use View Local Mode? That's up to you, since VMware doesn't have a product to deal with that. (It's a paradox!)

The only other offering VMware has in the desktop space is ThinApp, an application virtualization product that lets you deploy apps into any Windows environment, whether virtual or physical. But ThinApp only deals with apps, not the desktop.

So, you can only use VMware to manage virtual desktops. And if you don't plan on virtualizing 100% of your desktops, well, too bad for you!

But it's not just VMware that has this problem -- Citrix is no better.

You might think Citrix addresses all of today's desktop use cases because they say their FlexCast technology for XenDesktop addresses multiple desktop scenarios. And while that's true, there's a difference between supporting "multiple" desktop scenarios and supporting "all" desktop scenarios.

Citrix XenDesktop supports datacenter-based desktops based on single-user (VDI) or multi-user (Remote Desktop Session Host) desktops. For client-based desktops, Citrix supports hard-wired, constantly connected desktop computers via Citrix Provisioning Services, and they support disconnected laptops via their bare-metal client hypervisor XenClient, where all desktops run locally in a VM.

But when it comes to traditional, non-virtual, locally installed desktops, Citrix has nothing. So, until we live in a world where we can use VDI, streaming and XenClient for all of our desktops, you can only use Citrix XenDesktop for a subset of your users.

What does this all mean? It means that for the next few years, you're going to have to have two desktop management strategies -- one for your virtual desktops and one for your physical desktops.

Is that okay? It depends. Some people believe that virtual desktop software vendors shouldn't also support physical desktops and that they should just wait for the world to come to them. Others believe that since you have to manage physical desktops anyway, it's not even worth dealing with virtual desktops. After all, if you can't replace your traditional desktop management, isn't adding virtual desktops just adding to your complexity?

At the end of the day, I'm not sure that I can blame VMware or Citrix for focusing on virtual desktops. It's just important for you to keep in mind that it's not likely you'll virtualize all of your desktops anytime soon, so anything you buy from VMware or Citrix is not going to replace your existing desktop management tools.


Brian Madden is an independent industry analyst and blogger, known throughout the world as an opinionated, supertechnical desktop virtualization expert. He has written several books and more than 1,000 articles about desktop and application virtualization. Madden's blog, BrianMadden.com, receives millions of visitors per year and is a leading source for conversation, debate and discourse about the application and desktop virtualization industry. He is also the creator of BriForum, the premier independent application delivery technical conference.

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Of course, there are those "traditional" client lifecycle management solutions out there that look at the challenge the other way around. Since long-in-the-tooth, physical PC/laptop management is rooted so deeply in the enterprise already, is it not incumbent upon those vendors to embrace the "new world" of virtual desktops? And, for that matter, all mobile devices used to access virtual desktops, as well.

At the end of the day, everybody would love a single pane of glass.

You are correct that "when it comes to traditional, non-virtual, locally installed desktops, Citrix has nothing." But it's not clear what you're suggesting they SHOULD have. What, specifically, do you believe XenDesktop should be able to do in this area?
Very insightful article hitting on a key issue that often gets ignored in today's VDI discussions.

Virtual Computer's taken a different approach to this from VMware and Citrix with a technology that turns the end-point into a managed appliance. This approach enables IT professionals to manage both the virtual desktops as well as to fully control the physical devices.

Great to see this article highlight these issues, because we've spoken to a lot of companies about this and have also found that many of their challenges come back to better managing these physical end-point devices.