VDI software for SMBs: Citrix VDI-in-a-Box vs. XenDesktop

Small businesses now have a tricky choice: Citrix VDI-in-a-Box 5 or XenDesktop? The all-in-one VDI software suite VDI-in-a-Box gets points for pricing and simplicity.

Many customers still choose Citrix XenDesktop as their VDI software, but another Citrix product, VDI-in-a-Box, has some advantages in its corner: simpler management, easier deployment and better pricing.

Citrix acquired VDI-in-a-Box when it bought Kaviza Software in 2010. The product is built for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), many of whom still view XenDesktop as the go-to VDI software. To complicate things further, Citrix VDI-in-a-Box and XenDesktop have overlapping features and capabilities.

To determine whether VDI-in-a-Box is right for your organization, you need to understand the differences in how Citrix VDI-in-a-Box and XenDesktop address SMB customers' business problems. VDI-in-a-Box pricing, management and support capabilities are all important factors.

XenDesktop vs. VDI-in-a-Box pricing

Most small VDI customers use cost as a primary factor when choosing VDI software, so we'll start there. Citrix VDI-in-a-Box pricing is extremely competitive, but it also encourages customers to purchase the VDI software alone, with no add-ons. VDI-in-a-Box pricing comes to less than half the cost of Citrix XenDesktop, but this VDI software does have a few cost disadvantages to consider:

  • Citrix VDI-in-a-Box does not come with the rights to run XenServer Enterprise as your hypervisor, but you can run it on the free version of XenServer.
  • If you need to run applications in XenApp, you must purchase XenApp separately -- making VDI-in-a-Box more expensive than XenDesktop because XenDesktop comes with a XenApp license.
  • Device licensing is not an option, making VDI-in-a-Box pricing less cost-effective for environments with many users sharing devices (for instance, manufacturing plants or schools).

VDI software complexity

Citrix claims that you can set up VDI-in-a-Box in less than two hours and provision desktops immediately. That's probably true, but you'll spend more of your time on whiteboards designing the system -- not in front of a keyboard running installation packages. Still, Citrix VDI-in-a-Box is easier to install because you just deploy a single package, rather than the different layers of XenDesktop (PVS, XenApp, DDC, the Web interface and more).

Once you deploy the VDI software and provision desktops, you still have to design the environment, define desktop pools and set up access and resource allocation. However, the simplicity of Citrix VDI-in-a-Box means it will take you much less time to customize the environment than XenDesktop.

Citrix VDI-in-a-Box manageability and support

The simplicity of VDI-in-a-Box also makes it easier to manage and support. This VDI software doesn't offer high availability, for instance, so there are no considerations for monitoring resource allocation. Plus, provisioning new desktop images is just a matter of a few clicks. That means desktop administrators who may not have experience with virtual infrastructure could easily learn to handle this VDI software.

More on Citrix VDI-in-a-Box:

Small IT shops get VDI-in-a-Box with refreshed Citrix Kaviza

Citrix answers the call for simple VDI with Kaviza acquisition

In addition, you can manage Citrix VDI-in-a-Box through a single URL that accesses a single console. Monitoring a XenDesktop environment, on the other hand, requires access to at least four consoles: XenDesktop, XenApp, PVS and Edgesight.

As for supporting Citrix VDI-in-a-Box, help desk personnel find the VDI software console so easy to use that they can often directly monitor virtual desktops themselves rather than depending on the infrastructure admins. This setup not only improves the responsiveness of support but also reduces the cost of support because you don’t have to depend on personnel with higher salaries.

Downsides to Citrix VDI-in-a-Box

As I mentioned, Citrix VDI-in-a-Box does not support high availability. That's because the servers can't use shared storage and, therefore, can't fail over systems from one host to another. A server failure will unavoidably result in a desktop being shut down unexpectedly. If the user chooses to reconnect, the desktop would be redirected to an available server, but the previous desktop session would not be recoverable.

Additionally, integration of multiple sites into a single farm is not an option with Citrix VDI-in-a-Box.

Citrix VDI-in-a-Box has proven itself in the field to be easier to deploy, manage and support. Plus, VDI-in-a-Box pricing is attractive to small businesses. However, it does have limitations in its ability to address some business needs that may matter to some SMBs. The result is a lower total cost per user -- initially and long-term -- but it does require some compromises.

Look out for part two of this series, which will cover more technical differences between Citrix VDI-in-a-Box and XenDesktop.

Eugene Alfaro
leads IT Engineering for Cornerstone Technologies, an IT engineering services firm in San Jose, Calif. He has architected, managed and operated corporate IT environments for multinational companies since 1998. He has been a speaker on topics such as virtualization, WAN optimization, enterprise storage, Voice-over-IP and others. You can follow him on Twitter @Eugenealfaro.

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