What you need to know about Citrix XenDesktop 4

A relatively complete product, XenDesktop 4 may be the VDI platform for you. Find out what it offers and if it's a good fit for your enterprise.

Upon entering the world of virtual desktop infrastructure, you may find many products that suit your needs. However, selecting the one that best fits your environment can be challenging. The product has to work with your applications, hardware, infrastructure and security tools, and -- most importantly -- it has to be affordable.

Most enterprises have the same general goal for a VDI: to create virtualized desktops that are delivered to users' endpoints and access corporate applications in a controlled environment. But different enterprises want different things when it comes to the specifics.

Citrix Systems' XenDesktop 4 is a VDI offering that should work in most enterprises. This is because it offers certain key capabilities, including the following:

  • Automated provisioning for users, applications and desktops
  • The ability to monitor and report on service levels
  • Image management for virtual and physical desktops
  • Administrator-defined profiles
  • Support for multiple virtual machine infrastructures
  • The ability to deploy Microsoft Office applications over the LAN
  • A high-definition, high-speed experience, regardless of the network
  • Multiple delivery models for applications and desktops
  • Delivery of applications and desktops based upon defined user roles
  • Integrated access control based on policies

These features are powered by the following proprietary technology offered by Citrix:

  • Citrix Receiver universal client: Allows XenDesktop users to access desktop and corporate applications from any PC, Mac, thin client or smartphone.
  • HDX user experience: Users get a desktop experience that's on par with that of a traditional PC, including the ability to work with multimedia, real-time collaboration, USB peripherals and 3-D graphics. HDX reduces bandwidth use by up to 90% and contains webcam and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) support, improved audio, 3-D graphics support and branch office WAN optimization to ensure that users get a high-definition experience regardless of their location.
  • FlexCastdelivery technology: Enables users to choose from a variety of options for the delivery of their virtualized applications and desktops. They can pick delivery mechanisms that use high-speed connections, such as shared desktops and blade-based virtual machines (VMs); moderate-bandwidth technologies, such as application virtualization and streaming desktops; or even local VMs for users who work disconnected from the corporate network.
  • On-demand applications: XenApp is a mechanism for delivering virtualized applications to desktop users. It can be used as a self-provisioning model, allowing users to pick which corporate applications to run on their physical machines.
  • Single-instance management: IT can separate the device, operating system, applications and user personalization and maintain single master images of each. As a result, the OS and apps can be managed and updated from one location, all at once. Updates can be assembled on the fly and delivered to end users -- without creating and storing individual virtual hard disks (VHDs).

Multiple editions of XenDesktop 4
XenDesktop 4 is available in three product editions: Enterprise, Platinum and VDI. These editions share the same core capabilities, but there are notable differences.

  • Enterprise edition: Adds enhanced support for HDX, hosted shared desktops, virtualized application delivery, health monitoring, power management and several other administrative features.
  • Platinum edition: The top-tier offering adds support for HDX caching, single sign-on, auditing, enhanced access control and service-level monitoring.
  • VDI edition: Integrates a desktop delivery controller with XenServer 5.5 to deliver a virtual desktop to an end user. It also includes Profile Management 2.1, which allows you to create and manage user profiles, as well as Provisioning Services 5.1, which handles the "provisioning" of users. The VDI edition is a good choice for administrators looking for a simple way to deploy a VDI-only solution.

Unlike many other VDI products on the market, Citrix XenDesktop 4 is very complete, and it eliminates the need to buy additional products or create special integration scenarios for advanced infrastructures. The multiple editions of the product offer a path to scale XenDesktop 4 to include application virtualization, branch connectivity and WAN optimization.

Frank Ohlhorst is an IT journalist who has also served as a network administrator and applications programmer before forming his own computer consulting firm.

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