Citrix's Smooth New XenDesktop

Latency appears to be a thing of the past with the company's new virtual desktop.

Citrix Systems gave eWEEK a preview of its beta-level Citrix XenDesktop April 16, and if lack of latency in mouse movement relative to application performance is a key indicator of success, then this new product has made big-time progress toward solving that nagging problem.
Latency between mouse movement and action on the screen-which often can be several seconds in length-has long been the biggest user issue with thin clients and other server-based workstations. However, Citrix and other established vendors, such as Hewlett-Packard, Wyse, and Sun Microsystems, along with relative newcomers VMware and nComputing, continue to improve their systems to make them act more like common PCs.
Citrix, which acquired open-source virtualization vendor XenSource last year, uses a patented, high-speed protocol called ICA (Independent Computing Architecture) and has bundled the company's open-source hypervisor into the new XenDesktop. It will begin shipping worldwide May 20 at the Citrix Synergy 2008 event in Houston.
XenDesktop, hosted on a virtual machine in a data center, allows enterprises to virtualize Windows desktops and deliver them on-demand via the high-speed Web interconnect to office workers in any location, XenDesktop product marketing manager Frank Anderson told eWEEK.
The Windows operating system and all applications are streamed from separate servers to the remote locations; hundreds-even thousands-of desktops can be deployed this way, Anderson said.
XenDesktop also enables IT managers to maintain only one Windows desktop OS image for all users rather than maintaining separate fully-loaded desktop VMs in the data center for each employee with applications hard-coded into each one. This lowers storage costs and simplifies desktop lifecycle management for IT administrators, Anderson said.
Provisioning of all the remote desktops is simple; Anderson showed that it takes only about a half-dozen mouse clicks in the XenDesktop wizard for the administrator to get five sample desktops up and running.
XenDesktop assembles each user's unique personal desktop from new, pristine components each time they log on, Anderson said. By separating applications from the desktop OS and provisioning them independently at runtime from new master images, he said, users get a fresh new desktop at each login.
In the eWEEK demonstration, the XenDesktop action appeared similar to a common, well-powered desktop or laptop machine using a browser, word-processing application or spreadsheet. Latency was almost unnoticeable.
You can view a demo of the product's "user experience" here. The instant-on feature was impressive, as was the system's ability to recognize USB-connected drives and printers.
"As this market continues to emerge, new technology must more adequately address user experience, and provide the ability to scale beyond a few hundred users," Michael Rose, an analyst at IDC, told eWEEK. "An effective desktop must merge scalability, lifecycle management and superior user experience in order to be broadly applicable in the enterprise. XenDesktop is a good example of what is possible here."
Industry estimates say that managing a typical end-user enterprise desktop can now cost more than $5,000 a year per employee, Anderson said. In contrast, licensing XenDesktop will begin at $75 per concurrent user per year, he said.
"[XenDesktop] catapults Citrix into a very hot market they know and understand very well-centralized computing," Forrester analyst Natalie Lambert told eWEEK. "Citrix's hosted desktop virtualization solution brings the same benefits as the other products in the market (VMware, Microsoft) - increased data security, increased endpoint security, lower management and support costs, and flexible remote access. However, more than other solutions on the market, it has a lower cost for deployment."
Citrix has paired its hypervisor technology together with its OS streaming technology to dynamically provide standard user desktops together with a user's "personality," Lambert said.
"This enables an even more simplified deployment and lower costs, because organizations do not need to store 20GB VMs for each of their users," she said. "Storage costs have been one of the hidden costs of virtualization deployments, and Citrix's XenDesktop puts cost estimates more in favor of the company."
Andi Mann, an analyst with Enterprise Management, told eWEEK that his latest research shows that desktop virtualization is the hottest battleground in virtualization overall.
"This technology is growing well above the 20 percent of virtualization in general, and much faster than server or OS virtualization," Mann said. "And unlike server, OS, or application virtualization, VMware, Microsoft, and Citrix are all neck-and-neck in terms of enterprise penetration."
With Microsoft acquiring Kidaro to complement its Terminal Services and SoftGrid products, VMware buying Thinstall to complement its VDI product, and Citrix building on its own strengths with XenDesktop to complement its market-leading XenApp, they all are making major moves to secure some of the huge market for end-user facing virtualization products, Mann said.
Citrix has more than 200,000 customers worldwide, including 100 percent of the Fortune 100 companies and 99 percent of the Fortune Global 500. The company has 7,680 channel and alliance partners in more than 100 countries.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...