New Citrix XenDesktop Release Enhances Desktop Virtualization, User Experience

The new release of Citrix's XenDesktop product aims to make desktop virtualization cheaper and friendlier for office workers, by increasing the number of desktops that one server can support while improving multimedia and voice delivery. In looking to differentiate its desktop virtualization products from what VMware is offering, Citrix is focusing on providing products for virtualization that offer what the company hopes is an end-to-end solution from the data center to the server to the individual desktop.

With the introduction of Citrix Systems' XenDesktop 3-the company's signature desktop virtualization product-the application delivery specialist is trying to lower the cost of virtualization for IT, while providing a more seamless multimedia experience for office-based workers sitting in front of their desktops.

With XenDesktop 3, which Citrix officially releases Feb. 4, the virtualization software has been designed to handle both streamed and hosted desktops.

Citrix has been pushing desktop virtualization-along with along with cloud computing-as the big deal of 2009, offering customers a Delivery Center Suite that includes Citrix XenDesktop, XenServer and App Receiver, which delivers virtual desktop images from a centralized data center to the individual client.

Although the two are complementary, Citrix has taken pains to publicly separate XenDesktop 3, launched nearly six months after the release of XenDesktop 2.1, from Project Independence, in which the company has partnered with Intel and others to deliver solutions for individual virtual desktops.

With the release of XenDesktop 3, not only is Citrix looking to challenge VMware's continued dominance of the x86 virtualization market, but it is also looking to offer a better price to entice IT managers to create a centralized desktop infrastructure that uses virtualization to deliver the operating system, applications and data to employees.

While data security has always been a main selling point with centralized virtualization desktop products, IT managers have balked at the cost of building out a new infrastructure to support the technology.

Citrix claims XenDesktop 3 can lower costs on the administrative side by slashing server and data center infrastructure needs by roughly 50 percent; with its included XenServer hosting twice the number of virtual desktops per server, it would only take 25 servers, as opposed to 50, to host 1,000 users. The suggested retail price for XenDesktop 3 begins at $75 per concurrent user.

"This addresses a significant barrier for mainstream implementation," said Sumit Dhawan, vice president of product marketing for Citrix. "The biggest cost component in capital expenses is now cut down in half."

On the IT administration side, XenDesktop 3 offers a simplified environment, with built-in profile management for both hosted and streamed desktops; Citrix claims this will eliminate most, if not all, of the Microsoft Windows profile issues.

In addition to reducing costs and streamlining the IT management environment, XenDesktop 3 aims to boost the end user's experience through HD-X technologies, which provide a "high-definition experience" for users by accelerating the local network's multimedia capabilities. HD-X technologies take a holistic approach, optimizing the entire system from data center through network and individual device.

"Servers usually process video uncompressed," said Dhawan. "In XenDesktop 3, the file is sent compressed to the endpoint, and then processed at the endpoint. The processing of multimedia is done on the local machine."

By relying on the hardware of the individual desktop, HD-X also results in higher speeds for other processing-intensive functions, such as photo editing and archiving, geospatial and mapping, and three-dimensional CAD (computer-aided design) applications.

Furthermore, the system utilizes what Dhawan terms "intelligent orchestration," where the system detects server, network and endpoint capabilities, and turns on the appropriate network optimization based on the delivery structure's capabilities.

"This makes maintenance simple and assures the best user experience without forcing them to go through an unnecessary server upgrade," said Dhawan.

XenDesktop 3 will also offer full support for USB devices such as MP3 players, smart cards and digital cameras.