Citrix delivers Swiss Army Knife desktop virtualization
Everything rides on 2010
There are a lot ways to serve applications to end users working from PCs and other devices, and Citrix Systems thinks it has come up with the right combination of options: mix everything together and let companies and end users decide.
With XenDesktop 4, announced Monday, Citrix is adding 70 new features to its virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) server, which allows a server hypervisor - not just XenServer, but also Hyper-V from Microsoft or ESX Server from VMware - to serve up virtual Windows or Linux PC slices over the corporate network.
With VDI, so long as you have a network link, you have a PC, which is great but also limiting for mobile users who often want to work even when they don't have a network. Ditto for feeding server-based applications to end users over the network, which has been done using Presentation Server (now called XenApp) for years.
This places a lot of load on the central servers and the networks linking in to run the applications back in the data center, but that is the price you pay to have centralized control of applications and data.
But with the mix of XenDesktop and XenApp, and the integration of the future Project Independence XenClient bare metal hypervisor for PCs that Citrix and Intel are cooking up  for vPro-compatible PCs, Citrix now says it will be able to deliver local PC images in virtual machines as well as remote ones through VDI and also allow applications to be streamed down from central servers and run either remotely or locally, depending on how customers want it.
The term that Citrix wants us to use for this is "flexcasting," and it runs the gamut. It includes the local VM-based desktops with operating systems and applications that can be run offline (in XenClient, due for delivery sometime in the first half of 2010), as well as virtual applications installed on desktops and local applications streamed down to desktops, which in all cases use the local computing power, graphics cards, web cams, and peripherals of the local device.
On the server side, the Citrix XenDesktop software stack will support hosted blade PC desktops - with a one-to-one ratio - hosted PCs on shared servers - VDI through what used to be called XenDesktop - and hosted shared desktops - using XenApp.
The stack also includes the VM-hosted applications, a feature that debuted  in mid-September with XenApp 5 Feature Pack 2. This allows a single legacy Windows application to be wrapped up in a virtual machine and streamed down to PC users without having to make any code changes - as XenApp often requires. This hosted VM approach, which mixes XenApp and XenDesktop features, was a precursor to the merged XenDesktop and XenApp announced today.
By the way, the merger of the XenDesktop and XenApp functionality with the new XenDesktop 4 has one other important change: the way it is priced. XenDesktop 4 is priced based on named users, but the standalone XenDesktop and XenApp are both priced based on concurrent users.
This may not seem like a big deal, but at many companies, there are many different work shifts and the number of named users far exceeds the number of concurrent users. Ditto for service providers, who often stream applications using XenApp. And for this reason, the company will continue to sell XenApp as a standalone product according to the vice president of Citrix's XenDesktop product group Sumit Dhawan.
Dhawan says that Citrix thinks that 2010 is going to be the year when companies really start thinking about virtualization, VDI, and application streaming, and this goes from being a pilot project to becoming a production desktop environment. Citrix certainly needs this to be true, since it shelled out $500m two years ago  to acquire XenSource, the company behind the open source Xen hypervisor.
Without being specific about revenue streams, Dhawan says that the XenDesktop VDI product line has had "thousands of per cent of growth" in the past year, which can only mean it is starting from a truly miniscule number because XenDesktop has not even tickled the top line at Citrix yet.
But the company is optimistic. Dhawan says there are thousands of XenDesktop pilot projects going on right now, and hundreds of former pilots have reached what he characterized as a large-scale deployment, serving up virtual desktops to thousands of users. Citrix has closed one XenDesktop VDI deal for 40,000 seats and another one for 125,000 seats recently.
"A change in desktop computing is coming in 2010," Dhawan says confidently, and part of the reason why Citrix is so confident is Microsoft Windows 7, which will launch on October 22 and will presumably be disrupting IT budgets late this year and all through next year.
The consensus at Citrix is that the company has worked out the kinks and issues with virtual desktops by merging XenDesktop and XenApp, and that by getting XenClient into the field next year, when the Windows upgrade cycle starts, IT managers will ask it to do something different because they'll have the bean counters breathing down their necks to cut costs.
It doesn't hurt that Citrix has more than 230,000 customers using XenApp and its predecessor, Presentation Server, and that these customers are using the code to feed applications to around 100 million end users. By merging XenDesktop and XenApp into XenDesktop, Citrix is trying to give those XenApp and Presentation Server customers an upgrade path that also includes a variety of PC virtualization methods as part of the package. There are a lot of seats at stake, and at a few hundred bucks a pop, the addressable market that Citrix is chasing in its own customer base could account for a few tens of billions of dollars in sales.
The upgraded XenDesktop 4 with XenApp 5 integrated comes in three editions. The standard edition, which costs $75 per named user, is for small-scale implementations where all you want to do is serve up desktops over the network using VDI and making use of the HDX tweaks Citrix has created to make use of the local graphics and peripherals in whatever client you use to display the centralized, virtualized PC image running over the network from corporate servers.
XenDesktop 4 enterprise edition, which costs $225 per named user, adds XenApp and the FlexCast features to stream applications in a variety of ways. XenDesktop platinum edition, which costs $350 per named user, adds management and security features as well as a license to WANScaler that formerly known as Branch Repeater, a cache for wide area networking that can significantly boost the performance of virtualized PCs and applications served up from the data center and, more importantly, make the end user experience seem more a local PC than the typical VDI setup does.
To help encourage customers to upgrade from Presentation Server and XenApp to XenDesktop 4, Citrix is giving a two-for-one deal to XenApp shops between now and June 30, 2010. Under that deal, customers with XenApp concurrent seatscan pay $95 to get two XenDesktop 4 named user seats. That is a two-to-one rate of concurrency, which by the way is half the rate for the XenApp and Presentation Server base, which has a four-to-one ratio, according to Dhawan.
Prior to Monday's launch, XenDesktop was based on concurrent users, and depending on the features, the price ranged from $75 to $395 per seat. XenApp 5 costs $350 per concurrent user for advanced edition, $50 for enterprise edition, and $600 for platinum edition.
For companies with lots of named users but relatively small numbers of concurrent users, XenApp 5 will probably be cheaper than the XenDesktop 4 package. But at companies with a two-to-one concurrency rate, it won't make any sense to do anything but buy XenDesktop and maybe start fiddling around with PC virtualization.
This is, of course, the intent of the pricing and packaging announced by Citrix. ®