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Citrix: Stream Office from Windows Server, not Windows 7

OnLive is doing it AllWrong

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Citrix Systems is tweaking a bunch of tools that it has tailored for its XenDesktop desktop virtualization and XenApp application virtualization tools, and is using the opportunity to remind everyone that there is a perfectly legal – in the Microsoft-licensing sense of that word – way to stream Office applications down to end users.

That kosher connection strategy is to do it from Windows Server, and not not Windows 7, as game-streamer OnLive has been doing, and which is not compliant with Microsoft licensing terms.

OnLive worked with Dell's Data Center Solutions custom server unit to create boxes for streaming video games using high-end graphics controllers and OnLive's homegrown "error concealment" video compression card, which allows the games to be streamed over Internet connections down to web browsers without jitter and crashes.

OnLive has made no secret of that fact that it wanted to stream other kinds of applications, including corporate applications, from its data centers. After all, people work during the day and play at night, generally speaking, and you want to keep servers busy and monetize those CPU and GPU cycles 24x7). The company launched a service called OnLive Desktop back in January that allows for a Windows 7 desktop and the Microsoft Office suite to be streamed down to an Apple iPad or an Android fondleslab.

But, as El Reg reported two weeks ago, Microsoft was intrigued by what OnLive was doing, considering that there is not a Services Providers License Agreement for Windows 7, and that customers using remote VDI have to provide a Windows license to the VDI provider and then tie it directly to a machine that it is dedicated to run on.

Corporate vice president of worldwide licensing and pricing at Microsoft Joe Matz explained this all in a blog post earlier this month, reminding everyone that service providers such as OnLive can use Windows Server 2008 and its Remote Desktop Services to provide virtual private desktops to customers and then stream them down to customers over the Internet.

The problem is, Windows Server is not Windows 7.

But, with a tweaked version of the Services Provider Automation Pack, which is available for either the XenDesktop 6.5 VDI tool or the XenApp 6.5 application streaming tool, Windows Server can get closer to being Windows 7: Citrix is now automating the process of converting an RDS session running on a remote Windows Server to look like a Windows 7 desktop, making it easy for service providers to offer remote Win7-alike desktops and still be in compliance with Microsoft's licensing for Windows and Office.

Calvin Hsu, director of product marketing for the XenDesktop line at Citrix, tells El Reg that to make an RDS session on Windows Server look like a Windows 7 instance, there are a couple of hundred tweaks you need to do – an annoying process, at best.

For example, you want to add a media player and the snipping tool, and hide unfamiliar server tools as well as change some session settings to keep users from being allowed to reboot the server. You also want the taskbar and Start menu to look like Windows 7. And so Citrix has automated this process so that service providers can give customers a Win7-alike desktop.

Not that Citrix wants to shoot down actual VDI installations through XenDesktop, but on a typical two-socket server supporting VDI, you would load up the box with 192GB of memory and a bunch of disks, and you might be able to support 125 to 150 desktops for moderate PC users. You run the PC images in a virtual machine, and the Windows 7 licenses are tied to that box and can't roam around the cloudy infrastructure.

With a Windows Server 2008 shared desktop, you might need only 96GB of memory, and you need a lot less disk capacity since you are not loading up Windows 7 and Office inside of a virtual machine for each end user. There's one copy of Windows Server in Win7-ish drag, and one copy of Office that has a service provider license, and you can host somewhere between 200 and 250 desktops on that skinnier two-socket box. The Office and Outlook licenses run somewhere between $15 and $20 per user per month for service providers.

"We've put this side-by-side with a Windows 7 VDI at various trade shows and people cannot tell," says Hsu. "And it just demonstrates that customers care about getting the applications, and they don't care about the back-end infrastructure."

More service-provider goodies

In addition to this Windows Server shared-desktop configuration tool, Citrix has also updated its Cloud Provider Pack, another add-on for service providers, which allows for one of these "cloud desktops" that have been created using either VDI or a Windows Server shared desktop to seamlessly grab applications running on a local desktop and "punch a hole" in the virtual desktop so they all look like they are running in that cloud desktop.

The upshot is that you only need one desktop to run both local and cloudy apps, and rather than try to pull the cloudy apps down into the local desktop, Citrix is going the other way around.

One new element of the Cloud Provider Pack is called CloudPortal Services Manager, which makes it able to span multiple tenants, multiple server farms, and multiple data centers, and allow service providers to configure and provision application workloads across their cloudy infrastructure for remote hosted desktops all from the same tool.

This management tool allows service providers to set what performance levels and experience each end user is to receive, and to tie it to a specific kind of server and a specific commitment for CPU, memory, and I/O resources. It also manages what Microsoft applications are tied to a particular build, and then allows the hoster to "publish" that configuration to a specific customer so they can begin to use it.

Finally, Citrix is putting out a new Mobility Pack for XenDesktop 6.5, which tweaks a Windows desktop that is being streamed down to an iPad or Android tablet to make it more like other apps on the fondleslab.

This tool pack does a bunch of things that shift Windows screens on the fly from tiny mouse controls to fatter touch spots that fat fingers can deal with, such as making Start menu items have bigger icons and titles, and making all of the icons in the taskbar larger.

Also, when you have multiple Office docs open, they don't overlap as they do in Windows 7, but rather appear in series so you can click on any of them. Your system settings menus also looks more native to iOS or Android. The Mobility Pack is an SDK, and it is available for both end users and service providers.

The Windows Server shared desktop setup scripts and the Mobility Pack are available now. The updated Cloud Provider Pack will be available at the end of March, and will support hosted shared applications for SPs using XenApp 6.5, which is bundled in XenDesktop, as well as being standalone. It comes free of charge to SPs using XenApp Premium Edition, and presumably costs money if you don't have that edition. ®

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