When Higher Ed institutions are considering an on-premise VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) deployment, there two vendors considered major players; Citrix and VMware, between them with a >90% market share.
Nutanix InstantON for Citrix Cloud is a turnkey VDI solution that allows businesses to reap all the benefits of hosted desktop virtualization without the risk. With Citrix Cloud XenApp and XenDesktop service, businesses no longer have to manage the desktop images, applications and security. Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is defined as the hosting of desktop environments on a central server. It is a form of desktop virtualization, as the specific desktop images run within virtual machines (VMs) and are delivered to end clients over a network. Citrix is a company that provides an array of products and solutions for wireless network security, cloud computing, desktop virtualization, analytics, content collaboration, endpoint management, and more. One of the products offered by the company is called Citrix VDI or Citrix Virtual Desktop, where the prefix ‘Citrix’ is merely a brand.
Citrix is the old guard in the space dating back to the early 1990s and offering a long history of remotely delivering software to users. VMware is newer to the software delivery sphere but grew to prominence after developing the successor to server virtualization, VDI, in 2008. Both vendors have both published app and full desktop experience offerings, and both have solid and mature products. However, are all VDI solutions created equal? We’ll examine Citrix VDI vs VMware VDI in this article.
Why is it called Citrix VDI? Citrix is a company that provides an array of products and solutions for wireless network security, cloud computing, desktop virtualization, analytics, content collaboration, endpoint management, and more. Citrix currently offers several services to activate and configure Windows 10 VDIs in Azure, but the easiest one to setup is through the Azure Marketplace – purchasing Citrix Virtual Desktops – XenDesktop Essentials.
How do Citrix and VMware compare as on-premise VDI providers? Citrix is the obvious senior provider with nearly a decade and a half more time in the software delivery market. First focused on thin client technology and remote software access for users, halfway through their tenure they expanded into full desktop and VDI offerings. Through multiple acquisitions and partnerships, Citrix now offers a full complement of on-premise and cloud-hosted products in server, desktop, VDI, and software remoting market spaces.
VMware is the newer company to enter the space but has a very solid product offering and a large following in the Higher Ed market. Despite being newer to the software delivery market, it was VMware who conceptualized and prototyped Desktop Virtualization after seeing how their customers were using their ESX servers and server virtualization deployments.
Delivering a wide range of server, desktop, VDI, and software remoting products, VMware and Citrix are mostly in lockstep for both on-premise and cloud platforms. Within Higher Ed, the most popular choice is Horizon View for VDI full desktops (also available cloud-hosted, known as Horizon Cloud) which provide a consistent user experience and reliable computing environment to faculty, staff, and students.
What key elements should organizations consider when choosing a VDI provider?
- Does it provide everything needed by the users and organizations?
When Higher Ed institutions have made the decision to deploy on-premise VDI, there are a few high-level factors to consider. With every major infrastructure project, cost will be a key factor. Other factors include overall administration time and knowledge required, and how well the solution suits the needs of the users. Additional factors that might be of note include how large and active the user community is, what is the overall trajectory of the company, and what the product roadmap looks like from a development perspective.
In addition to this, universities should consider their potential future needs for software delivery solutions; especially on-premise VDI given the large initial investment in server infrastructure it needs. When it comes to scaling and future-proofing your delivery stack, it may be worth considering cloud virtualization solutions, such as Windows Virtual Desktop or Amazon WorkSpaces.
Key features of Citrix VDI
- Geared towards medium and large organizations
- Pooled and dedicated VDI available
- Enhanced security
In recent years, Citrix has consistently provided reliable solutions with the Xenapp (now Citrix Virtual Apps) and Xendesktop (now Citrix Virtual Desktops) products. A highlight of the Citrix ecosystem is its ability to scale to massive numbers of users, often exceeding 10,000 when deployed in corporate settings. Additionally, Citrix has put a premium on connection security and continues to offer what its customers demand with both dedicated VDI desktops and non-persistent desktop pools.
Limitations of Citrix VDI
- Complicated deployment due to different licenses offering different features
- VDI isn't Citrix's key focus
Like with most long-lived and large vendors, navigating the matrix of licenses and features can be daunting and a struggle for those IT staff tasked with evaluating solutions. It’s typically best for the project team to focus on the institutions’ needs first and then work to map each product being evaluated.
Given the current market share of VMware VDI (>70%), it's unsurprising that Citrix's VDI offering isn't their main or sole focus. A higher portion of attention paid to the app virtualization solution, Citrix Virtual Apps, should be considered in choosing a VDI provider.
Key features of VMWare VDI
- End-user experience: better network bandwidth consumption, infrastructure optimized for end-users
- Management simplicity
- Better value
- Strong reputation
- Flexible delivery
- Trusted provider
When looking at the Horizon View VDI product from VMware, a standout feature is the efficiency of the network protocol being used between clients and desktops. Both PCoIP and Blast are industry leaders for user experience and overall network performance. Additionally, the VMware suite of products excels in ease of administration, and through their partner ecosystem, institutions can often purchase a white glove deployment service reducing the load on internal staff.
Limitations of VMWare
- A range of different licenses offering different features can make deployment more complicated
Long time VMware customers can attest to the largest challenge with the vendor: frequent and confusing product name changes and licensing changes. Again, it will best to focus on the institutions’ list of needs and try to map those to the current product offerings.
Citrix or VMware?
Both VMware and Citrix have a robust product offering across many different solution suites. Historically, Citrix has excelled in the realm of remote app delivery or app remoting solutions. On the other hand, VMware leads the way with full desktop VDI delivery. Deciding on the right approach is solely dependent on the needs of the institution and what goals they are hoping to achieve with the project.
Citrix Cloud Center
After attending Citrix Synergy this week, there is no denying that Citrix is quite serious about their cloud offerings and announced more offers that will be arriving later this year. This includes offerings like their Citrix Analytics Services and Workspace Service, but still it will take some time before these services will be available. Today Citrix Cloud consists of multiple services such as XenApp and XenDesktop Essentials, ShareFile, XenMobile and the “plain” XenDesktop deployments which are labeled Apps & Desktops.
So if you plan to start using Citrix Cloud today, what do you need to think about? It is an important fact to know that Citrix Cloud is not a solution which manages your VDA agents (meaning where you applications and data is stored) it is about controlled management plane with additional services.
Brief overview of the architecture
This shows the architecture on Citrix Cloud with Apps and Desktop Service. You have an active subscription with Citrix Cloud and you setup a integration between your resources and Citrix Cloud using a Cloud Connector whic his the link between your resources and Citrix Cloud. These Cloud Connectors are stateless and
To ensure security compliance, the Connector will self-manage. So do not disable reboots or put other restrictions on the Connector virtual machines. These actions prevent the Connector from updating itself when there is a critical update.
In Citrix Cloud, Citrix will manage the XenDesktop infrastructure for you, this includes delivery controllers, backend site database, license server and such. Also you will automatically get updated every two weeks as part of it as well which provides us with access to new functionality directly. So what do we as customers need to maintain?
- * VDA Agents (endpoints such as VDI or Session Hosts)
* NetScaler appliances (Unless using NetScaler Gateway as a Service)
* Storefront (Unless using Citrix Cloud Hosted Storefront)
* RDS Licenses and RDS License Server
* Active Directory (We need to bring our own)
So what else are we missing out on?
* Logging and Auditing (Since we do not have the option to check logs on who has been logged into Citrix Cloud from a management perspective.) In case we need to figure out who has logged in Citrix has extensive internal auditing information. If a customer has a concern, contact Citrix within 30 days. They will review the audit logs to determine which of the customer’s administrators performed an operation, on what date, from which IP address, etc.
* The Citrix Cloud control plane is only hosted in the United States, which might pose as an issue for customers who want their resources to be in EMEA.
* The customer owns and manages the Resource Locations. It can be created in any data center, cloud, location, or geo desired. All critical business data (such as documents, spreadsheets, etc.) are in the Resource Locations and are under customer control.
Access from the end-users and management
In regular Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp enviroments we can give end-users access from multiple types of authentication mechanisms such as Smart Cards, SAML, OAuth, KDC Constrained Delegation and even regular LDAP based as well. This allows us to utilize Azure AD or Google IAM to delegate authentication to them as identity providers. Citrix Cloud only supported regular Active Directory authentication for regular end-users. From a management perspective they support Azure AD which allows us to specify which people are allowed to access the management plane.
Using Azure AD as identity provider allows us to get some more insight into who has authenticated into Citrix Cloud, but it does not give us any insight into who has done “what”.
Using Storefront in Cloud
You also have the option if you want to have Storefront hosted from Citrix Cloud as well. When you set this up the end-users can access it from the .xendesktop.net/Citrix/StoreWeb/'>https://<customername>.xendesktop.net/Citrix/StoreWeb/ address. This address cannot be changed. Using this service has still some limitations when it comes to UI customization options, also the ability to do more advanced features such as Optimal Gateway Routing and other Authentication options such as SAML. But again it is a question if you want to manage your own Storefront servers or consume it as a service.
Using NetScaler Gateway as a Service
If you plan on using Citrix XenApp Essentials, NetScaler Gateway as a Service is the default option since it does not require any type of configuration or deployment of virtual instances since it is actually running as a Windows Service on the Citrix Cloud Connector machine. This service is actually “ICA-proxy” as a service it does not provide anyof the Smart Access features such as SSL VPN, Endpoint Analysis, support for the newer protocols such as Framehawk and EDT as well. Also from an authentication perspective it does not provide any other options that regular pass-trough from Storefront option.
You can also use NetScaler Gateway as a service as an option for regular Citrix Cloud deployments as well. You need to be aware of since this is a cloud service running in Citrix Cloud all traffic will be routed trough from your endpoint to Citrix Cloud to the Cloud Connectors and to the VDA agents. This feature is natively supported in Citrix Reciver and Receiver for Web as well.
NGaaS is a multi region geo load balanced services which is available on different locations around the world, and will always try to route a user to the closest PoP. Note that if you do not have PoP which is close to your location you might suffer with higher latency values than setting up your own NetScaler virtual appliances. Also NGaaS does not provide any AppFlow analytics which means that we do not have the insight we might be used to in Insight Center or MAS, it will give information about ICA RTT and such within Citrix Director.
Here is a chart of where the closest PoPs are located:
Eight PoPs in Azure
Azure South Central US
Azure West Europe
Azure Australia East
Azure East US
Azure West US
Azure North Europe
Azure Japan East
Azure Brazil South
Three PoPs in Amazon
Concurrent Users: No Limit
Data Transfer Limit per user: No Limit
Overall Bandwidth Up to 250 Mbps – Can be scaled up with setting up multiple Citrix Cloud Connectors wherever your resources are located.
Cloud health and SLA
Citrix has an SLA for all their different cloud services on 99.9 every 30 days. They also have their own status page for all cloud offerings here –> http://status.cloud.com/
And they have also implemented an subscribe option which allows us to send notifications to Slack or other Webhooks directly to our Service Management tool –> http://status.cloud.com/subscribers/new
NOTE: The status page does not show if there is any planned Maintance.
Is Citrix Cloud an option for me?
After having a lot of good conversations and discussions with customers and partner at Citrix Synergy I got a lot of good feedback which I want to share directly.
Citrix Cloud Vdi
* I don’t wanna manage Citrix I just want to deliver my apps and desktops and make it easy for my end-users
* I like the OpEx model for Citrix but they need to make it easier for adjust licenses for our end-users directly.
* For large enterprises we require complete visibility and full role based access control based upon what kind of responbiility our IT-staff has, Citrix Cloud does not have that option yet.
Citrix Vdi Cloud Pricing
Now I don’t think that Citrix Cloud is going to replace any large XenApp/XenDesktop Enterprise solutions anytime soon, I belive that Citrix cloud will provide customers with an even broader range of deployment options to choose from depending on what kind of setup they are looking for. If you are considering a Citrix Cloud setup, you can use a finished a deployment guide from Citrix here –> http://tools.cloud.com/