Key Cloud-Based Virtual Desktop Software Differentiators
There have been many reviews of what have been the big two of virtual desktop (VDI) software, Citrix XenDesktop and VMWare View. Recently, Microsoft’s own version of VDI software has garnered some press, given its pricing/packaging. As with anything Microsoft, for users of Microsoft’s other products (e.g. Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisor), Microsoft VDI will be considered as an alternative for on-premise (on-prem) VDI implementations, competing squarely against XenDesktop and View.
On-prem VDI has received most of the attention over the past few years, and has been the first approach reviewed by both analysts and IT departments alike. The maturity of this space is evidenced by both its large number of emerging technology vendors and by the extensive feature/function sets found in vendor products. A detailed comparison of the on-prem VDI approaches and vendors can be viewed in the comprehensive VDI Smackdown! , created and updated by PQR, a Netherlands-based information and communications technologies (ICT) services company (www.pqr.com ).
With VDI evolving to be more of a business-customer (end-user) technology through the BYOD movement, the more important comparisons in the aforementioned VDI Smackdown! report would be in the User Experience portion of section 6.5 (COMPARE MATRIX, FEATURES). Out of over one-hundred different features compared, Citrix XenDesktop and VMWare View have the highest number of checkmarks when compared to other on-prem VDI leaders in this important category. Of the others evaluated, Microsoft VDI’s ratings reflect the product’s relative lack of maturity, while Citrix VDI-in-a-Box (Kaviza) suffers from its being a standalone point solution lacking a direct growth path. Quest was a significant competitor to Citrix in the Microsoft world but it remains to be seen what will happen to them, given their acquisition by Dell and Dell’s current focus on their leveraged buy-out.
To further compare the best on-prem VDI software vendor for your company requires a deeper look at some of the factors considered in the report.
Specific examples of these include:
- Security –
- Within the User Experience section, one of the specific notes reads “…. No client dependency.” In all the “marketecture” battles out there, this item is critically important to entities requiring uncompromisable security. Questions such as “when is a zero-client” not really a “zero-client” should be asked, with vendor answers examined in detail. Along the exact same line of thinking, if the value of VDI is utilizing a DC-level of security, shouldn’t what traverses to/from the DC be as limited as possible (pixels)? Shouldn’t any performance optimization be offloaded to the security of the DC if it is not hard-coded and therefore unchangeable at the end-device?
- Offline support was listed as a positive, or at least as a checkable feature. Given the security breaches experienced from laptops, do companies really want to enable that for BYOD as well?
- Cost/complexity –
- …although not a footnote, whenever something such as “No external license service required to get VDI solution up-and-running” is not checked off, it leaves me wondering. What is this service I need to get my VDI solution up and going? What does it cost? How tightly integrated are the two vendors? Will that change positively or negatively? I don’t like open-ended questions in today’s increasingly tightening, and fixed, budget times.
- UC integration –
- Finally, when looking at the single feature “Unified Communication A/V rendered (peer-2-peer communication)on end-point,” it becomes more a qualifying question. Customers believing in Microsoft’s Lync for integrated VoIP would be wise to take a look at Citrix XenDesktop. Those believing more in the more traditional VoIP vendors (Avaya, Cisco and Mitel) would be wise to take a look at VMWare View.
Lastly, when looking at VDI, how important is the cloud to your company, today and tomorrow? Much as my focus on the VDI Smackdown! report was on the User Experience section, it is important to note that this same report mentioned the first / only cloud-specific VDI platform vendor, Desktone.
Since Desktone was not reviewed in depth in the report itself, the best way to analyze the cloud VDI space (or Desktops as a Service, DaaS; Workplace as a Service, WaaS) would be from a macro-perspective rather than in a detailed feature/function analysis. Key considerations for any cloud solution include:
- Unfortunately, for any RFP having the question “Is your solution multi-tenant?, almost every VDI vendor can answer “yes.” However, try framing the questions as, “Is your solution multi-tenant on multiple levels? For example, across management, compute, storage and network in a legally compliant manner (Microsoft licensing challenges)?” Only the true cloud VDI / DaaS vendors can answer with a detailed “yes” to these questions.
Flexible scalability –
- Cloud solutions, in the purest sense, have no artificial boundaries, as long as they can be securely provisioned. Assuming that is the case, a true cloud VDI solution should scale easily within datacenters (DCs), across DCs and across geographies. Only in this manner can a DaaS implementation support existing mission-critical business architectures for business continuity and disaster recovery today. In the future, the ability to scale up and scale down by season, by time of day and dynamically for unexpected events will become the norm, not the exception. Why not start building for this future scenario today?
True enterprise integration –
- Beware the “marketecture” in this category. In the PQR report, multi-AD support is checkmarked for both Citrix and VMWare. Going a few levels deeper, the decisioning questions should include “How easily? How cleanly? How securely?” When Desktone is quoted in the same report as stating “We are the only one that support multiple forests per customer and segregate customers completely, while keeping a common infrastructure for all the desktops,” it is easy to see why there could be confusion in the marketplace. From my perspective, true enterprise integration will allow me to use my existing IP addressing scheme, so that Printer X with IP address Y used by the CEO’s EA will have the same IP address Y when I’m using a cloud VDI solution. Period. The End.
Comprehensive Security –
- With current on-prem VDI solutions, can the admin view the VP of HR’s desktop? If so, who is the admin, an employee or an outsourcer? Is there an audit trail for this? A true DaaS solution must address this if enterprises will continue to feel comfortable in moving to the cloud. If your VDI solution doesn’t, it might be time to look for another solution before an administrator inadvertently finds and distributes company payroll information….especially a disgruntled administrator.
Tiered Role Separation–
- This relates somewhat to multi-tenancy, which is typically thought of for service provider solutions where multiple customers might share a DaaS infrastructure. While tiered role separation maximizes deployment options for service providers to their customers, the granularity of the tiered role separation should extend down to “inside of” any enterprise customer. Finance may want to be kept separate from other departments and will want different business units isolated from each other when it comes to budgets and compensation. Legal will be sensitive to their desktops being accessible by anyone; the same with HR. Effectively, tiered role separation is not solely a service provider requirement for DaaS; it’s an enterprise IT requirement as well.
Finally, despite there being multiple terms for cloud “implementation” (i.e. public cloud, private cloud, hybrid cloud, etc.), interoperability is a key cloud tenet. The same applies to cloud VDI, or DaaS. If one believes interoperability is best accomplished by one vendor’s suite of products being interoperable*, Citrix XenDesktop for VDI may make sense for on-prem VDI. If one instead believes that interoperability is best accomplished by being able to integrate best-of-breed products, exploring how Desktone, VMWare View and Teradici PcOIP interoperate today warrants further examination.
My perspective on Citrix’s philosophy of focusing on self-interoperability is based upon their restricted ICA/HDX distribution. While ICA/HDX is supported by 3rd parties, the ability to acquire ICA/HDX separately from a XEN product suite is limited to only largest companies (in terms of enterprise IT).