As many readers know, I spent last week attending back-to-back Citrix conferences in San Francisco. Monday and Tuesday (“Summit”) was for Citrix Partners, Wednesday through Friday (“Synergy”) was for the larger user community. In the coming days, I expect to be writing a lot about stuff I learned there – to the extent that I can without violating the Non-Disclosure Agreement that all attendees agree to as part of the registration process.
Today’s post is about five cool products that I think are worthy of further investigation. I should stress that, aside from Wyse, we do not currently sell any of these vendors’ products, and we may or may not partner with them in the future. So this should not be interpreted as an endorsement other than to say that these products intrigued me and I believe them to be worth looking into.
Wyse XenithTM “Zero Client”
Finally, a non-Windows-based thin-client device with HDX MediaStream video support! I can hardly wait for us to get our hands on one of these for testing. Up until now, if you wanted high performance video, you needed to buy a Windows-embedded thin-client, and install the same Citrix Receiver and plug-ins that you would install on a full-blown desktop PC. And, unfortunately, a Windows-embedded thin-client can easily cost as much as a low-end PC. While I don’t have firm cost numbers yet, I was told it would be “sub-$300” (which I assume to mean $299).
At the Wyse demo, they plugged in the box, turned it on, it auto-discovered the XenDesktop infrastructure and automatically configured itself accordingly, and was ready to use literally in a few seconds. Wow.
[Editor’s note: Since this post was written, Kaviza was purchased by Citrix, and is now the Citrix “VDI-In-A-Box” product.]
Kaviza has an intriguing product. It won the “Best of Synergy” award in the “Business Efficiency” category. As the product name implies, they make a virtual appliance that handles the provisioning, load-balancing, and management of virtual desktops in a single package. Their original appliance was designed to run on VMware, but the Beta of v3.0 they were showing at Synergy will run on XenServer. They do not require shared storage (i.e., a SAN), or a separate connection broker. When you add more of their appliances, their “grid” automatically reconfigures itself to incorporate the new appliances, replicating desktop template images as required.
They’re positioning this as an SMB solution – up to a couple hundred desktops. If you’re going to grow beyond that, you’re probably going to want the greater storage efficiency of storing your desktop images on a SAN and using the provisioning services of XenDesktop 4. Also, this is specifically a VDI solution, by which I mean a bunch of virtual PCs running on one or more virtualization hosts. As we’ve discussed in other posts, VDI is only one kind of desktop virtualization. If you want the flexibility of being able to leverage all the different kinds of desktop virtualization, XenDesktop gives you that flexibility.
Suggested list price is $125 per concurrent user. Citrix has a VDI-only version of XenDesktop (which does include provisioning services, but does not include any other form of desktop virtualization) which lists for $95 per named user, or $195 per concurrent user. So, taking into account the cost savings from reducing the back-end infrastructure requirements, Kaviza is certainly competitive for smaller deployments, if you’re looking for strictly a VDI solution. Kavisa estimates that, including the virtualization hosts, you’re still under $500/user.
Interestingly enough, Citrix recently made a “strategic investment” in Kaviza, and has licensed their HDX high-performance video technology to them. This suggests that, at some level, Citrix does not necessarily view Kaviza as a competitive threat to XenDesktop 4.
You can view a demo of an earlier version of Kaviza on Brian Madden TV, or go right to the source and sign up for a Webinar on their upcoming v3.0 release.
[Editor’s note: Since this post was written, Citrix purchased this product. So they obviously thought it was pretty cool, too!]
Good Lord, if we’d only had a tool like this a few years ago. Several years ago, we worked with a major financial institution that will remain nameless (you know who you are) to build an infrastructure of what was then called Presentation Server that would serve up roughly 300 different applications to roughly 1,000 users. Application Isolation wasn’t available at the time, so we had to do things the hard way. We had a team of several engineers who spent months on application compatibility testing – not only to see which apps would run in a Presentation Server environment, but to see which apps could co-exist in a single server image. It was a huge project, and cost the customer a very large pile of money.
The App-DNA AppTitudeTM software automates the process of application compatibility testing. You give it access to the installation packages of your applications, and it will tell you which Windows desktop and/or server Operating Systems they are compatible with, whether they’re 64-bit compatible, and whether you should be able to package and stream them with XenApp’s app streaming tool or with Microsoft’s App-V. Moreover, if there’s an issue with an application, it tells you what the issue is and makes suggestions as to how you may be able to remediate it!
This product won the “Best in Show” award at Synergy, as well as winning in the “Process Improvement” category. The people I talked to couldn’t give me pricing, but if you’re looking at a major upgrade or migration that involves a lot of applications, this could be a huge time-saver.
Their Stratusphere FitTM product was a Best of Synergy finalist in the “Business Efficiency” category (the category that was won by Kaviza). This is a VDI assessment tool. It will monitor and log a bunch of desktop OS and user performance metrics, looking at network usage, application usage, disk and memory utilization, graphics intensity, disk IOPS, network latency between the current desktop location and the data center you’re hoping to move it to, etc.
After gathering information for a while (a minimum of two weeks is recommended), it will spit out both detail and summary reports that will identify good, fair, and poor candidates for virtualization, identify potential problem areas, and help you size the back-end infrastructure that will be needed to host all of the newly-virtualized desktops.
The cost of a time-limited license (90 days, if memory serves me correctly) is roughly $7 per user. Look at it this way: You can design your VDI hosting environment by the seat of your pants, and probably end up either over- or under-building the infrastructure, or you can spend a little bit of money to develop some hard data to guide the design decisions. If it helps you avoid design mistakes, and helps insure the success of your VDI project, that’s probably money well spent.
The Unidesk product competes directly with the provisioning services component of XenDesktop 4. Why, you may ask, would you want to pay extra for a third party product instead of using the provisioning functionality that comes with all versions of XenDesktop 4? Here are some possible reasons:
- Unidesk integrates patching and version management into their provisioning tool.
- Unidesk can deliver boot-time drivers such as antivirus software, VPN software, and printer drivers as components that are separate from your master OS image.
- Unidesk integrates application management into their provisioning tool, including applications that have been packaged for streaming via XenApp, App-V, or ThinApp.
- The big one: Unidesk treats user-installed applications as part of “user personalization” – yes, you can provision from a single master OS image and still allow users to install their own apps. (And you can also – relatively easily – repair the damage when a user installs an app that breaks something else.)
In some organizations, user acceptance will make or break a desktop virtualization project. In a native XenDesktop 4 deployment, if you want to allow the user to install applications, you have to dedicate an OS image to that user. If this is a requirement for a lot of your users, you’re going to burn up a lot of expensive SAN storage. If internal company politics will allow you to lock down the corporate desktop, great! Your life will be much easier. And, as we’ve observed elsewhere, XenClient promises to address this by giving the user multiple desktops: a corporate desktop that’s locked down, and a personal desktop where they can install their own applications. But if you are forced, for whatever reason, to allow your users to install their own applications on top of the corporate desktop image, Unidesk could save you a bunch of storage space, and maybe even your sanity.