Citrix has reworked its XenDesktop desktop virtualisation software, in the process tying together its old and new technologies. The move is helpful rather than spectacular, but it highlights one of Citrix major strengths in this area, which is the huge number of customers using its established thin client systems. Desktop virtualisation is already growing fast, and will certainly accelerate next year as customers gain experience with what is mostly new technology and because of the catalytic effect of Windows 7.
Citrix has combined multiple architectures
Citrix built its business during the 1990s by selling back-end software that now dominates the market for thin client systems and powers the screens used by a claimed 100 million workers at 230,000 organisations.
Those traditional thin client systems give users access to shared single instances of applications. That is a form of desktop virtualisation, and it is not going away. But it is being supplemented by two new and more flexible ways of virtualising desktops. The first is known variously as hosted virtual desktops or virtual desktop infrastructure, and sees every employee given access to their own virtual machine running in the data centre. The second is streaming, in which applications or entire operating systems are sent on demand to desktop PCs.
Businesses are already mixing all three of these architectures, and in some cases also using another set-up in which employees are linked to individual blade servers running their desktops. The XenDesktop 4 software that will ship next month encompasses all four architectures, and Citrix has coined the term FlexCast to describe this choice of application delivery methods. In reality Citrix was already offering all of them, but across two products: XenDesktop and another Citrix tool called XenApp. Now Citrix has merged XenApp into XenDesktop 4.
Citrix has streamlined its licensing expect Microsoft to follow suit
Citrix has also switched from concurrent licensing to per-user licensing for XenDesktop, and XenDesktops all-in-one nature eliminates the need for businesses to make tricky predictions about which delivery method they will use for which applications. And the licences set no limits on how many or what different devices such as office PCs, home-owned laptops and mobile phones that employees can use to access their virtual desktops.
But that freedom is only for Citrix delivery software, not for the desktop itself. Microsoft does not yet offer this any-gadget licensing simplicity. For example, Microsoft currently requires more expensive licences for workers that use Macs rather than Windows PCs to access Windows virtual desktops. But it has already lopped off other restrictions from its virtual desktop licences, and it is very likely to continue down that path especially since it will very shortly step up its own capabilities in desktop virtualisation.
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