The good and the bad of Citrix XenDesktop


I got into a spirited debate on twitter with a buddy regarding XenDesktop vs. VMware Horizon Suite.  I’m beginning to educate myself on the entire Horizon Suite but the last time I did a trade study between the two, XenDesktop handily beat out View when it was a standalone product.  I plan on during a full comparison of View and XenDesktop.  But, before I do a comparison I thought I’d share what I like and don’t like about XenDesktop.

Read about the death of VDI 

What I like

  • Client support – I’d be more surprised if you can find a platform XenDesktop isn’t supported on.  XenApp/XenDesktop uses the Citrix ICA protocol and therefore the Citrix Receiver.  There’s client’s for Blackberry, Windows 8, iOS, Linux and Android just to name a few.
  • Integration with XenApp – A VDI solutions is not just about virtualizing the desktop but also about providing access to applications.  XenDesktop shares a lot of common backend infrastructure and features with XenApp.  You can use the same web portal for both your applications and desktops.
  • Multi-Hypervisor support – Of course Citrix would like for you to use XenServer but you can also use vSphere and Hyper-V for you underlying VDI hypervisor.
  • Flexibility – Citrix has integrated a great provisioning server into its offering.  The solution is designed to provide desktop sessions regardless of the underlying desktop technology.  You have a need to provide pooled physical desktops to a subset of users then no problem.  Just as long as you can install the client agent on the VM or Physical PC then you can use XenDesktop.
  • Graphics Support – ICA is a very mature protocol.  Citrix has long given you the ability to run graphics intense application such as AutoCAD within a VDI session.  During HD video within a Citrix client is no big deal.
  • Printing – Printing used to be one of the things I hated most about Citrix.  You can now reliably use most off the shelf printers within you VDI environment.

The good and (mainly) bad of AWS VDI

What I don’t like

  • Troubleshooting – When Citrix breaks, it breaks hard.  Living without a support contract with Citrix is like walking without a net.  When I need to call them it’s usually not anything simple.
  • Complexity – With flexibility normally come complexity.  XenDesktop is no different.  You have a ton of options for provisioning desktops, broker configuration, web portal options and etc.  If you don’t have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish it’s easy to overcomplicate your design.
  • Lack of offline mode – Citrix ICA is a streaming protocol meant to be used with thin clients.  If you don’t have an Internet connection then you don’t have access to your desktops.  This should be a major part of your decision making process when considering VDI solutions in general as there’s really no ideal option for offline access.
  • Management interface – There are simply some basic things you can’t do from the management GUI.  This makes the learning curve for the application steep as not everything is well documented.
  • Talent availability – If you know Citrix you already know how high demand your skill is in the market place.  Because it’s good, because it’s complex and because there’s not a ton of 3rd party documentation it can be really difficult to find talented Citrix administrators.  This can really be a major issue based on geography.

Once you decide that VDI is the right solution for your specific business challenge, I believe the good outweighs the bad in the XenDesktop universe.  I expect to come up to speed with View and do a comparison between the two solutions.  What’s your take on the good and bad of XenDesktop or VDI solutions in general?

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Published by Keith Townsend

Now I'm @CTOAdvisor

8 thoughts on “The good and the bad of Citrix XenDesktop

  1. Hi, i’m dueling now with citri xendesktop, and i agree your consideration about, at now i never dueling with vmware horizon, for what you wrote i think you know both solutions.

  2. view doesn’t have offline mode. Vmware made the savvy acquisition of Mirage, and Citrix have XenClient – both are viable offline options: depending on your XenDesktop license you’re entitled to use XenClient. Virtual Bridges are probably the only vendor I can think of that has an even vaguely integrated offline/online capability. And even then, my question is “why”?

    Could you expand “management interface” issues? I’ve not experienced that myself.

    I think you call out a good critique of expertise for VDI – in terms of talent availability. Don’t expect your desktop tech guys to pick up and transition to VDI simply – it rarely happens. But, I’d say that’s not a XenDesktop issue, thats a hosted desktop issue. .

    1. I’ve played around with XenClient and while cool it isn’t practical with the limited hardware support. But, I tend to agree that if you need “offline” mode you haven’t really thought out if VDI is a solution for your environment.

      So, it sounds like you are pretty familiar with XenDesktop. What I mean by “Management interface” is that you will not be able to get away with just point and click in managing your environment. You will need to become familiar with the PowerShell to get things done like deleting orphaned objects etc… Very similar to having to have to manage an Exchange environment.

      I have been surprised at how hard it is for tradition Desktop/System Admins to make the transition to supporting VDI in general.

      Great comments.

  3. Keith,

    Thanks for the good blog article that you wrote, however licensing wise, for the same amount of user, which one is more expensive ?

    1. I believe from a software license perspective View is cheaper. However, I normally look at things from a requirements and management approach. View has made strides but I still believe (gut call) that XenDesktop is a overall stronger solution. But, now it at least competes for most use cases.

  4. In my opinion the biggest pro of XenDesktop 7 is that is also integrates Remote Desktop servers for hosting virtual desktops (what was delivered by XenApp before).
    RD servers are much more economical and scalable than virtual workstations and cover most of the application provisioning use cases.
    Sure, virtual workstations also have their use cases, but I have never understood that the VDI hype is always only coupled to workstations and not RD servers.

  5. Being a VMware View guy initially, the implementation side is more simple, and the transfer server (off-line mode), while nice, does require a little planning for a successful use case. Books and documentation are plentiful, and I like ThinApp 4.7. There are nuances with managing and leveraging, such as recompose versus build outs.

    Now I am involved with Citrix 5.6 and XenApp 6.X. The difficulty for me was learning the terminology, and applying it to my VMware View mentality. I found it was more simple to just learn it and see how the the architecture works. Documentation is OK, but books are lacking and having someone explain the architecture….well, sometime you get different answers, so I found independent research to help, especially in regards to UPM, and PVS.

    So my call is, learn both and know when you can leverage dependent on customer and requirements.

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