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VDI Rolling Review: Citrix XenDesktop 3.0

Rolling Review Kickoff
VDI lowers operating expenses while providing an extra dose of security--users can't install software, so a major attack vector is effectively closed down.
Citrix XenDesktop 3.0
Citrix XenDesktop 3.0 brings a small technology advantage to our Rolling Review of virtual desktop infrastructure products.
Ericom's WebConnect
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Leostream Connection Broker
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Sun Microsystems VDI 3
Sun Microsystems' new and improved virtual desktop offering, VDI 3.0.
Sychron OnDemand Desktop
OnDemand Desktop provisions and deploys VMs fast, but has a few quirks, too.
Virtual Iron 4.5 VDI
Since this review ran, Oracle says it will use the Virtual Iron suite to complement Oracle VM, its own server virtualization software. We have included this article for historical purposes.
Rolling Review: VMware Shows Agility In View 3
Since this review ran, VMware has revved View to version 4. We have included this article for historical purposes.
Wrap Up
The players in our review ran the gamut from smaller vendors that primarily act as connection brokers to brand-name server virtualization players.

Citrix XenDesktop 3.0 brings a small technology advantage to our Rolling Review of virtual desktop infrastructure products. The successful integration of XenSource, now called Citrix XenServer, coupled with the dominant position of XenApp (formerly Presentation Server), helps XenDesktop 3.0 take full advantage of the ICA protocol to stream virtual desktops to clients. Its virtual desktop infrastructure, or VDI, competitors use the RDP protocol. While RDP 6.0 has closed the gap, ICA still lends itself to a better virtual desktop experience.

As is the case with VMware ESX and Microsoft's Hyper-V, it's a snap to build the back-end server virtualization components required to host virtual desktops. The XenCenter management module is noticeably speedier and more responsive than VMware's VirtualCenter client. Like VMware's VDI, Citrix doesn't tie you into using XenServer as a back end; you can use ESX or Hyper-V if you prefer.

Getting XenDesktop ready to serve out virtual desktops required some heavy lifting, though, compared with VMware VDI. Two core XenDesktop server components make the magic happen, and Citrix recommends that each be run on its own physical hardware. The Provisioning Server component manages the base virtual desktop images and provides significant deduplication capabilities.

Once we completed building our base virtual desktop with XenServer, we could quickly image it to the vDisk format that the provisioning server uses to launch subsequent static and pooled virtual desktops. As users make changes, add software and generally bloat the size of their user profiles within the operating system, the results of those changes are added to a separate file instead of to the base image. This allows IT to freely update the global image with critical updates and patches while preserving individual user environments inside a well-compressed sandbox.

The Desktop Delivery Controller server is the second piece required to complete the XenDesktop puzzle. The DDC is responsible for authentication, connection brokering, and Web accessibility to user virtual desktops. While there are plenty of moving parts here, Citrix does a good job automating as much of the heavy lifting as possible. Admins used to managing a Citrix Presentation Server or XenApp environment will feel right at home managing a XenDesktop environment.

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