At Citrix Synergy in Barcleona, I got to have a look at Citrix’s latest addition to the FlexCast technology stack, Citrix RemotePC. Citrix RemotePC was released as part of Citrix XenDesktop 5.6 Feature Pack 1. While XenDesktop is Citrix’s hosted desktop solution, but Citrix Remote PC is not a virtualised desktop. Citrix Remote PC is secure brokering of a physical Windows endpoint (be that a desktop or a laptop) in your office, via Citrix’s HDX technology.

We’ve stated before there are three fundamental difficulties facing any virtualised desktop solution. They are:

1. What to do with the desktops that can’t be virtualized?
2. What to do with the desktops that can’t be virtualized?

and, most importantly,

3. What to do with the desktops that can’t be virtualized?

There are many business drivers for remote access to desktop applications. Improved flexible working options, enabling access during transport strikes, severe weather or just simply the wrong type of snow. Enabling remote access can be used as part of a more secure platform for accessing corporate applications and data. Maybe its not even that complicated: your users just want to be able to access their desktop applications and data from their tablet-of-choice while in a meeting, or away from their desk in the office.

The hosted desktop answer to this question is to take your desktop instances and host them in a datacentre. All dandy, but that process can be an expensive and time consuming task.  “Can’t be virtualized” might not just be a technical problem, but a problem of complexity, risk, effort and cost.

Yes, there are solutions allowing remote access to a desktop/laptop device: Citrix’s own GoToMyPC has competition from the likes of LogMeIn, Teamviewer, TightVNC and YuuGuu. However, there is always concern about introducing such solutions in terms of “who now has access?”, and “how do we manage it?”.

With Citrix Remote PC organisations can have centralized control over a range of services (printing, clipboard, local drives), automated provisioning of PC to end-users, and the high performance and client compatibility of Citrix HDX.

Will Citrix RemotePC be the dime/10p/.1€ bag that gets companies hooked on wider VDI, or does “good enough” do? If you have Citirx RemotePC, do you need a VDI solution?

Hows does Citrix Remote PC work?

Citrix RemotePC  is a component of XenDesktop 5.6 Feature Pack 1. If you’re up-to-date with your XenDesktop licensing – you’re good to go, or you can download an eval from Citrix.

If we work on you not having a XD 5.6 broker up and running (there are likely some of you in this position) the components needed for Remote PC are:

  1. The XenDesktop 5.6 FP1 Broker service installed on a Windows server.
  2. The Remote PC Services installed – this optional service attaches to a XD 5.6 broker and autoassigns the user to their machine without IT/HelpDesk intervention meaning that  the user doesn’t have to remember their machine name/IP address.
  3. The latest Virtual Desktop Agent (VDA) (the agent to be installed on the physical Windows PCs)

To deploy Remote PC:

  1. Install the XenDesktop 5.6 broker
  2. Install Remote PC Service on the XD 5.6 broker – although optional this component removes the need for the user to remember specific details about their PC.
  3. Install VDA on the host PC pointing to XenDesktop broker, then reboot and login as the user locally once. The user is now assigned to their own dekstop

RemotePC works by utilising a new Powershell script service .  This script automates creating a Catalog, Desktop Group, and adding machines, eliminating the need for administrators to manually populate the environment. RemotePC then taps into the the  full Citrix HDX experience to physical PCs. Users can have good performance over high latency networks, access from a wide range of devices using the Citrix Receiver client.

Citrix Remote PC integrates with the Citrix’s delivery platform just like XenDesktop or XenApp. You can provide access to internal resources with web technologies such as Citrix Web Interface or Citrix’s Storefront via a range of secure VPN solutions like Citrix’s Access Gateway or Netscaler product line.

Commendably straightforward from an initial deployment (as long as we gloss over the relative complexity of enabling say, Access Gateway services, or Storefront). Yes you need a broker service – but that broker doesn’t have to sit on a hypervisor.  No VDI storage requirements: so no need to optimise storage. No concerns over where to put all the servers to host the virtual machines.

Still, this is a Windows only solution. While you can use Citrix Receiver on a Mac to access this service – you can’t have an Apple Mac as a  host device.  Despite having some experimental services in the preview releases, there is no automated power management yet either: so those machines need to stay powered on. Such an omission will surely have to change for customers who could wince at the thought of having to do their carbon footprint calculations again, let alone steal themselves for a peek at their future electricity bills.

Citrix Remote PC and Microsoft Licensing

Hosted desktop licensing in a Microsoft environment isn’t rocket science. However, there is a  simplicity in Microsoft licensing for Citrix Remote PC because you are using the inherent remote access license available in a Windows OS.  Application vendors may well not be as easily swayed but importantly, there is no need for  any application virtualisation solutions here. There is no concern about multi-tenancy of virtualised instances. You users are simply accessing their desktop remotely, in a controlled way.

Citrix Remote PC – Simplicity?

We’ve stated before – the virtual desktop design maxim is Start With User Requirements. When considering a Virtual Desktop Design a good architect needs to ask “what is the best solution for this environment?”  Virtual desktop solutions, like hosted desktops, can solve a number of issues – faster OS upgrades or application updates, disaster recovery as well as mobility and access from a range of devices.

However, the business transformation required to deliver that is complex.  Even for small organisations who might consider VDI turnkey solutions, there is a process needed to categorize  users activities and determine which applications they need, to determine the resource impact of those applications running on a centralised device. You then need to buy the hardware, install the hardware, make sure the hardware sings nicely. A full virtualised desktop project can take months.

With Citrix Remote PC you can deliver a mobility solution in a far shorter time-scale because the focus on changing the user’s device has gone. No application changes, no desktop OS changes, minimum new hardware modifications. Indeed the simplicity is such you start to ask the question could, could Citrix Remote PC offer appliance vendors an interesting alternative to turnkey VDI solutions?  A Remote PC-in-a-box solution? An appliance built to deliver and manage XenClient to provide the environment and RemotePC to enhance mobility? Unlikely for Citrix: but the technology Citrix have employed could well be mirrored by other vendors.

For many organisations, a technology such as Citrix Remote PC may well remove a need for VDI: if you deliver on the requirements of mobility why do anything else? You may ask – “Isn’t Citrix about remote application and desktop delivery?” Citrix is about access, and with Remote PC you’re getting access. From a Citrix shareholder perspective, you still need a XenDesktop license – as a solution its not impacting revenue, or the ability for organisations to morph this service into a more fully fledged VDI solution over time.

Granted Citrix Remote PC doesn’t provide answers to a raft of issue typically associated with VDI. What happens when you’re hoteling/hotdesking users and you need to share desk space? Where you want to replace desktop with thin-clients to reduce desk-side support. How does it work for users on a job-share scheme? How does it work for DR should you lose a building? Besides these, there are still questions that need to be answered around power management of devices.  It is of no use if you’ve an Apple Mac – but then you probably don’t care as your Mac is as light as a feather and your mobility solution is a  skateboard. But these issues asides – there is still a large market segment where there is potential for this to be an effective solution for mobile access to desktop data and applications.  Again, by being a component of XenDesktop investment in this solution

Yes, there are services available that perform similar tasks: yet none support the range of client devices that Citrix does, none give you the granularity of control over functions and arguably none give the remote user experience that Citrix Remote PC using HDX can deliver.

Sometimes accessing remote desktops doesn’t need to be hard or overly expensive. Citrix Remote PC demonstrates that.

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Andrew Wood (144 Posts)

Andrew is a Director of Gilwood CS Ltd, based in the North East of England, which specialises in delivering and optimising server and application virtualisation solutions. With 12 years of experience in developing architectures that deliver server based computing implementations from small-medium size business to global enterprise solutions, his role involves examining emerging technology trends, vendor strategies, development and integration issues, and management best practices.

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3 comments for “Citrix Remote PC: VDI complexity solved, or a kick start to a VDI project?

  1. November 1, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    I rather feel as though Citrix has backed itself into a corner here. As a feature, Remote PC works very well is minimally functional. However, it could, with little effort, stand alone as separate product as an enterprise version of Go To My PC, yet if it was a standalone product, would it slow XenDesktop growth?

    regards

    Simon

  2. November 2, 2012 at 7:59 AM

    Why does it need to be a separate product? Why not simply do as is being done – make it a feature of XenDesktop? There’d be very little to gain (licensing/cost wise) of making it a separate product. Having it as part of xendesktop is truer to the flexcast model.

    As I said in the article – I don’t think it impacts adoption of hosted desktops: I think if anything it addresses models and use cases for organisations where “VDI” is considered “too much”

    if we wanted to talk about “backed in a corner” it’d be XenDesktop / VDI-in-a-box. Buts thats a different conversation.

  3. Greg
    January 31, 2014 at 9:40 PM

    I am in the middle of a POC with this product. It would be nice if we could publish with RDP and spare the VDA install on PC that just require basic desktop access.

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