Just in case Citrix doesn’t have anything to talk about next week at their San Francisco Synergy, Desktone release v5.0 of their Desktop-As-A-Service platform. Previous releases focused on delivering a VDI environment (i.e. instances of hosted desktop  OSes): with the v5.0 release, Desktone have architected a platform to allow resellers and service providers to deliver and support heterogeneous end user-environments. With a  Desktone v5 platform, it is possible to deliver:

•    Hosted Full-Featured VDI:  to allow delivery of a desktop OS that replicates the experience of a physical Windows or Linux desktop.
•    Hosted Shared: by incorporating Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH) service providers have an option of offering a Microsoft SPLA compliant multi-tenancy Windows application and desktop delivery service; and if that wasn’t a mouthful..
•    Hosted Personal Windows Server: A feature that can be  utilized by small- to mid-sized companies to stand up and manage their own Windows server instances.

Peter McKay, Desktone’s CEO believes “the Desktone Platform is the first to give service providers the ability to provision and manage multiple types of hosted desktops from a single console”.

Surely”, I hear, “Citrix’s FlexCast model accomplishes exactly the same thing?”. Not quite: mind, you’ve got the likes of Quest, with technically competent solutions, all be it less prolific marketing machines, who can.  It is fair to say the FlexCast components are not as integrated as they could be. While Citrix has a reputation for being able to scale, there are complications in offering a multi-tenanted environment with XenApp & XenDesktop. DaaS service providers prefer simplicity and ease of use from their platform, resellers want to provide a solution where the remote desktop roll-out platform is as easy as possible so that they can get on with the business of wider transformation and adding value.

With v5.0, are Desktone able to stand up and say “tell you what – we can give a scalable environment that is easy to manage”? Desktone have early bites from Dell and Navisite.  Citrix have battered many a young pretender aside before. Can Desktone 5.0 succeed where others have failed, and net a hefty haul in the DaaS service shoal?

Desktone v5.0 – What’s New?

There are three core components to the new version of the platform designed to address DaaS issues of scale and simplicity with a view to keeping that service provision cost low:

  • Multi-tier Desktops: alongside VDI desktops, DaaS suppliers can now include RDSH and Personal Windows Server.  A VDI only solution comes under pressure cost-wise due to Microsoft’s lack of service provider licensing options: this can make a VDI only service expensive to stand-up. Microsoft RDSH (a.k.a Presentation Virtualisation or Terminal Services) solutions can give a greater user density, and are Microsoft Server Provider license friendly. Desktone claim to be the first in the industry to offer a platform that has a single management system for the brokering, provisioning and management a hybrid desktop delivery service.
  • Multi-Data Centre Management: To give the best experience to users, user workspaces need to be located close to the user data, and scale shouldn’t impact experience. With v5.0, Desktone claim scale thresholds up to 500k+ seats under one platform. Workspaces instances can be managed across multiple data centers from one management platform, allowing  the maximum available seat opportunities to be landed.
  • APIs: have been included to allow service providers interface for customising the platform for activities such as common task automation, ordering and billing and integration with current cloud portal reporting services.

To be fair, I’m not a fan of the term ‘multi-tier’ – I prefer the term “hybrid”. I prefer “hybrid” because an enterprise desktop delivery model needs to have a variety of approaches to delivering a workspace to users, distinct for sure but working together to create a better whole. The headline may be Desktone’s enhancement of their platform to support a hybrid workspace delivery model but service providers large and small will see value in the multi-data centre on/off premise  management approach.

Desktone v5 comparison to Citrix FlexCast?

Citrix FlexCast isn’t a product, or a protocol,  but rather the concept that IT should be able to deliver a variety of types of virtual desktop with each tailored to meet the performance, security and flexibility requirements of the user. There is no one size that fits all, so why try and shoehorn users into a particular solution? More often than not, you need a bigger boat.. load of options.

We’ve asked the question “who can outmanoeuvre Citrix Flexcast?” before. With Desktone’s release that chart could do with some updating – so let’s bring it into the year of the Dragon.

Vendor Presentation Virtualisation/Terminal Services Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
Application Virtualisation Local Virtual Machines Streamed OS Delivery Traditional Desktop Management
Citrix Y Y Y Y Y
Desktone Y Y
Ericom Y Y
Quest/MokaFive Y Y Y
Microsoft Y Y Y Y  Y
VMware Y Y
Virtual Bridges Y Y Y

While Desktone’s platform improves with new offerings – it still has components missing in comparison to the full FlexCast range: no ability to stream an OS to a physical desktop option for instance, a lack of application virtualisation.

However consider that goal is to appeal to those offering DaaS, and that model is still very much focused on  delivery of desktops from central locations via a remote protocol. Importantly, a DaaS platform needs to utilise components that can be happily multi-tenanted: to keep costs as low as possible. Within a Citrix FlexCast environment adding in XenDesktop services requires a range of additional services and Microsoft licenses that add complexity (and so cost) which can have a negative impact on multi-tenant environments. If you change the scope of the criteria for looking at DaaS provision you can come up with the following environment

Vendor Presentation Virtualisation/Terminal Services Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
APIs Multi DataCenter Support

Single Management Environment
Citrix green check Who can outmanoeuvre Citrix Flexcast? green check Who can outmanoeuvre Citrix Flexcast? green check Who can outmanoeuvre Citrix Flexcast? Y
Desktone Y Y  Y  Y  Y

There is of course a question, “why should a hybrid approach only consider remoted environments” – and that is a great question, but one to consider for another day.

Multi-Tenancy: the most disgusting word in the DaaS Lexicon?

Despite “OnLiveGate” causing much rankle and ire we’ve discussed before that VDI cannot be DaaS until Microsoft say so.  Even with Windows 8 on the horizon, Microsoft’s VDI licensing does not embrace a multi-tenanted environment in the same way as licensing for RDSH.

How can Desktone’s environment be “multi-tenant” in a hybrid model? Good question. How does a hybrid platform provide for a multi-tenancy environment when (if you’re delivering Microsoft Windows OSes) there is no such option? It is possible by allowing for a multi-tenancy environment where it is possible; and then accommodates sharing of services where it does not. By using IT for it’s purpose – to automate processes.

Citrix are a clear leader in terms of providing services around RDSH. However, the core RDSH environment has evolved: a number of resellers are questioning the need for adding Citrix services on top. Despite the policy configuration, despite the monitoring options, despite the range of automation a platform based around Citrix’s can be expensive – not only in terms of licensing but also in terms of infrastructure and management. Citrix are working on this, but given current Citrix’s current ecosystem it has to be a good 12-18 months before there is a viable cross environment service. This is a pity because with purchase of Kaviza, Citrix could have reduced that: but VDI-in-a-Box has been re-focused onto the SMB market. Perhaps Citrix see the future not in providing the means to create the workspace, but in order to gain access to that workspace.

DaaS providers needs multi-tenancy in order to drive down costs. From a multi-tenant DaaS perspective, it’d be best to have no Microsoft products at all – but that would dramatically curtail your market. With a hybrid delivery model, and without management and delivery services being reliant on Microsoft OSes and database licenses, a greater degree of multi-tenancy is possible.

It is not the winning that counts, but the taking part?

Desktone’s v5 have what appears to be a more focused DaaS platform model than Citrix can bring to the table today. Obviously, Citrix’s environment has evolved over time whereas Desktone has been built for service providers. Will this mean that large organisations with an embedded Citrix platform will change tomorrow? Unlikely: big powerful vessels don’t turn on a pin.

However, there are a large number of customers on the edge of desktop transformation as 2014 looms and Windows 7 becomes more palatable given it is granted its sea legs with the release of Windows 8. Consumerisation and mobility are pushing the slow drip need for application and data access beyond the cubicle to a larger wave of demand. It is not only Microsoft XP that is coming to the end of its life, many Citrix products go EOL in 2013.

Citrix’s initial benefits were a multi-user Windows environment and their ICA protocol. Both are being shown to be decreasingly differential. Desktone v5 can challenge the concept that the only vendor who can scale is Citrix, that Microsoft RDSH can’t be readily managed without Citrix’s products. Desktone are looking to help deliver a hybrid approach and offer a service stack that enables that for multi-tenancy.

For service providers and resellers alike, the ability to offer customers a platform that can be managed and maintained with Linux based appliances and a single view of services will be compelling. Desktone is offering that platform. Desktone have landed some important players – it will be interesting to see what future casts of the Desktone net can be bring in.

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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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