In what is sure to be seen as a carefully timed spoiler, Citrix today released XenDesktop 5.5, XenApp 6.5, and XenClient 2 along with new versions of the Citrix Receiver client less than a week before VMworld opens its doors in Las Vegas.
For all that, there were few surprises in today’s release. Technology previews of all three products had been circulating since they were announced in May, the only real question aside from the date of the release was what would Citrix do with the vDesk technology it acquired with RingCube earlier this month and how would it be licensed. The news here is that vDesk has gone and in its place is “Personal vDisk” and that this will be available across all XenDesktop editions (VDI, Enterprise, and Platinum) at no additional cost. For the moment though this is no more than a rebranding and repackaging exercise. Support for Personal vDisk technology is only available through an Early Access Program and Citrix has not yet released any information as to when it will be considered production ready. Citrix’s current priority here will be to certify the stability and scalability of the technology against the production release of XenDesktop 5.5 no doubt with the goal to attempt to complete the work before Citrix Synergy Barcelona in October.
Citrix is positioning Personal vDisk as a bridging technology to provide the flexibility of a dedicated persistent virtual desktop environment with the cost advantages of pooled non-persistent desktops. There is little doubt that equipping users with Personal vDisks will enable IT to provide a personalized user experience, for those who can justify it, and it should go a long way to controlling virtual infrastructure storage requirements, but it still remains to be seen whether or not adding an additional layer into the already complex stack of technologies needed to deliver VDI is the right way to go.
Along with the core XenDesktop features Citrix is introducing a major update to its HDX remote display protocol. Improvements to HDX provide significant enhancements full Windows desktops, for example launching Windows applications up to two times faster than in previous releases as well as offering Windows 7 Aero display support via HDX all Microsoft RemoteFX and offering real-time voice and video improvements and broader support for collaboration applications. Citrix also claim to be able to increase desktop frame refresh rates from 24 frames per second up to a maximum of 85 frames per second, as well as reducing overall WAN bandwidth consumption to double the number of users on a given WAN link. And proving that Citrix isn’t averse to learning from its competitors taking a leaf from Teradici’s book in providing support for UDP-based voice and video streaming out of band from the TCP-based components making up the rest of the Windows desktop. One area that Teradici and VMware have still to address is providing QoS measures to prioritize traffic based on type of traffic (putting real-time voice and video traffic ahead of low priority print traffic for example). Now with XenDesktop 5.5 and XenApp 6.5 Citrix can uniquely assign QoS levels to traffic based on the type of user creating it. For example, assigning a doctor with greater traffic priority than an administrator.
Altogether there are over 150 new features and enhancements offered in this release of HDX
Considering the maturity of XenApp, 6.5 is a big release, with both major and minor User Experience focused enhancements seen across the board, for users and administrators alike.
One of the perennial complaints about XenApp has always been that no matter how fast it is, it is never fast enough. XenApp 6.5 introduces three new features designed to eliminate delays when launching or reconnecting to applications. Session prelaunch, will fire up predefined sessions the moment a user authenticates to the farm rather than waiting for them to explicitly request a session. Session Linger keeps existing sessions running on the XenApp server but disconnected from the endpoint rather than terminating the session immediately the user closes the application, eliminating the session setup time associated with requesting a new application. Fast Reconnect does exactly what the name suggests reducing the length of time it takes to reestablish a connection to a disconnected session should the need arise.
Along with these enhancements, XenApp 6.5 takes full advantage of the new HDX features that are also supported with XenDesktop 5.5.
Major new features aside, the administrators lot has also been significantly improved. Extensive use of PowerShell scripts and Group Policy Objects make infrequently performed tasks far easier to work with. These range from relatively simple niceties such as Windows Desktop Experience Integration (really just a PowerShell script that creates and applies a set of four GPos) provides a Windows 7 look and feel to the older Windows server 2008 user interface, through to a improved XenApp Power and Capacity Management tool that significantly simplifies the administrators work in managing this very valuable feature
Some things don’t change though. Citrix’s habit of renaming components at the drop of a hat continues unabated with the Citrix Delivery Service Console becoming the Citrix AppCenter.
Rounding out XenDesktop and XenApp Citrix has announced new clients (Citrix Receiver) for Apple iOS and Mac OS X, Android, Blackberry, Google Chrome OS, Microsoft Windows, and HP’s webOS. Although given recent events it’s not clear how much use is going to be made up that last one.
From a base platform perspective XenClient 2 provides support for 3x more laptops than the initial release, representing more than 45 million devices in total.
These two data points offer a surprisingly good of the relative maturity of XenClient compared to either XenDesktop or XenApp. Support for three times more laptops than the initial release is clearly a significant step forward, but contrast the 45 million devices that this represents with total PC shipments for 2010 of approximately 350 million units, and XenClient is barely scratching the surface.
Citrix is clearly leading the market with XenApp and XenDesktop, but the same cannot be said for XenClient