Citrix to release XenDesktop 5

Last week during Citrix’s Synergy event in Berlin Germany, the company announced the up and coming release of the next edition of their virtual desktop platform, XenDesktop 5. Focusing on greater management and end user experience, XenDesktop 5 comes right on the heels of the latest feature release of the XenDesktop 4 line, which was the release of the client-side hypervisor product, XenClient.

Management Enhancements

Citrix has added two new management consoles to help configure and manage the environments more granularly.

Desktop Studio Console is where administrators will build, test and deploy virtual desktops. From the online demos, Citrix appears to have done a good job to make the initial setup and configuration very simple. Finally, the core components will run on Server 2008 R2 and the installation wizard easily integrates with the major hypervisors (ESX, Hyper-V and Xen) and storage management systems.  A feature called Onboarding Provisioning Services enables thin provisioning of user desktops. This feature looks like a new front end and name to the current Provisioning Services product.

Citrix has taken pains to address much of the criticism of the complexity of XenDesktop.  The complexity is still there but masked behind a streamlined setup process that extends the XenServer marking promise of “10 minutes to Xen” to include XenDesktop 5.  Users looking to get a quick Proof of Concept will be able to take advantage of this easy setup routine.

Desktop Director Console is a web-based tool that gives the administrator a complete view of the health of the entire solution along with the ability to drill down into individual sessions. The console includes new alerts and performance charts, which I assume is being generated from Citrix EdgeSight.

Support personnel will be able to use the Desktop Director to look at how a user’s session is running, and through the use of Microsoft’s Remote Assistance, will be able to shadow and fix issues within an active session.

Power management controls have been added so the administrator can start, stop, suspend and even force a restart on a running session. Virtual machines can be marked in Maintenance Mode which restricts access to new sessions of a VM pool or if a user is already logged in, mark it for maintenance when the user session is logged off. Once in this mode, the administrator can make changes to the VM knowing that the changes are applied across all VMs in the pool.

HDX Enhancements

It wouldn’t be a Citrix release without an update to their ICA protocol stack and client.  Although some of the details are still sketchy, Citrix is claiming a reduction in bandwidth in audio and video by 80%, and in Mark Templeton’s keynote, claimed printing speeds have improved 100%. Let’s see the real numbers in the GA product. Here is what we do know:

Say goodbye to Dazzle

When the self-help, user provisioning tool was announced under the name “Dazzle”, I remember scratching my head saying “really, Dazzle?” In XD5 they have dropped the name and have integrated the UI with the Receiver client. Integrated with single sign-on (Password Manager), Citrix is now claiming the ability to provision XenApp hosted Windows, Citrix Streamed, App-V Streamed, Web and SaaS applications. As much as we all hate name changes, this one I am not too upset about.

Dynamic Color Compression will enable users to move from one device to another and have the video resolution adjust to what is appropriate to the device they are running. I am not sure how many users are going to move from their desktop to their iPad and back, but the demo from Synergy in San Francisco earlier this year demonstrated the capability to virtually push a session from one device to another. This feature will also adjust the other ICA channels (or HDX enhancements) based upon the clients network connectivity.

XenVault is a feature previewed earlier this year; this technology enables the ability to encrypt a portion of the local hard drive to store sensitive application and corporate data used during an active session. It is designed to prevent a user from saving and accessing confidential data after the user disconnects from a hosted session.

Although the complete feature list for this new release is not yet public, we do know that XenDesktop 5 is in limited beta release and our best estimate is for a late Q4 release. I am a little surprised over the introduction of two new consoles, and no mention of integration with existing Citrix consoles or Microsoft’s System Center. With the majority of Citrix’s XenDesktop customers also XenApp users, there needs to be better integration and management with these two solutions so they can work seamlessly together.

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