Citrix VDI-in-a-Box goes mainstream

In a much needed change of direction, Citrix has taken the training wheels off VDI-in-a-Box (VIAB) and is allowing it to compete unfettered against XenDesktop.

Citrix has struggled to position VDI-in-a-Box since it acquired Kaviza in 2010. In a move seen by many as an attempt to protect its flagship product XenDesktop from encroachment by its internal competition, Citrix first marketing VIAB as a pure SMB solution targeted at deployments of no more than 300 desktops. This cap was later raised to 500 and then 3,000 desktops as system integrators pushed back against Citrix, recognizing that VIAB was both capable of meeting most customers needs and a far less daunting proposition to take on (and hence sell) than XenDesktop. at the same time though, Citrix hobbled VIAB by excluding it from resellers sales quotas and failing to offer a a licensing upgrade from it to XenDesktop for customers needing XenDesktop’s greater flexibility (although in practice there appears to have been a tacit understanding that customers would be allowed to upgrade if they asked).

Now, however Citrix has chosen to listen to its critics and fully acknowledge that VDI-in-a-Box is not just for the SMB. Instead Citrix is recasting it as being suitable for environments of any size, focusing on use case rather than the number of desktops. Suggesting that pure VDI environments use VIAB and those needed the additional flexibility of Flexcast to deliver application virtualization/streaming and XenApp application hosting go for XenDesktop. At the same time, at it’s annual Sales Kickoff event in January Citrix announced that it has repositioned VIAB as a “Core” Citrix product, meaning that resellers will be compensated for VIAB sales in the same what that they are for XenDesktop, XenApp and the other Core Products.

System integrators will benefit from the change in status of VDI-in-a-Box, however the benefits to Citrix may be more significant. Many Citrix partners also offer VMware View and given the choice of selling View which has long been a “Core” VMware product or VDI-in-a-Box, will have pushed View knowing both that they will be fully compensated for selling it and that View is not constrained by any marketing imposed “limitations”. What Citrix resellers may be less happy about is the decision by Citrix to create a new sales program designed for smaller partners. The “SMB Specialist” program is free to join and allows members to sell VDI-in-a-Box, Access Gateway and XenApp Fundamentals with minimal effort requiring only a few hours of online training to join the program. Opening the door to a potentially large number of new resellers may be to Citrix’s benefit, but is unlikely to please existing partners who have had to invest in training to be allowed to participate in all prior partner programs. Citrix has announced two additional measures that might go some way to smoothing some ruffled feathers – Introducing an upgrade path from VIAB to XenDesktop for the first time and reintroducing the VIAB service provider edition that was dropped when Citrix acquired Kaviza in May 2010, but it isn’t clear how well received these changes will be.

One of the first criticisms leveled at Citrix following the Kaviza acquisition was the lack of any means of upgrading to XenDesktop for those customers who felt that they had outgrown VIAB, as well as a perception that this created a degree of lock in that might have steered some potential customers towards VMware View or Quest vWorkspace if they felt that future growth needed to be taken into account. While there was always a tacit understanding that Citrix would find away to ease the upgrade path to XenDesktop for VIAB customers the lack of a formal program to do this was a cause for concern and introduction of a formal upgrade path will be seen as a welcome change by all. Upgrade license pricing has been announced at $90 to upgrade to XenDesktop Enterprise and $225 to upgrade to Platinum edition for user/device licensing; the price for upgrading to XenDesktop concurrent licenses has been set at $390 for Enterprise and $610 for Platinum. This is however a license trade up only.  At present there is no technical upgrade path from one platform to the other, leaving room for ecosystem partners to develop tools to simplify migration should the need arise.

Kaviza offered a service provider edition of VIAB before the Citrix acquisition, but Citrix dropped it in favor of steering potential service provider customers towards XenDesktop as soon as the deal was confirmed. Now however VDI-in-a-Box for Service Providers is back, giving VDI service providers a second Citrix platform to work with. Of all the VDI-in-a-Box announcements this is the hardest to understand.  The additional flexibility of XenDesktop over VIAB would appear to suggest that it would be a better choice for service providers of any size, and certainly any service provider who could not handle the additional complexity of XenDesktop would be best advised that being a service provider is perhaps not the right path direction to head. The only real argument in favor of adopting a service provider edition of VIAB over XenDesktop is cost, which makes the decision doubly hard to understand given that Citrix has the means at its disposal to control pricing so that a service provider can deliver XenDesktop at the same price point that it could VIAB. Citrix will be making VDI-in-a-Box for Service Providers available for $9.63/active subscriber/month.

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