Citrix XenDesktop Essentials: The Essential Part of a Cloud-Based Platform?

Citrix’s much-anticipated XenDesktop Essentials product is now almost ready for release. A few days ago, it released pricing and purchasing options, which are intended to allow those interested in the platform to start planning for adoption. XenDesktop Essentials allows you to deliver Windows 10 desktops from the Azure cloud to a multitude of devices—Linux, Mac, Android, and Windows—and harness the power of the Citrix Receiver software. But of course, the infrastructure is all managed together by Microsoft (for the Azure side) and Citrix itself. All you have to do is provide the image, either a standard one from the Azure Marketplace or one you have created yourself.

XenDesktop Essentials is part of the wider Citrix Cloud suite, which includes the Citrix Cloud XenApp and XenDesktop Service. The main difference between the Essentials product and the wider XenDesktop Service (which Essentials actually uses in the background) is that Essentials can only deliver Windows 10 desktops (no other apps or desktops), it can only run Windows (so no Linux desktops), and it runs fully in Azure—there is no option to host any of it on-premises or as a hybrid cloud implementation.

Very soon, XenDesktop Essentials will be joined by XenApp Essentials, which will replace Azure RemoteApp. It is not yet clear whether these two services can be joined together as a single subscription or not.

With regard to the approach of the XenDesktop Essentials offering, the main area that customers have made queries about has been the cost. For a long time, there has been a significant cost to building and maintaining Citrix infrastructure. What is the cost going to be for XenDesktop Essentials?

Firstly, Microsoft announced some changes to its Product Use Rights (PUR) for Windows 10. Customers with Enterprise Agreement (EA) rights who are also under Software Assurance (SA) and have Windows 10 Enterprise licensed per user can now deliver Windows 10 desktops from Azure in this fashion. They have to be Current Branch for Business devices, though: Long-Term Servicing Branch  (LTSB) is not supported. Eligible customers will be able to run XenDesktop Essentials from the Azure Marketplace to provision cloud-based desktops.

The initial cost is advertised at $12 per user per month for a minimum of twenty-five users. This compares to the full Citrix Cloud XenDesktop Service, which is priced at around $270 per user annually. However, this cost merely covers the Citrix Cloud IaaS aspect (management, provisioning, etc.), which provides all of your usual Citrix infrastructure (databases, controllers, brokers, etc.) and the support required. The cost of the OS for this infrastructure and the Azure rental is also part of the $12 charge.

You also have to pay for all of the resources within Azure for your Windows 10 clients (network, storage, compute, etc.) and for the Windows 10 licenses that these clients need to run. Effectively, you need to bring your own licenses and your own Azure subscription as well. Obviously, if you need AD integration and any other supporting technologies to enhance the Windows 10 experience, then this infrastructure also would have to be provisioned separately within Azure. For instance, if you want to secure access through the likes of NetScaler, then you will also have to provide licenses for that (although the actual Azure NetScaler appliance itself is free).

Monitoring is provided as part of the base service, through Citrix Director and the Azure portal itself. Features such as Citrix UPM or Citrix WEM for managing policy and profiles are not yet available, although this may change in future releases.

So, does the XenDesktop Essentials service stack up to a compelling option for enterprises out there?

From a cost perspective, there is still the underlying feeling that there is potential for many hidden charges. It will take trial runs for companies to get a true feel for what the month-on-month expenditure is when investing in this service. How that measures up against existing costs is likely to be vital.

If you’ve already got an existing Citrix infrastructure, maybe not so much. Investment in the product and the skills required to support it mean that it might not be a “must-have” feature for those with big existing investments in the stack. Even if there are seasonal bursts of extra workloads, any existing Citrix implementation can probably support the demand.

However, for companies that simply want Windows 10 desktops available on-demand from the cloud, or that wish to scale back on their Citrix resource requirements yet keep all the benefits the product brings, then it probably represents a good investment. Only time will tell how widespread the demand will be, and that will probably depend heavily on the features it can continue to add to it. However, the arrival of XenDesktop Essentials represents a significant step forward in the provisioning of true cloud-based desktops.

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