News: Game On! VMware Horizon 6 vs. Citrix XenDesktop/XenApp 7.5

VMware announced its new Horizon 6 product yesterday. The key new aspect of this offering is the addition of published application functionality, meaning that Horizon now competes directly with Citrix XenApp in addition to XenDesktop.

Virtualized applications have traditionally been Citrix’s turf, based on its XenApp product. XenApp and its predecessors—WinFrame, MetaFrame, and Presentation Server—matured the virtualized app marketplace and were uniquely positioned until today: April 9, 2014, was indeed a game-changing day for application virtualization.

A few key notables about this announcement:

  • VMware / Microsoft Partnering: VMware iterated that it has teamed with Microsoft in the development of this product.  If you flashback to several years ago when Microsoft wanted to crush VMware, the positive state of the relationship between the two companies has certainly changed.
  • Citrix XenApp to VMware Horizon 6 Transition: First you join ’em, then you kill ’em off. Horizon 6 installs on top of XenApp, captures what is needed, and then XenApp is deleted. That’s a brilliant strategy for migration.
  • Timing: This announcement occurred one month before Citrix’s massive Synergy event. The theme for Synergy 2014 is mobility, but will that change in light of the VMware announcement?

Competition: First the Hypervisor, Then Desktop Virtualization, Now Application Virtualization

VMware is now the de facto standard when it comes to the hypervisor. Citrix tried to compete with XenServer, and Microsoft tried to compete with Hyper-V, but the startup that was a thorn to both of those companies has won over the marketplace by providing the best hypervisor and related products. VMware persevered by developing excellent products even though they were more expensive, and the marketplace responded favorably. Notably, Microsoft always scores a win in this space anyway due to licensing of the virtualized operating system.

The virtualized desktop marketplace has been a heated debate for a few years now. While there are some smaller competitors, the names Citrix, VMware, and Microsoft are unquestionably the key players in VDI. Each has some key strengths ranging from cost to functionality. Again, Microsoft wins in all instances because it receives licensing fees for the operating system.

When VMware challenged Citrix in the VDI marketplace, did Citrix put too much emphasis on XenDesktop? Yes, starting around 2010, Citrix lost focus of its flagship product, XenApp, in order to compete furiously with VMware in the virtual desktop space. XenApp is and has always been a great product that addresses business requirements, and many IT professionals were disappointed that it lost focus within Citrix.

Did VMware release Horizon 6 and its new application virtualization functionality due to changes in the VDI marketplace? Or was the primary objective to challenge Citrix’ flagship product?

Because VDI has been marketed so heavily, some IT professionals were caught up in the whirlwind and considered implementing it without full justification. However, from both a business and technical perspective, virtualized applications often address requirements quite adequately, eliminating the perceived necessity for VDI. In addition, some organizations that have attempted to implement VDI have run into numerous and complex issues because VDI has historically been dependent upon so many moving parts.

And now VMware has challenged Citrix head on in the application virtualization space with its new Horizon 6 announcement. Although Citrix released XenApp 7.5 last month, that was largely a marketing play to relaunch the well-known name, XenApp, and return it to front and center status with respect to application virtualization.

While the VDI market continues to grow, VMware Horizon View 6 will likely propel the application virtualization functionality of both Citrix and VMware into primary focus. With more options available, organizations will rethink their business and technical requirements, as well as how to best address the needs of the end users. The pendulum will likely swing back toward application virtualization, but more importantly, the increased competition in this space will yield better products.

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