Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is a business critical workload deployed by many large enterprises. It helps deliver desktops to employees in a more efficient manner, without the need to provision and maintain a physical workstation for each employee. In this article, I’ll compare the two leading on-premise VDI solutions: VMware Horizon and Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops.
What is VMware Horizon?
VMware Horizon provides virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) capabilities that let you remotely deliver and manage virtual desktops and applications. You can host and manage your desktops and applications in a local data center, in the cloud, and in hybrid or multi-cloud environments.
Here are several key capabilities of VMware Horizon:
- Simple and automated desktop and application management—that enables you to quickly create and deliver virtualized desktops and applications on demand.
- Secure and centralized control plane—you can define resources per location and profile, and use a single control plane to securely deliver desktops to end users. Data can be securely stored according to compliance requirements.
- Flexible and consistent user experience—virtual desktops can be accessed through a variety of locations, networks, and devices. End users can use their personal desktops, personally owned devices like laptops, thin client devices like tablets and smartphones, or through remote RDSH-published applications located on company laptops.
What is Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops?
Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops is a virtualization solution that gives users access to desktops from any device or operating system, including personal and mobile devices, while supporting IT control over virtual machines, applications and security.
Key capabilities of Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops include:
- Fully managed installation, setup, upgrades, and monitoring, while the customer retains full control over applications, policies, and user policies.
- Citrix Cloud Connector provides a communication channel between Citrix Cloud and resource locations—sites managed by your organization that provide applications and desktops to users. The Citrix control plane connects to your local resources without requiring complex network or infrastructure configurations (e.g. VPN and IPsec tunnels).
- Citrix Managed Azure makes it easy to deploy virtual applications and desktops to the public cloud. Citrix manages the infrastructure used to deliver workloads in the Azure cloud. This can be used to extend local resources to the cloud, enabling a hybrid deployment.
Citrix vs VMware: Which to Choose
Let’s compare VMware Horizon and Citrix on several dimensions important to enterprise VDI deployments.
Citrix supports multiple hosting options, while VMware supports only its own hypervisor, ESXi. This reduces flexibility, but is also a benefit, since ESXi is the industry leading enterprise-grade hypervisor.
In a VDI deployment, the service broker accepts user connections and matches them to eligible virtualized desktops or applications. The basic brokerage service is the same for Citrix and VMware. Beyond the basic functionality:
- Citrix offers Citrix Director, which provides web-based administration for help desk and administrator level tasks. It provides environmental health metrics and handy troubleshooting tools for diagnosing and handling user sessions. You can also use it to optimize resource utilization on VDI machines.
- Horizon provides the Helpdesk Utility and vRealize for View, which are also capable administrative tools, but have only basic functionality compared to the Citrix offering.
Citrix provides Machine Creation Services (MCS), while VMware provides Linked Clone, both of which allow creation of virtual desktops from base images.
The primary differentiation between them is that Citrix provides Provisioning Services (PVS), a streaming technology that can automatically deliver patches and updates to virtual desktops through a shared image. VMware offers Instant Clones, which provides rapid creation of desktop pools using vmFork technology. The primary difference is that PVS provides updates via the network, while Instant Clones commits resources directly to storage.
Citrix provides Storefront, a powerful management interface that gives administrators exact control over the desktop user experience. However, configuration of View Connections is less convenient, relying on configuration files. VMware provides Horizon Administrator, which lets you configure the Connection Server and manage desktops and applications, but at a lower level of granularity compared to Citrix.
Citrix provides Citrix Gateway, which is a very capable solution, but requires additional licenses and specialized personnel to manage. It is based on NetScaler, which requires networking expertise to manage. VMware Security Server is less fully featured but very easy for beginners. You can import your device and deploy UAGs with just a few clicks in a wizard interface.
Citrix or VMware?
Both Citrix and VMware are veteran players in the VDI space. Each solution has its unique value proposition:
- VMware focuses on stability and reliability, is a simplified and easier to use solution, but provides less advanced management and communication features.
- Citrix is the clear winner in features and management options, and also offers a better user experience due to customization options in the desktop environment. However, it is also more complex to deploy and more expensive to maintain in the long term.
Ultimately, the best choice will depend on your strategy and goals. Consider your need for advanced features, the total cost of ownership of each solution, and the technical expertise you have on staff. As always, conduct a pilot project to determine technical requirements and receive end user feedback before moving forward with a full deployment.
About Author: Eddie Segal I'm an electronics engineer with a Master’s Degree from Be’er Sheva University, a big data and web analytics specialist, and also a technology writer. In my writing I cover subjects ranging from cloud computing to agile development to cybersecurity and deep learning.
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