Product Review: Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop
The Citrix XenApp provides an application virtualization solution and XenDesktop includes XenApp plus provides enterprise clients a virtual app and desktop solution. The goal behind these related products is to securely deliver access to virtual desktops, apps and data to any device. Both products, sold separately, include a full application virtualization solution on their own; the difference between the two is that XenDesktop also includes the capability to implement a scalable VDI solution, as well as secure app delivery. The product page provides a simple comparison between the two offerings, but Citrix also supplies a more detailed feature matrix for those looking to make a more specific comparison.
XenApp and XenDesktop are the first products in the field that can redirect HTML5 content processing to system endpoints. Without diving too deeply into technical details, this processing redirection will allow for better video performance and additional server scalability.
The newest versions of XenApp and XenDesktop are 7.12 for each. This review will cover information that is general to the product, but for the most part, will focus on the newest version. For additional information on features specific to the latest version, please see Citrix’s What’s New page, as well as their blog post on the newest release.
While XenApp is focused primarily on applications and XenDesktop on desktops, as one would expect, there are even more fundamental differences between the two. XenApp hosts resources for multiple users via a server OS, such as Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2016, or public or private cloud. While XenDesktop provides those resources on a Windows client (e.g. Windows 10). Windows examples are listed here because of Microsoft’s partnership with Citrix makes Microsoft’s operating systems the preferred choice by Citrix; that said, Citrix also allows its customers to remotely access Linux desktops. (For more information on how Microsoft’s relationship with Citrix affects XenApp and XenDesktop, click here.)
Citrix has been introducing new management and monitoring tools in multiple recent versions, particularly 7.9 and 7.12. Version 7.9 brought the release of a new management platform called the NetScaler Management and Analytics System (NMAS), which consolidated policy management into a central location. Also, introduced in this version was the Application Groups feature that intended to ease management of groups of related applications. Version 7.12 allows administrators to have more granular control by allowing a specific desktop or app to be tagged for a specific user.
Another important feature in the new release from Citrix is the update to Citrix’s Local Host Cache technology. Local Host Cache allows users to connect to virtual desktops and apps, even when the website database is unavailable. This technology, redesigned for version 7.12, increases website availability by synchronizing site data in under five minutes. On a related note, Citrix included its Workspace Environment Management for the first time in version 7.12. This tool, made possible by Citrix’s acquisition of user environment management company Norskale in mid-2016, will extend server scalability and optimize workspace performance.
Version 7.12 provides other new and improved features, some of which are related to user experience. A new edition of Citrix StoreFront is now available, and this edition will improve user experience with the web browser Firefox. A new 8-bit graphics mode, called Thinwire, has been released to aid user experience when network connectivity is limited. Also of note, in version 7.12 there is improved support for HTML5 videos. XenApp and XenDesktop are the first products in the field that can redirect HTML5 content processing to system endpoints. Without diving too deeply into technical details, this processing redirection will allow for better video performance and additional server scalability. Citrix provides more information here.
Competitors and Concluding Thoughts
Citrix overtly positions its offering against the VMware Horizon, which they refer to as an “inadequate solution and lowest common denominator approach” on its website. A 2016 brochure put out by VMware tends to naturally disagree, pointing to VMware’s enterprise-level virtualization platform and Workspace Environment Management (WEM) platform as features not offered by Citrix. Both companies accuse its opponent of releasing a “partial” or “inadequate” solution with fewer features and less flexibility – compared to its own fully-featured solution. For more information, see Citrix’s downloadable white paper, infographic or suite of comparative short videos; VMware also has a white paper of its own. A full exploration of this complex comparison lies outside the scope of this article, but the data is available for such a comparison to be made. For their part, Citrix arguably offers a more secure solution, with a superior user experience, compared to its competitors.
Citrix offers a fully functional, 90-day, 99-user trial environment for both the XenApp and XenDesktop. More information on a trial download or product purchasing can be found here.