Can Horizon 6 close the distance with Citrix?

Server virtualization leader VMware aims to close the market-share gap in the virtual desktop infrastructure arena by taking on Citrix.

VMware's aggressive maneuvers in the end user computing space peaked again recently when the virtualization company announced Horizon 6, a virtual desktop suite aimed to pull market share from perennial leader Citrix.

Horizon 6 will include remote application publishing, storage optimization for VDI courtesy of VMware Virtual SAN (VSAN), virtual desktop image management with Horizon Mirage and integration with vCenter Operations Manager and vCloud Automation Center (vCAC) for workflow and management.

Will Horizon 6 have what it takes to sway enterprises to its side? SearchVMware experts gave their thoughts on the latest moves by VMware in the end user computing (EUC) space.

Brian Suhr

Brian SuhrBrian Suhr

I am happy VMware has finally adopted a more application-focused approach to their EUC business. Clearly, applications are what matters in the desktop space. Not being able to present an application to any device is no longer an option.

It was a pleasant surprise to see VMware build their solution on top of Microsoft's Remote Desktop Services (RDS) -- a proven platform -- rather than try to build something new and risk being too late to the party.

As a 1.x product, Horizon 6 is sure to have some little things that will be missing. We will have to wait to see where there might be gaps, but I hope that there are no deal-breakers in the first release. These new features will help VMware win new business and cause existing Citrix customers to take a serious look at what VMware is now offering.

Trevor Pott

Trevor PottTrevor Pott

VMware faces something of an uphill battle against Citrix in the Desktop as a Service (DaaS) space. In the internal private cloud space, Citrix is the established player. Breaking their hegemony over this space will be as long and hard a slog as the Sisyphean task Microsoft is undertaking against VMware in the virtual infrastructure space.

On the face of it, Horizon 6 offers good technology built upon a host of other good technologies, but technology alone isn't enough. Hearts and minds have to be won.

To the extent that a business or systems administrator might desire a public or hybrid DaaS offering, VMware's acquisition of Desktone gives them an edge over Citrix and places them on a more level playing field with Microsoft. That isn't to say that Citrix is sitting still.

Citrix is aware of its strengths and its weaknesses. It is aware the hypervisor is a commodity -- with management tools soon to follow. It has pushed both of those elements of its portfolio into the open source space to focus its efforts on high-margin businesses, such as the DaaS arena.

VMware has not explained how VSAN is better, beyond saying it is part of the hypervisor kernel, and somehow VSAN is supposed to be the cure for every ill, including VDI and DaaS. It's one-size-fits-all, sort of. Please keep buying big daddy EMC's arrays; there's room for both companies to take your storage dollars!

Where is the advantage in VSAN for VDI/DaaS users? How is this better than Tintri or accelerating a traditional array with Proximal Data? What about the tried and true option of Atlantis ILIO? VMware is competing with its own partners and is trying to create a marketing message that makes them the one-stop shop for all things in the data center, but the message is getting badly tangled.

Citrix is playing a completely different game. They've jettisoned the bits that they don't feel will be profitable in the long term. They aren't all that interested in being all things to all people. They have a tried, tested and proven VDI software stack and a massive ecosystem built up around it. Where they end and their partners begin is a demarcation they are working on making more obvious, not less.

When the technology from all players reaches "good enough," the conversation shifts from technological capability and moves toward "value for dollar." Can VMware, Citrix or whoever else deliver an easy to understand, easy to license solution that is simple to administer?

This is a discussion that Citrix has been preparing for years; VMware isn't ready yet. After the PEX incident, many of VMware's customers wouldn't believe its answers anyway.

This makes the opinions of independent consultants, value-added resellers (VARs) and managed service providers (MSPs) far more critical than they would be if some of the mistakes of the past year hadn't been made. Consultants, VARs and MSPs have -- for the most part -- built their empires on Citrix. It's going to be an interesting year.

Alastair Cooke

Alastair CookeAlastair Cooke

As a longtime data center desktop guy, I've wanted VMware to get serious about Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH) for a while. (I even wrote about this on SearchVirtualDesktop.) So I am very pleased that Horizon 6 includes vastly improved RDSH support, with PCoIP and application publishing.

For a lot of the non-persistent desktop uses, an RDSH session will provide the same user experience as a floating assignment desktop while using fewer ESXi resources. The key new feature is the ability to access an RDSH session using PCoIP. Prior to Horizon 6 VMware only provided RDP access for RDSH, with all the limitations of normal RDP. Bringing PCoIP in allows a much better user experience due to its progressive build feature.

Application publishing is also welcome, since RDSH is often used to deliver a single application to a large user population. One example of application publishing is a call center I supported where 3,500 agents needed access to a frequently updated customer relationship management (CRM) application. Rather than managing 2,500 desktop VMs, RDSH allowed us to manage 80 Windows Servers to deliver the one application.

The Horizon Workspace component still seems to be in quite a bit of flux. The core is the single sign-on portal to access multiple application types. This is a great function and the more application types the Workspace supports, the more useful it becomes. Adding support for XenApp applications to Workspace is a great way to aid migration onto View.

My concern is the related products. It appears VMware will replace Horizon Data with the vastly better sync application fromAirWatch. Horizon Mobile has had so many different forms, it's hard to know what it does today.

With the pace of change in these products, there is a risk an organization may be left with an orphaned application as part of their enterprise mobility platform. Changing mobility platforms is hard, as each device must be touched and users retrained.

Brad Christian

Brad ChristianBrad Christian

As someone who spends a lot of time helping people to get Horizon View working, one of the biggest pain points I was hoping VMware would address in the 6.0 version of View is persona management.

The out-of-the-box persona management that comes with Horizon View -- a series of Active Directory group policy administrative templates -- is sufficient only for the simplest of deployments. If you need to hand off persona management to a Tier 1 help desk team, for instance, you need to buy something better. I was really hoping VMware would simply purchase one of the existing vendors in the persona management space and be done with it.

I was pleased to hear there will be some persona management improvements when it comes to Mirage, however. I never thought Horizon Mirage was ready for prime time. The way Mirage can do in-place desktop upgrades is like witchcraft, but the Horizon Suite seemed poorly integrated because the persona data that Mirage pulled off physical desktops couldn't be pulled into View. Thankfully, that will be changing in the newest release.

I am also very excited about the coming vCloud Automation Center (vCAC) integrations. People ask me frequently about giving users -- or their managers -- more control over desktop pools, and ways to let users help themselves. The new vCAC pieces look very promising, allowing users perform tasks such as clearing hung desktops. (Note to self: Refrain from rolling your eyes when you hear the new buzzword "closed-loop.")

I haven't heard much about how the Desktone purchase is going to be integrated. It's a very cool product, and I hope to hear more about using multiple Active Directory forests with Horizon.

One area that is lacking is Horizon Data. I was told last year by a VMware project manager that CIFS is a legacy file system. That is ridiculous. They need to look at what Citrix is doing with ShareFile and NetApp. Perhaps the folks at VMware know of a storage vendor with a solid CIFS platform they could team up with?

Overall, it looks like Horizon View 6.0 is going to be a great step forward. I hope we see some additions to persona management in 6.1, but for now I'll be happy to play with the vCAC additions, RDSH, improved Blast and the numerous smaller improvements.

This was first published in April 2014

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