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Can VMware's Horizon 6 go toe-to-toe with Citrix XenDesktop?

VMware has made big strides to compete with Citrix in application and desktop virtualization, but there are key areas where Citrix still holds an edge.

In the desktop and application virtualization market, VMware has been working to build up products that can compete with the long-time leader in that space -- Citrix. It's clear VMware Horizon 6 was developed to wrestle customers from Citrix XenDesktop and XenApps; the two platforms support the same basic purpose -- access desktop instances and applications on any device from any connected location.

The two platforms are more alike than they are different. Any variances will only fade as competition between VMware and Citrix intensifies, but there are three general distinctions for XenDesktop.

First, XenDesktop may be a good choice for heavy graphics tasks. Horizon does everything on the server side -- and that's the pure expression of VDI. But even with Blast 3D optimizations, some taxing visualization work like CAD or CAM might overwhelm a server-side VDI instance. Citrix notes that XenDesktop can utilize client-side rendering resources if available to improve heavy graphics performance. This can be a big deal when the client-side is a workstation with a high-performance graphics adapter installed. The ability to detect and dynamically adapt to client-side resources can be a huge benefit to other types of content like Flash, Windows Media and other real-time audio or video media.

Second, Citrix touts a very high level of personalization for desktop instances using Citrix Personal vDisk (PvD) which can "remember" and re-apply any desktop personalization in subsequent connection sessions. Without such personalization, users are stuck with whatever vanilla VDI image the company provides. This forces the business to create multiple desktop images, which requires more time and management. Applying user-driven personalization to a single -- or few -- desktop images can greatly ease image management and control while providing more user satisfaction.

And finally, Citrix XenDesktop claims to emphasize the potential of VDI on mobile devices, while also allowing mobile devices to only use virtualized applications -- rather than accessing applications through a virtualized desktop. How well this claim is actually justified will depend largely on the skill of the IT staff responsible for organizing and deploying the images and applications on either platform.

The move to a centralized desktop and application delivery paradigm can be a complex and challenging effort that should never be undertaken lightly. This requires extensive proof-of-principle testing and evaluation of the Horizon 6 product along with a comprehensive assessment of the enterprise LAN and WAN connectivity. Adoption should proceed in careful phases, starting with non-essential desktops and applications. This can offer valuable experience and reveal potential areas for infrastructure improvement. Once a solid foundation is established, the organization can scale up centralized deployments to other users.

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