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VMware Horizon 6 dukes it out with Citrix Workspace Suite

In the end-user computing arena, which virtualization suite has the edge in key areas, such as VDI and mobile management?

I spend a lot of time working with enterprises to develop strategies around their end-user computing (EUC) services. Once the strategy is developed, it usually leads to the design of the EUC offerings. For the past couple of years, being good at VDI hasn't been enough. This is something that VMware realized and really invested in its EUC business. VMware purchased several companies over the last 18 months and hired some key talent from Citrix and the EUC community to try and improve its EUC offerings.

The following comparison is based on the product versions listed below. I have broken each evaluation point out and explained why I rated them equal or why one had an advantage in my eyes. These products can be purchased as part of different licensing suites or individually.

  • VMware Horizon (Horizon 6.x, Mirage 5.x and Workspace 2.x)
  • Citrix XenDesktop (XenDesktop 7.x and XenApp 7., XenMobile 9.0)

Advantage: Push

At this point, both VMware and Citrix have very mature virtual desktop offerings. They are pretty close to feature parity today. Both vendors, for the most part, offer the same features and satisfy similar customer use cases. VMware and Citrix have taken different approaches to some features, such as how they provision desktops. But, for the most part, they offer similar functionality for persistent and non-persistent desktops.

With VMware having support for GPU pass-thru in Horizon, it can support most of the demand graphics workloads, but it lacks vGPU support that is most desirable. This is something that Citrix has provided and can be seen as a small advantage in specific use cases. Overall, I think the products are very close when it comes to VDI. Your decision will likely be based on familiarity with a vendor or pricing.

CATEGORY: Physical PC management
Advantage: VMware

This is where VMware really shines with the Horizon Mirage offering. Today, Mirage is leaps and bounds above anything that Citrix can offer for physical PCs. The Citrix options today would be to PVS your physical desktops or use the XenClient local hypervisor on PCs. Both of those options are not as user or admin friendly as Mirage. They also do not provide the management advantages that Mirage offers.

Advantage: Push

The portal offerings from both vendors are pretty close to a tie right now. They both can broker desktop, app and data connections. Each portal can work with the application virtualization technology. Supporting SaaS-based or Web-based applications is also available for presenting applications.

I have been most impressed with the leap that the latest version of Horizon Workspace has taken. The product has improved by being updated with a more streamlined architecture, better admin interface and easier customizations.

CATEGORY: Mobile management
Advantage: VMware

The purchase of AirWatch, which was the market leader, immediately put VMware in the lead for mobile management. Prior to acquiring AirWatch, VMware was building an internal solution and was far behind Citrix with its XenMobile purchase.

The next challenge here is which service will do a better job of integrating its mobility purchases into the EUC product suite. Citrix has been working on making XenMobile a better product after some weak reviews. VMware recently announced the first unified application store by integrating AirWatch and Workspace to offer users a centralized view of applications. VMware continues to build on AirWatch, which is why I gave them the edge here.

CATEGORY: File sync and share
Advantage: Push

The file sync-and-share market is something that has grown into a hot subject with enterprise customers that want the ability to allow end users to use and share documents on mobile devices. This function is also a tie for me at this time between the two offerings. Both products were acquired by the parent companies and are becoming more integrated with the EUC product suite. The real winner will likely emerge over the next 12 to 24 months and it will probably be the company that offers the most feature rich and integrated sharing platform.

Before the AirWatch acquisition, VMware was clearly behind in the EFSS space. They got a two-for-one bargain in the AirWatch deal as Secure Content Locker gave them a big jump over the previous offering.

CATEGORY: Application options
Advantage: Citrix

In the application space, VMware has been working, building and buying to bolster its application virtualization solutions. VMware now has four methods for abstracting the application from the OS and presenting it. The first big leap forward was with the release of Horizon 6 and its application presentation features built on Microsoft RDS. This gave them a competitor to Citrix XenApp. While still immature, Horizon 6 is already catching the eye of Citrix customers.

Citrix still has the lead with its XenApp offering, as it has been around for a long time and is very mature. They have a huge install base and have achieved target platform for a long list of enterprise applications. As VMware matures Horizon 6, these are the hurdles that they will need to overcome. I do like the momentum that VMware has built around applications and if it continues, the gap will close quickly.

CATEGORY: Networking
Advantage: Citrix

I think most people would jump to the conclusion that VMware has the advantage in networking with the vShield offerings, but I would disagree. If you build XenDesktop on top of vSphere, you can utilize the same offerings. Where the difference sways in Citrix's favor is around its Netscaler offering. Netscaler started off as a load balancer and has expanded in capabilities, including the ability to offer edge access, advanced security rules and interrogation.

By coupling this type of functionality with Citrix's desktop solutions, customers are able to build flexible security rules for access content. This could allow users to access only specific shares or servers, for example. The options are pretty open for what can be created in this space. This is a big win for Citrix, even if it's sold separate from the XenDesktop suite.

VMware has worked with F5 networks to enable some nice features around directing traffic for VMware View installs, but it still doesn't compete with what Citrix is able to provide in the terms of integration today.

CATEGORY: Monitoring
Advantage: VMware

Monitoring tools do add value to the admins that support the environment. VMware includes vCOPs for View with the Horizon offering and it does a great job of managing the VM and below with session statistics for PCoIP. With the release of vRealize Operations 6 -- formerly vCenter Operations Management Suite -- VMware is now including additional in-guest metrics which helps add the type of monitoring that Citrix has offered. Citrix's EdgeSight focuses on the guest OS and up, provides more robust session and user experience monitoring and is tied into XenApp. The Citrix suite does not offer anything for monitoring the hypervisor and infrastructure, which puts them behind VMware in terms of monitoring.

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