What Is Citrix VDI, and What are Your Options?

When you’re talking about desktop virtualization, there are a few names that invariably come up in conversation.

Microsoft’s Azure Virtual Desktop (formerly known as Windows Virtual Desktop) is certainly one. Nutanix Xi Frame, Parallels RAS and VMware Horizon are others. But the various Citrix solutions—such as Citrix XenDesktop and Citrix XenApp, now rebranded and offered as part of the Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops product suite—often occupy a large chunk of mindshare. Wherever a list of virtual desktop solutions exists, you can bet you’ll find Citrix.

One of the reasons Citrix evokes such strong mental associations with desktop virtualization is because the company has focused on virtualization technology since its inception over 30 years ago. Three decades can seem like millennia in the tech world, so to have a company stick with its initial business proposition for that long is definitely something worth noting.

What does all that mean for IT departments and CTOs who are looking to support their remote workforces? Should Citrix be the natural go-to choice when you’re looking for virtualization solutions? How does the company’s longevity affect the desktop virtualization products it offers today? And is virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) even the right virtualization technology for you to begin with?

Let’s answer those questions with a quick trip to the past.

A brief history of Citrix VDI

Citrix was founded in 1989 by a tech entrepreneur who had previously led the design teams for the OS/2 and IBM DOS systems. These projects were foundational in giving us the multitasking-capable PC operating systems we use today. From the start, Citrix had its sights set on developing remote access solutions for Microsoft operating systems—specifically Microsoft Windows. This OS-centric model would become an enduring theme.

Bear in mind, too, that these were the very early days of modern personal computing. Windows 95, which most of us would recognize as the grandfather to our current desktop and laptop OSes, wouldn’t appear for another five years.

Through acquisitions as well as its pioneering work in virtualization, Citrix grew by leaps and bounds over the coming decades, a growth that was accelerated in part by Windows’ popularity in the enterprise. Citrix VDI solutions were adopted by several major companies and were responsible for advancements like the thin client, which are low-cost, low-spec endpoints that rely on a remote hypervisor server for their functionality. In many ways, they could be considered the precursor to Chromebooks.

Much of the groundwork that Citrix laid during this period would shape the very architecture of virtual desktop infrastructure as a whole. From provisioning paradigms to authentication processes, Citrix VDI had an outsized influence not only on how organizations actually implemented virtualization solutions but how they came to think of them in the first place. 

The downsides of a long legacy in virtual desktops

With all this history comes, well, history. Three decades spent developing desktop virtualization products also means that those products have three decades’ worth of accumulated legacy technology, engineering pivots, integrations of acquired technologies that increase the overall attack surface, and marketing rebrands behind them. You can see the weight of all this history in the many components that are involved in a typical Citrix XenDesktop deployment.

  • Citrix Delivery Controller. This stores configuration data as well as other settings. These are contained within a database that’s managed using Citrix Studio or Citrix Director.
  • Provisioning Services. This allows the team of IT admins who oversee the Citrix implementation to distribute desktops to users in real-time from a shared master image.
  • Citrix StoreFront. This functions like a software launcher. It displays the desktops and applications that have been assigned to users. End-user authentication takes place through the StoreFront portal.
  • Citrix Workspace (formerly Citrix Receiver). This is the dedicated software client through which end users connect to their virtual desktops. It is installed locally on the endpoint device.
  • Citrix HDX. This is a proprietary technology suite that leverages Citrix’s Independent Computing Architecture (ICA) remote protocol. ICA is responsible for handling local and remote client data traffic, compression and more.
  • Citrix ADC (formerly Citrix NetScaler). Some large VDI implementations that suffer from latency and bandwidth issues will make use of the company’s dedicated load-balancing and optimization technologies for a better user experience.

These components are traditionally hosted in an on-premises data center for the sake of security and maintenance. (For more detail, see our post on “Understanding Citrix VDI.”) However, this architecture adds significantly to the upfront costs of Citrix VDI implementations, which continues to make them expensive to purchase as well as expensive to operate. Furthermore, in an age of increasing ransomware threats, the large attack surface created by these components requires even more vigilance and oversight.

Huge enterprise-scale organizations that absolutely need VDI for their specific workloads or use cases are often braced to budget for these large CapEx and OpEx outlays. But as more organizations look to virtualization technologies to support their hybrid and remote workers, it’s hard to justify this level of cost and complexity

In recent years, Citrix has tried to expand its traditional scope with new desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) offerings. These take conventional desktop virtualization and swap out some or all of the on-premises components for cloud infrastructure. That allows them to feature more public cloud integration and adopt something closer to SaaS pricing models (even if they are hard to parse). At the end of the day, though, these Citrix cloud-based desktop services can’t escape their roots in legacy VDI and retain a lot of the same caveats.

The modern approach: Virtualizing apps, not OSes

There’s no denying that Citrix has had a major influence on current virtualization technology. Yet a lot has changed since 1989. Heck, a lot has changed since 2019! It’s time to stop thinking that the primary function of remote desktop solutions or desktop virtualization is simply to replicate the classic operating-system-based PC desktop experience. You don’t need virtual machines and a huge array of components to keep remote users productive.

Virtual App Delivery (VAD) rethinks the remote desktop environment for the cloud era. After all, unlike VDI (whether it’s Citrix or one of its alternatives), Virtual App Delivery isn’t a legacy virtualization approach that has had to be re-engineered to take advantage of the public cloud. VAD was born in the cloud and designed from the very beginning for the cloud desktop needs of today’s organizations.

As the pioneer in Virtual App Delivery, Cameyo’s approach to application virtualization is better suited to most use cases than VDI. Instead of trying to furnish end users with Windows-dependent digital workspaces, Cameyo gives remote users secure, Windows-independent cloud desktops that deliver all of the apps they need to be productive. Because Cameyo is cloud-native, remote users can access those apps on any device with an HTML5 web browser—whether it’s a Linux laptop, a macOS desktop or an Android mobile device.

How VAD cloud desktops are reframing virtualization

Ur&Penn offers a perfect case in point. After disappointing results with a leading DaaS product and a leading VDI product, this leading Swedish watch and jewelry retailer discovered Cameyo. Within a few hours of deploying our VAD platform, Ur&Penn’s employees were working with business-critical apps on their Chromebooks.

According to Ur&Penn CIO Emir Saffar, they found Cameyo’s virtual app delivery to be:

  • Simple: “Unlike Nutanix Xi Frame and Citrix XenApp, there is no complicated infrastructure to deploy and manage. Not only were we up and running with Cameyo in less than three hours, but we can also deploy new apps almost instantly. We never have to re-image or deal with a Golden Image. Cameyo could not be easier.”
  • Secure by design: “From a user experience perspective, [with Cameyo, our end users] use the same desktop version of the applications they’re used to – but those applications simply run in a browser tab instead of needing to be deployed and managed locally.”
  • Cost-effective: “Right off the bat, Cameyo doesn’t require any complex infrastructure and you don’t need to hire a third-party engineer to set it up – so that’s a huge cost savings right there.”

“Citrix was even more complex to set up than [Nutanix] Xi Frame, so we had to hire an outside engineer to come set everything up, which just added more expense. Everything was difficult,” said Saffar. “The first thing we noticed when we started our free trial was that Cameyo was truly built from scratch to be a cloud solution, whereas Citrix has clearly just taken their old technology and tried to push it into the cloud.”

And Ur&Penn isn’t alone in choosing Cameyo over Citrix. Klarahill, another large Swedish business, did the same, reducing its remote desktop costs by 85% in the process.

Why go through all the hassle of rolling out VDI or DaaS solutions when you can easily start with Virtual App Delivery and test it out to see if it’s right for your use case? Sign up today for your free trial of Cameyo and begin providing your users with streamlined, customized cloud desktops in as little as a few minutes. If you’d prefer to learn more about how Cameyo achieves more than VDI with less cost and infrastructure, feel free to request a demo from one of our engineers.