Virtual Desktop Services: Windows vs Citrix

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The rise in available cloud services has drastically changed the way many organizations operate. Data and applications are now frequently hosted in the cloud; accessible anytime and anywhere. This availability, and the decrease in infrastructure maintenance that comes with it, are revolutionary. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that some organizations are looking for ways to move even more of their tech stack to the cloud. 

In particular, organizations want cloud-based management and provision of desktop services and operating systems. Desktop as a Service (DaaS) has been created to meet this demand. In this article, you’ll learn what DaaS is. You’ll also read an overview of two DaaS options — Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) and Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops.

What Is DaaS?

DaaS is a method of computing that enables organizations to deliver virtual desktops to end-users from the cloud. DaaS is similar to virtual desktops provided through a traditional Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). The difference is that a VDI is hosted on-premise while DaaS is hosted in the cloud.

Benefits of DaaS include:

  • Scalability—cloud scalability enables you to easily and quickly add more workers, contractors, or devices. 
  • Business continuity—remote systems provide resiliency and redundancy to protect from data loss in the case of disaster or breach.
  • Cost—most DaaS providers offer a subscription or pay what you use model. This helps organizations control operational expenses and avoid paying for resources they aren’t using.
  • Security—all data is stored in the cloud as opposed to being distributed across devices. This makes data easier to monitor and secure. Additionally, lost or stolen devices are less of a liability since you must log in to the virtual desktop to access data.

Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) Overview

WVD is a cloud desktop and app virtualization environment provided by Microsoft for use in Azure Cloud. It enables you to deliver multi-session Windows 10 virtual desktops that can support cloud-native and legacy applications. WVD also includes integrations to help you migrate your existing Remote Desktop Services. You can use WVD on Windows, web, Mac, and iOS clients.

The WVD environment structure is built on:

  • Tenant—the interface for managing the WVD environment. This is where you create host pools.
  • Host pools—a collection of Virtual Machines (VMs) that host your WVD sessions. Host pools can be either personal or pooled. Personal pools contain hosts assigned to individual users while pooled can accept connections from any user.
  • App groups—groups of applications installed on session hosts. App groups can be either RemoteApp groups or desktop app groups. RemoteApp groups provide access to a limited number of applications while desktop groups provide access to a full desktop. 
  • Tenant groups—enable you to manage multiple tenants at a time. This is useful if you are managing WVD services for multiple organizations or divisions within an organization.

To use WVD, you need the following:

  • Active Directory (AD)—an Azure AD and a Windows Server AD that are synced. You can accomplish this with Azure AD Domain Services or Azure AD Connect.
  • VMs—need to be either  Hybrid AD-joined or Standard domain-joined but not Azure AD-joined. The type of AD integration you use depends on what AD functionality your deployment requires. 
  • Operating System—WVD supports Windows 10 multi and single-session, Windows 7 single-session, and Windows Server 2012 R2 or newer.
  • Network—a round-trip latency less than 150ms and to allow cross-region traffic. It is recommended that you also host your VMs in the same region as your management service.

Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops Overview

Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops is a platform you can use to create and manage virtual desktops. This service was formerly known as two services, XenApp and XenDesktop. You can use it with public, private or hybrid clouds, including Azure. The Citrix service supports several operating systems and platforms, including Windows Virtual Desktop, Windows Server, and Linux. 

The Citrix service is built on:

  • Citrix Cloud—includes a Delivery Controller, Citrix Studio, Director, StoreFront and Gateway, license management services, and workspace configurations. All of these components are installed and managed by Citrix.
  • Resource components—includes Cloud Connector, Virtual Delivery Agents, hypervisors and cloud services, and AD. These components are managed and provided by the customer or a third-party vendor. 

Requirements for using Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops include:

  • Server and VMs—at least 12GB of RAM for a server hosting all components. VM requirements vary depending on your intended workloads and deployments.
  • Operating System—Citrix supports Windows Server 2012 R2 and above, Windows 10 multi-session and single session, and Windows 7 single session. Citrix also requires you to have the Microsoft Visual C++ 2017 Runtime. 
  • Active Directory—a connection to Microsoft Server Active Directory is required to authenticate and authorize deployments.

Citrix Managed Desktops (CMD)

In August 2019, Citrix launched a DaaS solution designed as a complete end-to-end service. CMD uses WVD to deliver virtual desktops hosted in Azure cloud while keeping the management under Citrix. Customers can provision Windows VMs and pay through the Citrix subscription. This partnership also makes it easier for Citrix users to migrate on-premise or existing virtual desktop workloads to Azure.

WVD and Citrix: Competition or Collaboration?

WVD was built as an alternative to Citrix. At the same time, Citrix and Microsoft entered a partnership to provide Windows 10 Enterprise Virtual Desktops using the Citrix control plane. 

While both services can work together, there are several key differences:

  • Traffic protocol—Citrix features HDX, a set of functions that deliver a high-definition user experience for virtual desktops and applications. WVD’s Remote Desktop Protocol is less advanced but can be used in the majority of use cases.  
  • User interface—Citrix control plane provides more advanced features in the user interface. WVD might be a better fit for users that require only basic settings for managing desktop virtualization. 
  • Multi-region—WVD is built to enable working in multiple regions, using distributed components. Citrix restricts deployments to the region of the control plane. 

Hopefully, this article helped you better understand what Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops and WVD are, and how these services compare. The DaaS that you choose will likely depend on what services you are already using and the type of deployment you need. Both Citrix and WVD can be good options, especially if you intend to use Windows VMs. 

To get the most out of either service, make sure that your users have reliable Internet connections. If not, they could be periodically denied access to your virtual desktops which would undermine any ROI you may receive.

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