Citrix has been around making virtualization products for almost 20 years now. While their application publishing has gotten most of the attention over the last few years they have rolled out a pretty innovative product recently, XenClient. Before I go into the details, lets quickly recap the basic product lines so you have a full understanding of how this product actually fits into the virtual realm.
- XenApp – is the most popular and most installed of their offerings. This product gives you the ability to publish and deploy applications in a virtual shell. Mostly used for custom apps, thin client, and other non-compatible friendly programs (ERP, HR, Accounting programs, etc..). The Hypervisor is application based.
- XenDesktop– Citrix version of VDI (Virtual Desktops), sits on a server and publishes complete desktops to “virtually any devices.” Really a hot topic right now and fits well in a lot of different environments. Primarily competes with VMWare View, but several other companies are releasing similar products. The Hypervisor is Server/Desktop based.
Now to the new release, XenClient is a bare metal hypervisor that actually sits on a laptop (not a server) and can provide the ability to run multiple versions of client operating systems, think Windows 7 or Vista. Very similar to VMware workstation, except VMware is considered a tier 2 hypervisor (meaning it sits on a native OS before it virtualizes) and XenClient is a true tier 1 hypervisor sitting directly and interacting directly with the hardware.
The idea here is to be able to push the client OS management side locally versus hosting on a shared resource such as server and storage that would be found in a typical VDI environment. This frees up resources and allows more freedom when it comes to working off the network or offline. As well, there is going to be more features released soon to provide compatibility between applications and OS’s. For example you could run office 2010 in Windows XP while sharing that app with Windows 7 and work together, getting the best of both systems. Finally, it would provide flexible environments for independent tasks (demos, test dev, and so forth).
Why is this innovative?
One, it allows the ability for IT to build desktop standards and have the end user handle a lot of the disaster recovery and other technical issues. This is because the Citrix receiver backs up the client (change only) pc every time it connects to the internet, So if a laptop is lost, stolen, fails etc. user can actually self service and restore their virtual machines onto any XenClient machine. This could save a large amount of time!
The other innovative idea here is security. It is pretty basic; you send out a corporate laptop with a virtual layer (XenClient). It gets lost or an employee goes awol. A quick click of a button and you can send a kill pill to the machines and make it useless for whoever has the device. Pretty straightforward, and since all the data was backed up, you could retrieve the data in no time.
It is very new and still unproved for the most part. It has to be hardware compatible, and there is only a small handful of models that will work. As of this writing, OS compatibility is limited to a few versions (Windows XP, Vista, and 7). Lastly, to take full advantage it would be recommended to have a existing Citrix environment in place.
With that said, it is a one of a kind product that should catch on and provide an extra layer of virtualization for remote users.
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