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Citrix Unveils Azure-Based Windows 10 VDI Offering

Delivering on its promise last year to deepen integration with Microsoft technologies, Citrix on Monday took the wraps off XenDesktop Essentials, its new Windows 10 virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) offering for the Microsoft Azure public cloud.

The company announced the new VDI solution during its Citrix Summit partner event, taking place this week in Anaheim, Calif. It also announced that XenApp Essentials, a separate application-as-a-service offering that will replace Microsoft's Azure RemoteApp, will arrive this quarter.

Both XenDesktop Essentials and XenApp Essentials were jointly developed by Citrix and Microsoft as part of a broad extension of their longstanding partnership, which the two companies announced at last year's Citrix Synergy conference. XenDesktop Essentials lets organizations provision virtual Windows 10 instances as a service using their existing software licenses, while XenApp Essentials will let organizations deploy Windows 10 Enterprise images on Azure.

This is aimed at "those organizations seeking a simplified way to deploy Windows 10 virtual desktops in the Microsoft Azure cloud," said Calvin Hsu, vice president of product marketing at Citrix, at the Summit event. "Microsoft customers who have licensed Windows 10 Enterprise on a per-user basis will have the option to manage their Windows 10 images on Azure through our XenDesktop VDI solution. Once XenDesktop Essentials is set up and running, the service can be managed by the Citrix Cloud."

Citrix and Microsoft described the extension of its partnership as their broadest to date. In addition to offering VDI and app services on the Azure public cloud (managed by Citrix), the extended partnership aims to offer a new delivery channel for Windows desktops and apps, including Skype for Business, Office 365 and Microsoft's Enterprise Mobility + Security suite (including Intune) via the Citrix Workspace Cloud. Citrix is running its digital workspace platform on Azure. Citrix, through its service provider partners, will offer these new services via XenApp Essentials.

Citrix also said it will kick off a pilot for its network of service providers looking to offer its workspace platform using its cloud. Based on the licensing model found in other Citrix offerings, the company is looking for existing and new service providers to deliver hosted, managed Desktop as a Service offerings and app workspaces.

Another pillar of last year's pact between the two companies included plans to integrate Microsoft's Enterprise Mobility + Security (EMS) suite with Citrix NetScaler, the company's application delivery controller (ADC) and load balancing appliance. Citrix said the resulting integration of the NetScaler Unified Gateway with Intune is now available. Citrix said the new offering lets administrators apply policies tied to Microsoft's EMS to NetScaler, allowing for conditional single sign-on access based on specific endpoint and mobile devices.

"Together, our solution allows IT administrators to define access control policies based on the state of the end user mobile device," explained Akhilesh Dhawan, principal product marketing manager at Citrix, in a blog post. "These policies will check each end-user mobile device before a user session is established to determine whether the device is enrolled with Microsoft Intune and is compliant with the security policies set by an organization and -- only then -- grant or deny access accordingly."

For customers looking for hybrid solutions, the company launched a new program that will provide hyper-converged infrastructure running on integrated appliance. Providers of hyper-converged infrastructure hardware that are part of the new Citrix Ready HCI Workspace Appliance Program will offer appliances designed to automate the provisioning and management of XenDesktop and XenApp.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Atlantis Computing are the first partners inked to offer new solutions based on the program, according to Citrix's Hsu. The appliance will include XenApp or XenDesktop running on HPE's new Edgeline Converged EL4000 Edge System, a 1U-based system available in configurations from one to four nodes and four to 16 cores based on Intel's Xeon processors with GPU compute and integrated SSD storage. Included on the HPE system is Atlantis' USX software-defined storage offering, which creates the hyper-converged infrastructure delivering the Citrix Workspace.

Citrix also announced Monday that it has acquired Unidesk, a well-regarded supplier of virtual application packaging management software that, among other thing, can manage both XenDesktop and Microsoft's Remote Desktop Service (RDS). Citrix said Unidesk's application layering technology "offers full-stack layering technology, which enhances compatibility by layering the entire Windows workspace as modular virtual disks, including the Windows operating system itself (OS layer), apps (app layers), and a writable persistent layer that captures all user settings, apps and data."

The company also described the latest Unidesk 4.0 architecture as a scalable solution that offers the company's app-layer technology and aims to ease customers' transition to the cloud by providing a single app image that covers both on-premises and cloud-based deployments. Citrix said it will continue to offer Unidesk as a standalone product for VMware Horizon and Microsoft virtual desktop customers.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.