With Microsoft's Help, VMware Looks To Take Bite Out Of Citrix's XenApp Business

VMware, in a bid to boost its end-user computing business and take share from rival Citrix, is bundling application virtualization technology with its virtual desktop software for the first time.

On Wednesday, VMware unveiled Horizon 6, a product slated for launch in the second quarter that uses Microsoft's Remote Desktop Services (RDS) technology to deliver hosted apps and session-based desktops to any type of device. It also includes VMware's own desktop virtualization and management software.

By adding RDS to the mix, VMware is going after Citrix XenApp customers that might prefer to buy technology for running virtual desktops and apps from one vendor.

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VMware developed Horizon 6 using Microsoft's Remote Desktop Services technology and public APIs, Sumit Dhawan, vice president and general manager of desktop products in VMware's End-User Computing unit, told CRN in an interview prior to Wednesday's launch.

This is a notable development, not only because Microsoft and Citrix have had a close relationship for years, but also because VMware and Microsoft are fierce rivals in the server virtualization market.

While VMware's Fusion and Workstation teams have experience delivering Windows apps to multiple platforms, Microsoft played an important role in the development of Horizon 6, Dhawan said.

"We were surprised by the level of collaboration we got from Microsoft," Dhawan told CRN. "Microsoft's RDS platform really helped us. We didn't have to invent this from the beginning."

Dhawan said Microsoft helped VMware when it ran into problems when building RDS into Horizon 6. "I give them kudos for acting like a platform company," Dhawan said.

VMware, which poached Dhawan and his colleague Bob Schultz from Citrix last November, is in the midst of a major push to boost its end-user computing business. It's not much of a leap to say that Dhawan and Schultz brought an intimate knowledge of Citrix's weaknesses to their new employer.

Bundling application virtualization with Horizon 6 could present further problems for Citrix, which is already tasked with trying to replace popular longtime CEO Mark Templeton, one Citrix partner told CRN.

That said, the session-hosted options in Horizon 6 are still in a 1.0 stage, as client printing is weak and there is no session sharing, said the source. Citrix's XenApp is still a technically superior product, but Horizon 6 could now be considered "good enough" for many organizations, the source said.

Meanwhile, VMware also is touting the "universal workspace" it has built into Horizon 6, where users log in once and get access to virtual desktops and apps, SaaS apps as well as physical PCs. And the new Horizon 6 client lets users access virtual desktops and apps running on-premise or in the cloud, which is another new and important capability.

NEXT: How VMware Is Managing All Of These Technologies

VMware now is using vCenter Operations Manager to handle all these different components, an improvement from the past when they were managed using separate tools. VCloud Automation Center also is expanding to handle line-of-business requests for desktops with approvals and workflows, Dhawan said.

Don Hanson, president and CTO of Consolidated Computing, an Easton, Conn.-based VMware enterprise partner, said adding application virtualization to Horizon is a shrewd move. He's also bullish on the management features in Horizon 6.

"It makes sense that organizations that use VMware on servers would also use it for desktop virtualization," Hanson told CRN. "Management of the two will be simpler with a common platform."

Horizon also includes VMware's recently launched VSAN storage technology, which clusters storage from server hard drives and solid-state drives into a shared pool to cut costs for virtual desktops. Dhawan said the addition of VSAN will lower the cost of virtual desktops in a big way.

"We believe with this release, 75 percent or more of customers will find the costs of virtual desktops to be roughly the same as a physical PC," Dhawan said. This doesn't include RDS desktops, which can be "slightly more expensive," he added.

Dhawan said an overarching goal of Horizon 6 is to fix the "broken" desktop model in today's corporate environments. "The customer blueprint on the desktop is broken. I like to joke that it's like a dirty diaper -- it stinks, and you don't want to open it to find what's in there, but you have to change it," he said.

VMware is selling three versions of Horizon 6. The entry level option, Horizon Standard, includes virtual desktops and ThinApp packaged apps, and is $250 for a concurrent user license. The middle tier, Horizon Advanced, includes app virtualization, remote desktops and apps, VSAN and Mirage image management, and is priced at $250 per named user and $400 for concurrent users.

The top tier, Horizon Enterprise, adds vCenter Operation for View and a vCenter Operations plug-in. It's $300 per named user and $500 for concurrent users.