Citrix Automates VDI On Hyper-converged Infrastructure, Enhances Microsoft Azure Partnership

Citrix is working with Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Atlantis Computing to develop new hyper-converged infrastructure appliances that automate the deployment, updating, and management of virtual desktops and applications.

The company also unveiled an expansion of its partnership with Microsoft that allows clients to gain remote access to their applications and run Windows 10-based virtual desktop images via the Azure cloud.

The moves, unveiled Monday at the opening of the annual Citrix Summit conference, are aimed at making it much easier for channel partners to bring virtual desktop infrastructure solutions to clients, said Calvin Hsu, vice president of product marketing for the Santa Clara, Calif.-based virtualization technology developer.

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Citrix's new HCI Workspace Appliance Program combines the management capabilities of the Citrix Cloud with hyper-converged infrastructure from partners to help simplify the scalability and management of virtual desktop infrastructure environments for mid-market customers, Hsu told CRN.

Hyper-converged infrastructure is the base on which many customers are developing virtualized desktop infrastructures, or VDI, Hsu said. For instance, customers can use a hyper-converged infrastructure appliance to start deploying 200 seats on a pilot basis and then grow from there, he said.

"We realized last year that if we did just a little more work, we could make the integration of hyper-converged infrastructure and VDI easier," he said. "Think of it as being as easy to use as iCloud. Whenever someone connects their iPhone to iCloud, several features automatically work."

The new joint solution combines an HPE Edgeline server, the Atlantis USX virtual workspace infrastructure from Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Atlantis Computing, and a Citrix agent that connects the appliance to the Citrix Cloud, Hsu said.

The Citrix Ready HCI Workspace Appliance Program enables hyper-converged appliances from hardware and storage partners to connect to Citrix Cloud to automate the setup and maintenance of XenApp and XenDesktop, he said.

"The Citrix cloud is not an infrastructure-as-a-service offering," he said. "Our cloud service works on Azure to act as the management plane for XenDesktop and XenApp."

The integrated solution is based on Citrix XenServer server virtualization technology, which offers a couple of advantages over VDI technology from rival VMware, Hsu said.

These include not having to pay additional fees for the infrastructure, particularly to VMware, Hsu said. "And we've optimized XenServer for XenDesktop with GPU support, performance caching, and high availability," he said.

Citrix's relationship with Atlantis Computing stretches back to October when the two unveiled a relationship to integrate their services to provide VDI automation, said Patrick Brennan, senior product marketing manager for Atlantis.

"This new solution simplifies virtual workspace deployments," Brennan told CRN. "Complexity and budget constraints have been the biggest hurdle to this market. By combining our software with the appliance, we reduce cost and increase simplicity to make it easier for SMBs to implement."

The new hyper-converged infrastructure solution will be built by HPE and available to HPE channel partners, said Bob Davis, Atlantis' chief marketing officer. Atlantis channel partners can also get the appliance via their distributors even if they do not have an HPE relationship, Davis told CRN.

Atlantis has meet-in-the-channel relationships for its hyper-converged infrastructure technology with a wide range of vendors, including HPE, Dell, Cisco, Lenovo and Supermicro, as well as an OEM relationship with Dell, Davis said.

However, he said, it is too early to say whether Atlantis will work with Citrix to automate VDI deployment on other partners besides HPE. "Our focus now in on the purpose-built HPE solution," he said.

The new Citrix Ready HCI Workspace Appliance Program gives Citrix customers the right platform for building automated virtual desktop infrastructure solutions, said Carl Gersh, director of sales and marketing at Forthright Technology Partners, a Miramar, Fla.-based solution provider and Citrix and HPE channel partner.

Citrix workloads need to be hosted, but the Citrix Cloud does not provide a hosting solution, leaving it up to customers to either host the solutions in their own infrastructures or on a public cloud, Gersh told CRN.

"Once customers understand this, they wonder where to host their workloads," he said. "With these new appliances, Citrix is saying, 'If you need a way to host the workloads, here's an appliance to do it.' This completes the solution. It can be a challenge when the customer realizes it can't write a single check."

The new appliance also simplifies deployment for partners, Gersh said.

"As a partner, we do assessments and interview the customer base to do sizing for our solutions," Gersh said. "It may be a virtual desktop or virtualized applications. As partners, we focus on integrating the workloads and setting them up."

Mike Strohl, CEO of Entisys360, a Concord, Calif.-based solution provider that partners with Citrix, HPE, and Atlantis, said a lot of SMB and mid-market clients do not have the budget or resources to implement solutions like VDI, despite the benefits those solutions can bring.

Such clients will find the new hyper-converged infrastructure appliance a good opportunity, Strohl told CRN.

"This centralizes desktop without the need to manually manage them," he said. "We're seeing desktop-as-a-service and workspace-as-a-service in public clouds. But the public clouds are not always the right answer. This creates a new layer of conversation in the customer base which in part hasn't been able to take advantage of it."

Hsu said Citrix does not disclose the number of clients working with XenDesktop or XenApps. However, he said, the company has 350,000 to 400,000 customers worldwide with tens of millions of users. Of those customers, he said, hundreds of thousands use XenDesktop or XenApp.

Citrix is also using Citrix Summit to expand its relationship with the Azure cloud with the introduction of two new solutions.

The first, XenApp Essentials, lets customers host individual applications in the Azure cloud, and provides remote access to those applications, Hsu said. "For example, if a customer has an accounting application it no longer wants to host, or if the customer wants to make it available to multiple users, it can use XenApp Essentials to do so," he said.

The second is XenDesktop Essentials, which lets customers run their Windows 10-based images in a full virtual desktop infrastructure environment, he said.

XenApp Essentials and XenDesktop Essentials can help the legions of solution providers who are being pressed by Microsoft to drive Azure consumption, Hsu said. "Both these offerings will drive Azure consumption," he said. "XenApp and XenDesktop are among the top 10 Windows server workloads worldwide."

Channel partners can use them to also increase their services capabilities, Hsu said.

"The applications are easy to buy through the Azure marketplace," he said. "But customers need help managing their environments, looking at what should run on-premises and what should run in the cloud. These are high-value services."