REVIEW: Citrix VDI-In-a-box Beta

After the buzz we heard about the Kaviza acquisition by Citrix at Synergy San Francisco back in April, I was very excited to see how well this technology would fit into Citrix’s menu of virtualization offerings.  In recent months, I’ve gone hands-on with the Kaviza 4.0 Beta and now most recently with the Beta release of VDI-In-A-Box that was revealed and released at Synergy Barcelona last month.  I can say that from what I’ve seen and played with, it definitely lives up to its name and should hit the target market (which Citrix now has defined as the SMB space) well.  I would venture so far as to say that I predict that this offering will exceed those market boundaries and find applications and install footprints in much larger organizations as well.  More on that later…

First, the technicals.  I found the concept ridiculously easy to prepare and carry out.  Almost any network administrator should be able to have a basic Kaviza grid and some desktops up and running in a half a day, EASY.  Being the nerdy Citrix guy I am, I quickly dove into the setup without bothering myself with the details of READING THE DOCUMENTATION.  In my haste to impress my peers by setting up VDI in 10 minutes or less, I imported the Kaviza VDI Manager appliance into XenServer 6, not remembering that it cannot live in a POOLED environment.  The virtual appliance and grid must be maintained on a non-pooled hypervisor so that it can properly manage resources.  This is by design.  So I moved it over to a standalone XenServer, and had it configured within a few minutes.  It defaults to DHCP networking initially, but this can be very easily changed in the initial configuration.  All management is facilitated through a very clean, Netscaler-esque Web GUI on the appliance.  Next, I’d recommend that one read the documentation for base desktop image creation because there are a few prerequisites you must adhere to depending on the desktop OS chosen (RDP enabled, Media Center Installed, PV tools installed, SP version correct, etc.) to move on to the import of the base desktop and creation of the base image.  Once that’s ready, the import/image process goes very quickly and your base desktop will then install the VDI agent, and it’s ready to rock and roll from that point on.  It is very easy to then create, and manage desktops in the console.  It’s really intuitive to view manage how many desktops you have in use, waiting for connections, starting, etc.  It’s equally easy to manage VM templates for desktops, assign them to users/groups, and set policies for desktop images.  I was very impressed with desktop performance also – because it uses the HDX stack, my evaluation of LAN-based desktop performance was great.  I would expect performance to be on par with a XenDesktop-delivered desktop because they both use the same protocol.  All in all, I think this is an exceptional turnkey solution to introduce VDI to a much larger market that was until now excluded from looking at VDI offerings because of their inherent cost, complexity, and implementation effort.

Those same obstacles that this solution seeks to overcome also plague much larger organizations.  As a former Sales Engineer, I remember taking a full week just to set up a 50 user desktop virtualization Proof of Concept or Pilot environment.  This solution has some well documented sizing and scalability documentation based on real-world experiences that should offer good guidance for SMB’s and larger organizations that could very easily find that this solution meets all the requirements and goals that a much more complex VDI pilot or PoC sought before.  Because of the unique “grid” architecture of this solution, scalability and expansion of any deployment could be made in a controlled, modular fashion by simply adding more grids.  It looks as though there will be central management for several VDI managers or grids, making the solution highly adaptive and controllable in terms of cost and management.  This is where I see some large orgs converting existing complex VDI explorations into a much more simpler model a la Kaviza.  As long as performance and scalability are acceptable, I can’t foresee a much simpler solution than this for many organizations that don’t need or want tens of thousands of virtual desktops to deploy and manage all in one fell swoop.  And I wonder if that might be the majority of virtual desktop implementations, regardless of organization size, in the near term.   We just aren’t seeing huge numbers of 1000+ seat VDI deployments, or large-scale conversions from physical to virtual desktops, even with Windows 7/8 migrations planned and underway.  Maybe something like this will help turn that tide by offering it in a more palatable dose and portion size….

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