After attending the dutch Citrix Partner Exchange 2010 I realized that there is a lot of FUD out there:

  • in the Citrix community with regards to VMware View and PCoIP;
  • with me personally with regards to XenDesktop (no F, but a lot of UD)

This is also what we saw when Alex shared his experience with Citrix XenDesktop, which was not so positive, and we got a lot of comments comparing XenDesktop to VMware View.

But the Citrix Partner Exchange got me interested in XenDesktop and XenClient and I decided to do a little research. Then I came across Brian Maddens site to find that he had just finished his ‘Geek week VDI‘ in which he did a ‘real life’ lab-test with VMware, Citrix and Microsoft VDI. They tested all three vendor in their lab environment but added a WAN ‘simulator’ to create real life and worst case scenarios by introducing packet loss and latency.

And honestly I was surprised by some of their their conclusions. Not because I have no faith in Brian Madden but because I know Brian Madden to be a real Citrix enthusiast and a PCoIP critic. At the end he was very honest by admitting that Citrix XenDesktop looks like a mash-up of a bunch of different things, he was surprised by the simple, straightforward installation and configuration of VMware View and the good performance of PC-o-IP.

So bottom line?

  • VMware View shines because of simplicity and has good user experience even with PC-o-IP over a WAN connection.
  • XenDesktop is, at the moment, certainly the more mature and complete product but it’s complexity is a drawback.
  • And Microsoft ‘in box’ VDI? Well as expected, it’s complex, not enterprise ready and it’s no match for Citrix or VMware.


So as always, there is no clear winner, it all depends on the customer’s wishes.

Special thanks to Brian Madden and his team for creating this great VDI test!


I won’t summarize the total VDI test, you can read it yourself here but I will quote some of the conclusions which I found to be very interesting.

VMware View

Gabes’ comments:

I was most surprised that we had the entire thing up and running less than three hours. […..] Part of the reason the setup didn’t take as long (besides the fact that View is made up of purpose-built components and not a hodge-podge of things that just so happen to work together) is that there are simply less moving parts.

[…] If you don’t want to broker SBC or use another hypervisor, then the simplicity is elegant, but if your environment calls for more than what View has to offer, the simplicity can become a setback.

Regarding the user experience, I’m happy to see that PCoIP provides a quality user experience, and it’s encouraging to see how well it performed on the WAN. The “build to lossless” feature was really cool to watch, and I hope it shows up well in the user experience videos.

Brian’s comments:

VMware is one of two vendors that really surprised me this week. […], I had two main biases against them […]. First, I was afraid that since their history is server virtualization and they think “a VM is a VM is a VM,” I was nervous that View would have a server-centric approach to desktops and that stuff View Composer wouldn’t make sense for desktop people. Second, I was skeptical that PC-over-IP would be any good, especially over the WAN. I thought the build-to-lossless would be annoying and I’m surprised VMware decided to take on Citrix in the protocol space.

As you saw in the videos, the reality is that View was very straightforward to install. I was surprised at how easy View Composer was, and I liked that I could do everything I needed to do via the View Management Console.
PC-over-IP definitely surprised me with the fact that it was an overall decent experience—both on the LAN and the WAN—and I confidently say it passes the “good enough” test.

[…], and there’s no doubt that XenDesktop has more features than View. But when it comes to setup and simplicity, I’ll take View over XenDesktop any day. The question is whether View is too simple. No Terminal Server support. No blade support for PC-over-IP. No remote assistance for users. No choice of hypervisors. Really it’s like View is a giant “easy button.” If you’re lucky enough that your exact needs match its exact capabilities, then you’ve got a simple winner. But if you need more than View can do, the search goes on…

Geek Week VDI: VMware View component installation (Part 1)
Geek Week VDI: VMware View Composer configuration (Part 2)

Geek Week VDI: VMware View WAN experience testing (Part 3)
Geek Week VDI Day 2: VMware View 4 Summary

Citrix XenDesktop

Gabes’ comments:

[…]  All in all, Citrix’s product is just what we expected to see from a top-tier VDI vendor, from the installation and configuration down to the user experience.  The only major knock that we have is the Provisioning Server complexity, and it’s safe to say that Citrix is aware of it and is working to make it easier to get up and running.

Brian’s comments:

I’ve been working with Citrix since 1998, so this was definitely the product I was the most familiar with. […..]. It’s familiar, but definitely not comfortable. And this is how I feel about XenDesktop. We have a product that is very capable. We have a protocol that’s very mature. But I just can’t help but feel like this thing is a mash-up of a bunch of different things—some of which were definitely not designed for this kind of use. Ironically this is a great analog for desktop virtualization in general: The components are there, but it just feels a bit mashed up.

Geek Week VDI: Citrix XenDesktop initial installation video (Part 1)
Geek Week VDI: Citrix Provisioning Server installation and setup (Part 2)

Geek Week VDI: Citrix XenDesktop WAN experience testing (Part 3)

Geek Week VDI Day 1: Citrix XenDesktop 4 summary

Microsoft VDI

Gabes’ comments:

[…] Comparing apples to apples, if you remove dynamic provisioning from the equation (since the “in box” VDI solution doesn’t have that as a feature) and just compare getting the desktop broker piece up and running, Microsoft is easily the most complex thing we saw. Now, I didn’t have very high expectations for Microsoft coming in to the day, since neither VDI solution is really targeted for enterprise-wide implementation, but I was still a little disappointed there.

[…] We cut out a lot of footage where we were looking for specific settings in several different places, uninstalling roles so we could put them on a different machine that wouldn’t conflict with something else, and so on.

Still, while it was as slick as sandpaper, it did work in the end. So, with a little effort, it is possible to stand up a, more or less, free VDI solution.

Brian’s comments:

There are a lot of moving parts that aren’t necessarily designed to be used in this way, and even once it’s all working it’s confusing to keep things straight. (Even with the Microsoft guys onsite, we had more than one occurence of “Oh wait, that’s configured over here, not there,” and “Where is that setting again?”)

In terms of practical limitations, the Server 2008 R2 in box solution is mostly missing the ability to thin provision shared master images and the ability to load-balance incoming user connections. Those two things right there limit Microsoft’s usefulness to only the simplest or environments. But the irony, of course, is that Microsoft’s VDI offering over-complexifies these simple solutions.. Like there are just a ton of moving parts to get integrated and working with no super cool result.

If I’m a smaller environment, I’m probably going with something simple to setyup like VMware View Quest vWorkspace […]. I just can’t see wading through the Microsoft muck just to end up with what they offer.

Oh wait. It’s free. (“Free” as in if you buy the requisite MS licenses for any VDI product, you have by definition bought the licenses you need to deploy the Microsoft in box solution.) So if your company is super poor or super cheap, and you like to script things, then the Microsoft in box solution might be for you. (Of course if you’re super cheap, I don’t think VDI is for you in the first place.)

Geek Week VDI: Microsoft “in box” VDI Whiteboard (Part 1)
Geek Week VDI: Microsoft “in box” VDI installation and configuration (Part 2)

Geek Week VDI: Microsoft “in box” VDI WAN experience (Part 3)
Geek Week VDI Day 4: Microsoft “in box” VDI solution summary