Cisco and Citrix Join Forces for Desktop Virtualization

A new push by partners Cisco and Citrix might encourage IT organizations to take a serious look at desktop virtualization.

A new virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) push by partners Cisco Systems Inc. and Citrix Systems Inc. might encourage IT organizations to take a serious look at desktop virtualization.

Last month, the companies signed a five-year strategic alliance agreement centered on desktop virtualization. Cisco pledged to optimize its Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) for Citrix's XenDesktop. Cisco and Citrix announced a raft of new application, security, and services initiatives -- while Cisco claimed to have licked a problem that has long bedeviled VDI advocates: the poor performance of rich video and audio in a virtual context.

Cisco and Citrix say WAAS optimization will make it easier for customers to deploy virtual desktops across wide area networks (WAN).

The proposed optimization, which Cisco expects to deliver by the end of this year, promises to accelerate the delivery of virtual desktop and applications up to 70 percent faster to WAN devices. It will also permit IT organizations to support twice as many virtual desktop clients while reducing per-client bandwidth by up to 60 percent, the companies claim.

As part of the optimization agreement, Cisco and Citrix plan to jointly test, validate, and verify WAAS as a Citrix Ready solution, which means that it will interoperate with Citrix's HDX technology, support the independent computing architecture (ICA) remote desktop protocol, and be validated to support XenDesktop encryption, compression, and network management.

The Cisco/Citrix partnership could be a case of especially good timing.

Though it is growing, VDI uptake isn't even close to reaching the pace predicted by Gartner Inc. two years ago, when it forecast that virtual desktops would account for almost 40 percent of the worldwide PC market by the end of 2013.

Gartner, in fact, says that Citrix has been able to use XenDesktop to vault to the No. 3 position in the overall virtualization pecking order.

"Citrix is leveraging its position in desktop virtualization to grow its foothold in the server virtualization market as the third-place vendor in terms of market share," wrote analysts Tom Bittman and George Weiss in Gartner's "Magic Quadrant for Server Virtualization Infrastructure," released in July. "Citrix's strategy has served it well," Bittman and Weiss continue, because "XenDesktop has emerged as the product of choice for most HVD customers. This rapid adoption of XenDesktop has carried XenServer into VMware-centric organizations."

The rubber is starting to meet the road for many enterprise customers, too.

"Over the years we've noticed a clear trend in customers moving from learning about desktop virtualization to actually deploying desktop virtualization in large numbers," wrote Brad Peterson, director of executive engagement with Citrix, on his blog. When customers visit Citrix's Conference Center in Santa Clara, Peterson continues, they're given a thorough demo of how desktop and application virtualization works. "As I show [desktop virtualization] across a diverse set end of end point devices, I really see the 'ah-ha moment' when [customers] realize they can finally address this explosion of end point devices in a secure, manageable, cost-effective manner," he claimed.

Cisco Announces New Virtual Desktop Client Offerings

Cisco announced the VXC 6215 and VXC 4000, a pair of new VDI-oriented deliverables designed to accelerate virtualized audio and video.

Cisco positions its new VXC 6215 thin client as a complete desktop replacement solution. It supports point-to-point connections between devices in a virtual desktop infrastructure. With an optional firmware upgrade, the VXC 6215 also supports voice- and video-processing for rich media.

Voice and video can be problematic in a virtual context typically because of latency issues that tend to result in a sub-optimal end-user experience. Thanks to the VXC's point-to-point topology and built-in video- and voice-processing capabilities, users can interact or collaborate with improved clarity, Cisco claims.

Poor audio or video performance in a virtual environment is a deal-breaker for many enterprise customers, claims Citrix's Peterson.

"There has also been an explosion of rich media in business communications -- from written to verbal to video -- and so naturally organizations of all types and sizes are also trying to ensure their virtual desktops can deliver a high definition experience to their users," he writes.

The new VXC 4000 is a software package that can "repurpose" a desktop PC into a media-ready virtual desktop client. In this case, the VXC 4000 can exploit a PC's processing resources to accelerate rich media, according to Cisco.

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