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Microsoft and Citrix Boost Desktop Virtualization Efforts

Microsoft today said it is expanding its desktop virtualization portfolio with licensing changes and technology improvements, while extending its pact with longtime partner Citrix Systems.

Starting July 1, Microsoft will offer improved pricing for Windows client customers who participate in Microsoft's Software Assurance volume licensing option. Under the new plan, customers no longer have to buy a separate license to access Windows in a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) environment. VDI rights will be part of the Software Assurance agreement.

The change is aimed at giving Microsoft's customers more flexibility in how they deploy desktop virtualization, since many do not know in advance how many users they will have and when they will deploy VDI, according to Gavriella Schuster, general manager for Windows client commercial, in a telephone interview.

Microsoft also announced a new "Windows Virtual Desktop Access subscription" for customers who use devices that don't qualify for Software Assurance, such as thin-client devices, Schuster said. The license is priced at $100 per year per device.

Microsoft also enabled a remote desktop access capability that allows a mobile client device to run a Windows virtual desktop. This new capability is available to Windows client Software Assurance customers or to those who purchase the new Windows Virtual Desktop Access license, Schuster said.

On the technology front, Microsoft said it is adding two improvements. First, the company is integrating a "Remote FX" graphics acceleration platform into Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1 (SP1), Schuster said. This enhancement, benefiting remote VDI users, will be available when Microsoft rolls out the SP1, although Schuster declined to say when that would be.

Second, Microsoft plans to add "dynamic memory" management capability in Windows Server 2008 R2 when SP1 arrives. Using this feature, the memory of virtual machines can be dynamically adjusted "on demand, without sacrificing performance or scalability," Schuster said. Such a feature can help conserve RAM when virtual machines are switched on but not used, according to a Microsoft forum post.

The Remote FX integration taps into capabilities Microsoft acquired when it bought Calista Technologies in January 2008. Calista had worked on technology that improved Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol, providing a truer presentation and desktop virtualization experience for users accessing multimedia and 3-D applications remotely, according to a Microsoft blog.

Microsoft explained its rationale at the time of the acquisition in a released statement, saying that "The addition of Calista's technology to future Microsoft presentation and desktop virtualization products will enable remote workers to receive a full-fidelity Windows desktop experience without the need for high-end desktop hardware."

Long-time partner Citrix makes VDI technology that is complementary to Microsoft's virtualization solutions, including XenDesktop. At the time of the Calista acquisition, independent desktop virtualization expert Brian Madden speculated that Microsoft would either no longer need Citrix as a desktop virtualization partner, or that the Calista's technology would be integrated into Microsoft's core virtualization technologies for Citrix to tap.

The latter scenario appears to have come to fruition. Schuster noted Microsoft's 10-year partnership with Citrix on terminal services. She added that Microsoft and Citrix's HDX technology in the Citrix XenDesktop will be extended to tap into Microsoft's Remote FX platform. Microsoft will rollout the integrated XenDesktop product in about six months after SP1 is released, she added.

Also, Microsoft is collaborating with Citrix by rolling out two VDI offers. One is called the "Rescue for VMware VDI program." Under this program, customers can trade in a VMware View license for a Microsoft VDI standard license and a Citrix XenDesktop VDI license at no additional cost. The other is a "VDI Kickstart program" for new customers. The Kickstart program lets customer run VDI for $7,000 for 250 devices. Both programs run through the end of 2010.

Finally, Microsoft offered some good news for IT pros with tight hardware budgets. Microsoft no longer requires that PCs have built-in hardware virtualization capabilities in the CPU to run desktop virtualization via Windows XP Mode, Virtual PC, or Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V). Microsoft found, through customer feedback, that the hardware virtualization requirement was a "significant hindrance" to deployment, Schuster said.

Microsoft offers various desktop virtualization and application virtualization tools for Software Assurance customers as part of its Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack 2010 suite, which was updated in February to include App-V 4.6.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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