Cisco, Citrix team on enterprise desktop virtualization

The combined package for running a large number of virtual desktops across an organization should cut the costs of deployment

Hoping to ease a typically arduous deployment process, Citrix and Cisco Systems are jointly offering a package for running a large number of virtual desktops across an organization.

The idea behind the as-yet-unnamed offering is to "bring simplicity to the desktop market," said Jackie Ross, a Cisco vice president.

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The package includes Citrix's XenDesktop, which is VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) software that downloads an operating system to a desktop computer from a centralized pool of servers. The package also includes Cisco's Unified Computing System, an integrated assemblage of blade servers, switches, storage adapters, and networking fabric.

By teaming with Cisco, Citrix is hoping to distinguish its offering in the increasingly crowded VDI space, which also includes products such as VMware View and Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization.

The basic starter kit will provide remote access for up to 300 users. The companies will provide "expansion packs," as Ross described them, for an additional 400 users per pack. The system should be able to scale to "tens of thousands of users," Ross said.

The package benefits from engineering customization, which should cut the costs of deployment, executives from both companies said during a press conference. For instance, it will include extended-memory B250 blade servers from Cisco. The memory extensions should boost the number of desktops each blade server can maintain by 20 percent, or up to 100 users of high-memory applications.

"We can offer up to four times more memory in a two-socket blade," Ross said, adding that, "More often than not, memory becomes the bottleneck, not the CPUs. So customers will require [fewer] blades to support the same number of virtual desktops."

The system will run 10 Gigabit Ethernet, with connections to storage using either FCoE (Fibre Channel over Ethernet) or Fibre Channel. Each switch should accommodate up to 320 blade servers.

Because XenDesktop uses Citrix's HDX (High-Definition User Experience), a set of streaming protocols, users should be able to access desktops over great distances by way of a WAN (Wide Area Network), said Citrix vice president Sumit Dhawan.

The software was built with an "open architecture," Dhawan said. It will be able to support multiple client devices, storage back-ends and hypervisors. This package can use either XenServer or VMware's ESX Server, and will support Microsoft's Hyper-V in the near future, Dhawan said.

The companies are not providing storage with the package, but they do offer profiles to help customers hook their systems to their NetApp products and other brands of back-end storage.

The package is available now, though Cisco and Citrix representatives declined to provide the price of the product to the press. The companies will provide a single support telephone line for both installation and post-installation issues arising from either company's products.

While VDI has been around for several years, Microsoft's release of Windows 7 was widely seen as a catalyst for greater adoption, even if enterprise deployment remains sluggish.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's email address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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