Now that the May 20 release date of Citrix XenDesktop is getting close, it's worth having a conversation about some strange pricing that works out to a $175 per concurrent user (CCU) tax on application publishing.
[Note: I made a factual error in this blog. In it, I wrote that Citrix XenDesktop supports publishing desktops from Terminal Servers in addition to VDI desktops. (You know, since that was the whole marketing message around v1 of the product.) But thanks to the commenters I learned that Citrix removed that feature from the version of XenDesktop that will ship in a few weeks. However, I'm keeping this blog intact, as I think that fact does not change my main point, which is that Citrix has a pricing "tax" for application publishing since Presentation Server is so much more expensive per CCU than XenDesktop.]
Let's first start with some background facts. Citrix Presentation Server is available in three editions: Advanced, Enterprise, and Platinum, for $350, $450, and $600 per CCU each, respectively. Without going into the full details of the differences per edition, you should at least know that application streaming (whether to Presentation Servers or offline users) is only available in the Enterprise ($450) edition or above.
Citrix XenDesktop will (on May 20) also be available in Advanced, Enterprise, and Platinum editions, for $75, $175, or $275 per CCU each, respectively. The $75 version does not include Provisioning Server (Ardence), so no one will probably buy that, and the $275 version includes EdgeSight and other things that are nice, but not crucial, so for the purposes of this article, the $175 per CCU Enterprise version of XenDesktop is probably the version that most people will be buying. (All three versions include PortICA and XenServer, by the way.)
Presentation Server and XenDesktop both connect users to remote sessions via the ICA protocol. Presentation Server connects users to single applications published seamlessly as well as full published desktops, although the "catch" is that both must be running from Terminal Servers.
XenDesktop connects users to full desktops only, although they can be running from Terminal Servers or single instance Windows XP / Vista running on blades or VMs. XenDesktop's "catch" is that it can only connect users to full desktops--not single seamless published applications.
The problem is that neither product offers single application seamless windows publishing from a single-user VDI desktop. (This is something that Ericom and Provision Networks / Quest have offered for a long time.)
It's weird because Citrix supports the concept of single app publishing (Presentation Server), and they support the concept of single-user hosted computing (XenDesktop), so they can't logically say there's no business case. But why don't they let you combine these both into a single product?
It's simple: Presentation Server costs more than XenDesktop. A lot more. Minimum $175 per USER more if you compare XenDesktop Enterprise (the minimun usable version) to Presentation Server Advanced (the cheapest version). If Citrix simply added single application seamless windows publishing to their $175 per user XenDesktop product, why on earth would anyone spend $350 per CCU for Presentation Server?
Think about it. The main argument against VM-based VDI (today) is about user density. Given the same hardware, you can fit many more users on a server running Terminal Server than you can on that same server running a bunch of Windows XP VMs.
However, the difference between $350 for Presentation Server and $175 for XenDesktop is a lot of money. (Remember, this is PER USER!) Imagine if the average Terminal Server could support 100 users. That's a $17,500 "tax" on that server just to publish seamless apps! (It's a "seamless app tax" because if you just wanted to publish desktops, you'd use the $175 XenDesktop with Provisioning Server and be done. Sure, you'd have to buy more hardware to support those same hundred users, but $17,500 can buy a lot of cores and RAM. And I'd argue that even if you had to spend ALL the money you saved on extra hardware, I'd still go for the XenDesktop solution because then I could use a single Windows XP image for all my users--local and remote.)
(Oh, and it's funny. I was telling someone at Citrix about this, saying "why would anyone buy Presentation Server anymore if XenDesktop offered single-app publishing?" and his response was "streaming," since people can use Presentation Server to stream apps that can run locally on clients. But to get streaming, you need the Enterprise version of Presentation Server which is $450 per CCU, or $275 MORE than XenDesktop Enterprise PER USER. So now you're talking about a difference of $27k for 100 users. But really who would buy Enterprise just for streaming since you can buy SoftGrid from Microsoft which is much better for less money.)
Back on topic, so the reason Citrix can't add single app publishing to XenDesktop is because doing so would cannibalize their Presentation Server sales which still make up the lion's share of their annual revenue.
So what else could Citrix do? They can't raise the price of XenDesktop, because VMware's all-inclusive VDI solution is $150 per CCU, and Provision Networks / Quest's solution is $100 per CCU, so raising the price of XenDesktop over $175 would put them right out of the game. (And you know if they did offer a single app publishing feature they would make that part of Platinum or Super Platinum or whatever which would probably be at least $275.)
Maybe Citrix could just add a feature to Presentation Server where you could also use Presentation Server to publish seamless apps from single user Workstation OSes? (Essentially "build in" the XenDesktop features to Presentation Server.) But this is weird now because XenDesktop Enterprise and Platinum include Citrix Provisioning Server, but Presentation Server does not. (Even Presentation Server Platinum does not! But that's an article for another day.)
Rock, hard place: meet Citrix.
The bottom line is the fact that XenDesktop is so cool yet so cheap is really going to come back to haunt Citrix. And they're stuck. They can't raise the price because they have to compete with VMware and Quest. Quest already has the single app VDI publishing feature, but no one is paying too much attention to them (yet). But can you imagine what would happen if VMware added single-user app publishing to their VDI solution? And if they kept the price down to under $200 or so? What would Citrix do then? Talk about game-changing!
By the way, if you currently use Citrix Presentation Server just to publish desktops, I would immediately throw that away and buy Citrix XenDesktop Enterprise or Platinum when it comes out. Depending on which version of Presentation Server you use, you could save $75 to $425 PER USER.