Last week, Citrix’s Chris Fleck started a conversation over at the Citrix blog site where he asked whether there’s value in Citrix enabling ICA connections (with full HDX capabilities) to desktop OSes directly instead of forcing users to connect through the XenDesktop connection broker. Specifically, Chris wrote:
We have been discussing ways to make HDX more pervasive and useful to IT pros and users. HDX has significant benefits and we want the broader industry to try it out and get a taste of XenDesktop.
This is potentially a huge deal, so I’d like to bring this conversation to the BrianMadden.com audience since not everyone is probably aware of Chris’s post.
So let’s dig into it. First of all:
What is a standalone connection?
Simply put, a standalone connection means that Citrix would provide a standalone MSI package that could be installed onto Windows XP / Vista / Win7 desktops that would let ICA clients establish connections directly to the host desktop directly via the computer name or IP address. From a technical standpoint this would have nothing to do with XenDesktop. It’s just an ICA/HDX connection to a desktop instead of a terminal server.
If you haven’t used Citrix’s XenDesktop product, you might be surprised to learn that this capability actually isn’t possible today! Current versions of XenDesktop require that users first connect to a Citrix Web Interface / desktop broker to be routed to the desktop (physical/virtual/blade) where their ICA/HDX connection is established. So even if you downloaded the Citrix Virtual Desktop Agent (VDA) software and installed it onto a regular desktop, the agent only starts listening for incoming ICA connections after it’s been contacted by the central connection broker, so attempting a connection to 1494 or 2598 to a desktop with the VDA installed but without XenDesktop will just run you into a closed port.
Interestingly, Citrix XenApp has always allowed standalone connections (although in recent versions they’re disabled by default). So this capability would not be new to Citrix, just new to desktops.
Why would anyone want a standalone connection?
There are a lot of reasons that people might want to connect via ICA/HDX to a desktop outside of a proper XenDesktop environment. (And by the way, Citrix is interested in knowing your reasons, so feel free to leave a comment here or vote in the poll embedded in Chris’s original post on Citrix.com. Possible use cases include:
- Creating simple proofs-of-concept. (Show users the concept and experience of connecting to their own images via ICA/HDX without having to go through all the trouble of setting up XenDesktop.)
- Smaller or simpler VDI deployments where all users would be using private (a.k.a. “one-to-one” or “persistent”) images.
- Using VDI where you don’t trust the HA capabilities of the connection broker, or where you don’t want to add the complexity of a broker.
- Using VDI where you want to use another VDI framework (VMware View, Microsoft VDI Suite, etc.) but you still want ICA/HDX
- As a method for users to connect to their own corporate desktops. (Kind of like a private in-house GoToMyPC.)
- Cloud-based desktops where you want ICA/HDX.
- Dev / testing of remote desktop VMs where you just want full ICA/HDX instead of just RDP.
- Troubleshooting XenDesktop. e.g. if a user can’t connect to his or her desktop, you could try connecting directly via ICA/HDX to verify that the core components are online, working, and not being blocked by a firewall or policy or something. (Thanks to Shawn Bass for that suggestion.)
- An easy way to configure multiple "tiers" of users. e.g. Let high value users get their own dedicated machines while the riff-raff share overloaded VMs. (Thanks to App Detective for that suggestion.)
How would Citrix release this standalone ICA connections?
Assuming that Citrix believes this is a good capability to have, how do you think they’ll release it?
- Will it be built into the XenDesktop product? So when you buy XenDesktop, you also get the capability to connect via ICA/HDX directly to desktops?
- Will it be released as a standalone product, like for $50 per user you can buy an ICA/HDX standalone license.
My gut reaction would be that Citrix would make this a option for XenDesktop customers. Then again, Chris’s blog post talks about wanting to expose people to the benefits of ICA/HDX, so maybe that’s a hint that they’re thinking about this as a standalone release? On the one hand, that might hurt their XenDesktop sales. But on the other, they’ve always been saying that XenDesktop is more than ICA, so why not make this a standalone capability?
That said, the cheapest XenDesktop is only $75 per concurrent user. (Not counting the free 10-user Express Edition.) Heck, if Citrix added standalone ICA to the $75 edition of XenDesktop, I’ll bet people who are using other VDI products would buy that edition just for ICA and not even use the rest! (Which I think would be fine, right? I mean there’s no reason for Citrix to limit this standalone ICA thing to Platinum or Enterprise editions, is there?
How likely is this to happen?
So now that we’ve looked into all the details of this ICA/HDX standalone capability, how likely is this to happen? (Because Chris’s blog post makes it clear that they’re just thinking about this—they’re not committed to anything.)
My personal feeling is that this is fairly likely. In addition to all the reasons listed above, Citrix already has a marketing-friendly name picked out: HDX Connect. If this was just some project they were toying around with, it’d have a codename like “Project Flecktacular.”
And from a complexity standpoint, I can’t imagine that there’s too many code changes that need to happen to convert the existing VDA software agent into a standalone non-XenDesktop-requiring mode. Really it just depends on how they decide to license it. (And on that note, how cool would it be if Citrix just made this available for free, or super cheap, like $10 a user. Then everyone would use it. Microsoft would love it. And VMware would be caught in their own “we’re protocol agnostic” shtick and be forced to support it, which would make their blood boil since every View project on the planet would be enabled by Citrix. And Citrix would just sit back and look cool, knowing they were the reason that VDI was so popular.