What does Windows Virtual Desktop mean to Citrix? Citrix might look more like a systems integrator.

Citrix is going to be a Microsoft Cloud Solutions Provider and resell Microsoft 365 and Azure compute. Being a combination software vendor/systems integrator can be a great position.

We’ve all had a little while for the Windows Virtual Desktop news to sink in (BrianMadden.com is at four blog posts with 86 comments and counting). Today, I’m going to add to that by looking at what WVD means to Citrix.

I’ve been of a few different minds on this. I went from thinking this was yet another DaaS offering that’ll Citrix will have to compete with; then to thinking that this is the exact bit of infrastructure that they need; and finally, to thinking that this could be indicative of a whole new lucrative business for Citrix, based on their plans to become a Microsoft Cloud Solutions Provider.

Citrix’s stated plans

Citrix has put out a couple of blog posts on Windows Virtual Desktop. Notably, they announced Citrix DaaS, and outlined how Citrix Workspace will integrate WVD.

Citrix DaaS will be a full end-to-end offering based on WVD:

  • Citrix will become a Microsoft 365 reseller, as well as a Microsoft Cloud Solutions Provider.
  • The offering will include Azure compute and storage for the desktops, and will be available in the Azure Marketplace.
  • Citrix will prepare, manage, monitor, and maintain the desktops, as well as take care of remote access, MFA, and of course provide HDX.
  • They’re also pitching the offering to IT shops that are less experienced with desktop virtualization.

Citrix customers will also be able to plug WVD-managed desktops into Citrix Workspace:

  • From both the end user and IT admin perspective, this is yet another resource that can be pulled into Citrix Workspace.
  • Customers can use WVD with Citrix app layering, desktop monitoring and management, profile management, and Citrix Analytics for security.
  • The WVD/Citrix combo can take advantage of Azure Virtual WAN optimization.

Cycles of different thoughts

When I first heard the news, my knee-jerk thought was that it was bad for Citrix. It sounded like just the latest in a long line of desktop virtualizations/DaaS offerings that aim to compete with Citrix by being cheaper and simpler.

But once you think about it, you realize that Windows Virtual Desktop is basically just a broker—one that happens to work with a cool new multi-user version of Windows 10, and be restricted to Azure-based workloads.

The cool new version of Windows aside, a broker does not make a whole desktop virtualization stack—customers also need security, app management, profile management, a high-end protocol for some use cases, native modern “workspace” clients for all their devices, and so on. Let alone does a broker make a whole EUC stack, where customers also need UEM, EFSS, identity, and more.

So in this regard, Windows Virtual Desktop is not a threat to Citrix. Rather, it’s a bonus, since it’s a useful component that they can integrate with as they desire. In today’s world of microservices and serverless computing, breaking out a few components and integrating them from another provider makes more sense than ever before.

However, I still have some concerns. With Windows Virtual Desktop, Microsoft is yet again moving in on part of Citrix’s core territory. How far can “embrace and extend” go?

This has happened plenty of times before: Microsoft bought Softricity, and Citrix let their own app virtualization efforts fall by the wayside; Microsoft RDP is “good enough” for many use cases; Hyper-V has much more market share than XenServer; and you can manage all the XenMobile apps with Intune. And in the future, Microsoft could eventually add more profile and app management features to WVD.

Citrix has a broad portfolio of strong EUC products. (I think the identity and security products, especially as related to SaaS apps, are indeed interesting and important developments.) But I found myself thinking of something Gabe wrote a few years ago when Elliott first made their investment.

Gabe wrote: “Citrix does a LOT of stuff, but they no longer have the ‘undisputed leader’ tag on anything they do, especially their bread-and-butter desktop virtualization.” I think this is still true today. As “embrace and extend” continues, they’re entering areas where they have more and more competition.

This also reminds me of another article from around the same time, when Brian wrote that Citrix needs to embrace competition in areas where they don’t lead. This is also still true today.

The one asterisk on this whole conversation is the question of how successful will Windows Virtual Desktop actually turn out to be. There’s a lot of optimism that it will be way better than Azure Remote App, but still, ARA left a bad taste in lot of people’s mouths.

Citrix’s future as a vendor and Microsoft Cloud Solutions Provider

This brings me my most recent thoughts. As Citrix is becoming a Microsoft 365 reseller, and will be a Microsoft Cloud Solutions Provider, I think they could become a powerhouse systems integrator in desktop virtualization/DaaS and end user computing.

Most will agree that they have more experience than anyone in desktop virtualization; they have tons of mindshare; and they have their whole existing customer base. Citrix can use those advantages to sell a combination of their own products, Microsoft offerings, and other offerings, as needed.

Like Brian’s article said three years ago, “The most important thing is that Citrix has to let their customers build custom solutions around best-of-breed products, even if those products are not from Citrix!

Transitioning from a pure software vendor to more of an SI means that they might miss out on some of the prestige of being the “undisputed leader” in some software categories, but they would still be top of mind in desktop virtualization.

More importantly, being a top systems integrator isn’t a bad place to be—many are considered thought leaders, and they’re healthy, strong businesses. Being a combination software vendor and SI would be a good future for Citrix.

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So will Citrix now have two connection brokers? Citrix has been saying all along that you can seamlessly move from on-premises to cloud as it's the same architecture. How will that be possible now?
Hi Jack

Great article Jack.

In addition, vendors will also need a multi-user framework if they want to support a high-end or non-RDP protocol for Win10 multi-user (which is also similar to the case for Win Svr 2016/2019).

MSFT has valued real multi-user DaaS, and sent a message that concerns about "noisy-neighbor" are misplaced.

VDI/DaaS/App Delivery comes in various flavors now...

-Real multi-user DaaS or App Delivery (Win10 multi-user), restricted to Azure via WVD
-Shared multi-user DaaS and application delivery (Win Svr 2016/2019), can be on multi/hybrid cloud
-Single-user "DaaS" and "application delivery" (Win Svr 2016/2019), can be on multi/hybrid cloud

A vendor that provides a lot of flexibility to customers in these modes, along with profile mgmt., UEM, Identity, etc. will be the SI/ISV of choice for a customer.
@Chromotif Single user DaaS should be Win 10 to stay current with the Win 10 release cadence. Win Svr 2019 is going to be behind Win10, so adds application testing overhead in a mixed physical virtual environment. So the overhead of testing multi-user mode is lower on the current Win10 release on Azure.

Microsoft/Okta provide identity/auth (Citrix and VMware are not credible here). UEM (InTune will get better over next three years, VMware Airwatch will not be worth the premium), profile management (Microsoft will have to improve to make WVD viable, but FSLogix, Ivanti and others provide better standalone solutions than expensive Citrix/VMware packages).

So all this flexibility may come at low value because most of the good stuff comes for free from Microsoft and there are better standalone add-ons that the packages from Citrix or VMware.

@Jack your article is light on technical details because there are none or shipping products. I am not sure how any of this is really going to work, or if it is viable, so there is not way I can make any decisions on this.
Re. Single user DaaS, that's a subset of the first case (multi-user Win10) I mentioned earlier. And you are right of Win10 app compat/support vs Win Svr app compat.

Re. all your other points, you are right -- there are bits and pieces of tech. stack available from either MSFt or other vendors, and that's the point Jack's making which is larger ISVs will now become an SI and amalgamate either their components or third-party components with MSFT's services. One who does this best (flexibility, totality, cost effectiveness), will win.
Very difficult to achieve and provide an integrated experience. Microsoft/AWS/GCP can provide integrated admin experiences on their vertically integrated cloud platforms. Citrix is not a platform that will allow you to do this easily. Nutanix I think will teach Citrix a few lessons as they go to war in this space. Everything else is an add-on and requires different admin experiences. So we end up with best of breed services across these platforms we need to consume. The value to tie all these together via an access/auth layer seems very low to me, unless you also own the identity like Okta or Microsoft. Hence I don't see Citrix or VMware well positioned to offer lots of value. I am sure they will integrate a few of their pieces with a few of Microsoft's pieces and that will be good enough for some. It will be another piece in the puzzle for us IT folks to integrate all the services outside of that bubble, so our users can pick best of breed.
This will go nowhere. Historically, Citrix has not needed to compete for published apps and desktops because of the ICA protocol. They became lazy and made major mistakes with Citrix Cloud. It doesn't work. They let VMware Horizon get their groove back and VMware now have a better EMM (Airwatch) solution than Microsoft. Microsoft failed at Remote App, and those same people that failed are building WVD/RDMi, which we know sucks based on the previews. Why is Citrix going to be successful by replacing something that sucks with something that sucks..? It will take years to get right.

I don't believe any of it. I think that's why there are no technical details available of how it will work. They don't know... It's pure marketing so Citrix can sell more Microsoft licenses and slow VMware down. Brad Anderson doesn't understand that Citrix Cloud doesn't work, RDMi sucks (duh) and I don't think he cares. He is married to EMM/InTune, and this helps him weaken VMware Horizon Cloud on Azure (which is better than Citrix Cloud) as a bargaining chip against VMware Airwatch. Why else would VMware not be mentioned as a Azure option for WVD? If this fails again, Microsoft should fire all the fools playing games. Give us more options and pick what is viable based on innovation not marketing.
Citrix is one-trick pony. No innovation after ICA protocol.
Regarding "Microsoft could eventually add more profile and app management features to WVD", Microsoft have purchased FSLogix, so they already have profile and Office365 management baked (or will have when it is GA) into the WVD product..