The VDI Debate: Microsoft RDS Or Citrix XenApp

For quite some time now, Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) has been a favorable way for organizations to deliver both desktop environments and applications in a secure way while enabling remote access. Virtualized infrastructure offers several advantages over a traditional environment, which are driving businesses to adopt and implement VDI.

There has been a long-standing debate about Remote Desktop Services (RDS) versus Citrix. However, Microsoft RDS and Citrix XenApp may not be necessarily contradictory to each other as XenApp helps extend RDS desktop sessions and applications to users through the Citrix HDX protocol.

Before we dive deep into this comparison, let’s have a brief idea of what Microsoft RDS and Citrix XenApp are.

Microsoft RDS

Microsoft Remote Desktop Services (RDS), previously known as Terminal Services, is a component of Windows Server 2012 R2 that enables users to access virtual machine-based desktops, session-based desktops, or applications in the data center from both within a corporate network and from the Internet. The connection between the remote users and the desktops is either established by desktop sessions on a Windows Server or virtual machines hosted on Hyper-V. RDS makes applications remotely available to end users via Windows App-V, which does not require the applications to be installed directly on computers.

Citrix XenApp

XenApp is application and desktop virtualization software, developed by Citrix Systems, that allows Windows applications to be accessed over individual devices from a shared server or cloud system. XenApp enables presenting a full desktop to users or permits applications to be published to the user, based on security group permissions. Therefore, resources like memory chip and CPU can be shared among multiple users via XenApp. XenApp also allows applications to be installed on a server, enabling users to access it from any device.

Citrix XenApp Vs. Microsoft RDS

Now, let’s look at how Citrix XenApp compare with Microsoft Remote Desktop Services.

Software and Device Access

While RDS supports only Microsoft devices, XenApp works across a much broader range, that includes Windows, Mac, Linux, Java, Android, iOS, Blackberry, ChromeOS, Windows Mobile and HTML5.

Presentation and Delivery of Applications

Citrix XenApp allows applications to be published with a central administration console, However, Microsoft RDS does not have a central administration system and necessitates publication of applications on each RDS server separately.

SSL Remote Access

Both Microsoft and Citrix provide remote access through an SSL connection, utilizing the Remote Desktop Gateway server and NetScaler Access Gateway respectively. However, Citrix’s NetScaler offers comparatively more features, such as end point analysis (EPA), which enables NetScaler to assess the incoming device and the type of session that will be provided to the user.

Monitoring of Environment

XenApp comes along with a Citrix monitoring software, called EdgeSight, which performs real-time monitoring of applications, sessions, devices, license usage, and the network, allowing users to quickly analyze, resolve, and prevent problems. On the other hand, RDS has no monitoring software included in its package. Although, users can buy MS SCOM at an additional price, but it does not supply enhanced monitoring tasks like end-to-end monitoring.

Multimedia and Audio Support

Citrix XenApp uses enhanced Audio Codecs to provide high-quality audio using a little bandwidth. XenApp also supports Voice over IP softphones within server-based sessions besides enabling the use of video conferencing apps within server-hosted sessions.

RDS, on the other hand, does not support advanced multimedia and audio applications. Usage of multimedia applications within a RDP session has usually yielded poor end-user experience.

End User Experience While Roaming

Citrix SmoothRoaming, that comes with XenApp, ensures that applications and data are capable of moving with the users as they change networks, locations or devices so that they can use the virtual desktop infrastructure without interruption. Citrix can also leverage Microsoft ActiveSync to sync with client devices. It supports USB webcams and scanners. Citrix XenApp utilizes session reliability technology to offer a seamless user experience. In the case of a network connection issue, XenApp attempts session reconnection in the background without hindering the user’s desktop interaction experience.  However, RDS only supports automated appearance of icons on the desktop or start menu when using windows 7 client or when RD RemoteApps are distributed via MSI’s.

While Microsoft RDS lays a solid foundation for any remote desktop and VDI deployment, Citrix XenApp extends its capabilities to the next level. The two VDI services may not be necessarily conflicting, rather complementing each other to a greater extent.

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