Citrix vs. WVD – 2021 update

About two years ago, I created a blog post on Citrix vs. Microsoft WVD, and now it is time for an update. Two years ago, WVD was brand new, and no one knew what to expect from it and how it worked. Since then, we have learned about WVD and what it brings to the table. Citrix has been a partner with Microsoft for a long time, and as I stated in my first post, Citrix delivers value on top of the WVD solution from Microsoft. I want to go through some of the functionality of WVD and what Citrix brings to the table.

In this post I will list some key subject areas and then compare Citrix to the WVD solution.

Before I get into the comparison, let us take a look at two videos showing what the look and feel is for each solution.

This video from Citrix shows the login and use of Citrix on Azure with a Windows 10 multiuser image.

Citrix Workspace delivers Windows Virtual Desktop on Azure – YouTube

This video from Azure Ninjas shows the login and user of the Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop with a Windows 10 multiuser image.

WVD Gov Walk through Windows User Experience – YouTube

Initial configuration
The initial configuration for WVD is straightforward and completed very fast. When the initial configuration is done, WVD is ready to deploy session hosts that users can then connect to.
The initial configuration of Citrix takes a bit more time since two virtual machines are needed (two for high availability). Then we need to install the Cloud Connector software afterward. When the Cloud Connectors are installed, we need to create a connection from Citrix Cloud into Azure (or any other cloud or on-premises location) before deploying session hosts. See my guide on installing Citrix Cloud Connectors with Azure here and how to set up the connection to Azure here

Installing session hosts.
WVD is as simple as going to the host pool and then clicking “Add session” host. You can choose which image you want to install and click finish (there are some settings to choose from, but comparing with Citrix, this is the same). When going through this wizard, Microsoft knows which host pool your new VM points to, so no further configuration is needed.
With Citrix, you also go to the Azure portal and deploy the image you want to use. When the image is ready, you will need to download the Citrix VDA software and install that and point the configuration to your Cloud Connectors. See my guide to installing the Citrix VDA with Citrix Cloud on Azure here.

Assigning user access
WVD is again straightforward. You go into the application group, click on “Assignments,” and then add the users to the assignment.
For Citrix, this is done in the Citrix Cloud portal, it is pretty easy, and you can follow my guide here and here. There has been an update to Citrix Cloud since my guide was made, so a native website management plane is created with makes the experience easier and faster.

The first three subjects we just went through showed that Microsoft is easier to get started with and only has a cost on the session hosts, whereas Citrix needs Cloud Connectors. The Windows version you want to use in either solution can be the same, but the management part separates the two solutions. After completing the initial configuration, let us look at what a continuous solution will create for administration tasks and user experience.

Policies are often critical for organizations that want to provide users with a remote workspace. These policies can, for instance, be drive mapping of local drives to the remote workspace, or it can be allowing printer mapping depending on where you are connecting from.
With WVD, you have the option for setting policies on the session, device redirection, and display settings. The settings you define will affect everyone who connects to the host pool with the applied settings. You can find all the supported settings for WVD here.
Citrix supports many more settings to be set with policies and can be assigned to a single user, a group of users, a computer, a group of computers, to everyone or based on which location the user is connecting from. It provides very granular control over who is affected by a policy, and it considers where the user is connecting from. You can get an overview of the Citrix policies here.

Image management
Image management is really a part where Citrix adds a lot of value to the solution. With Citrix, it is possible to create a new image with your selected image automation, and when ready, it is as simple as updating the Citrix Machine Catalog and point to the new image and then reboot the session hosts. The reboot of the session hosts can be scheduled or done right away, and with a recent update to Citrix Cloud, you can create a natural reboot schedule, meaning when a session host does not have any connected users, it will reboot and then be ready for new connections on the new image. This natural reboot schedule ensures that connected users can finish their work, and Citrix will handle the reboot when possible.
WVD does not have native image management at the same level. The image management that WVD delivers out of the box is to use update management and Intune or manual software installation on each session host. This methodology is not something I can recommend doing, so the best native way of handling images in WVD is to create a new set of session hosts and drain the old session hosts. When all sessions are gone, delete the VM’s and let the new session hosts handle the workload. Image management like this takes a lot more time but can be automated to some degree. This work is up to the customer or a partner to do.

Microsoft uses the RDP protocol to provide access to the remote desktop (or remote application). The RDP protocol provides a pretty good experience, and combined with the Remote FX technology, Microsoft can deliver an optimized experience for the users on both regular applications and high-end 3D applications. With Microsoft, the entire desktop uses the same delivery mechanism, so high-end programs require quite a lot of bandwidth for the user to have a great experience.
Citrix is using their protocol called HDX. This protocol is optimized for the remote workforce and has been under continuous development for more than 20 years. It sets the standard for all remote desktop protocols. Citrix can deliver a very high user experience even on internet connections with low bandwidth. The HDX protocol, in general, uses less bandwidth than the RDP protocol, and in a public cloud scenario where bandwidth can have a cost, this is something to include in the TCO of any remote desktop solution. Citrix also delivers more intelligence on the graphic delivery to the users were part of the screen renders using a video rendering engine, and other parts can be delivered using a text optimized engine. This optimization will save bandwidth and ensure that the video flows great while the text is crisp and clear to read.

If I try and summarize all that I have written above into a what to choose and what to do for companies looking into a remote desktop solution on Azure it will come down to this.

Can Microsoft WVD deliver a remote desktop solution that users can use and not feel like they are working on a downsized PC? Absolutely! Will the IT infrastructure team have to work more to provide a robust and great solution for their users? Yes, I believe so since management and policies are areas where WVD is quite far from what companies like Citrix provide.

Can Citrix deliver a better experience for the users on a remote desktop solution? Yes, I feel like the solution from Citrix performs better and provides the users with a better experience, BUT it does come with a higher price tag! Citrix has created a pricing calculator on what a three-year investment in Citrix Cloud and Azure resource will cost and compares it with the native WVD price. From what I have seen on these numbers, I feel like they put their cost savings high compared to what I feel is correct. I have not had a chance to look into a Citrix solution over some time and compare that to a WVD solution in the same period, but my feeling is that the cost-saving Citrix calculates too high. You can try the calculator and see what numbers your environment would have according to Citrix, the link is here.

So, what do I recommend you choose? Well, as a consultant, the answer is always, it depends. There are scenarios where I would go with native WVD and save the Citrix cost, but there are also many scenarios where I would recommend spending the extra cash on Citrix to ensure that both users and IT personnel can handle the remote desktop solution for the company. If you need advice on these scenarios, please reach out to me on mail, Twitter, or comments, and we can get in touch.

I hope this post is useful for you and as always feel free to comment and correct me if I am wrong on any of the subjects I have touched. I’d recommend these links to continue learning more about WVD and Citrix.

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