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Citrix, Microsoft Align to Ensure Successful Rollouts of Windows Virtual Desktops

Partners say the new pact means Microsoft sales reps will stop pitching native WVD.

Jeffrey Schwartz

July 16, 2020

7 Min Read
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It turns out that Microsoft needs more help from Citrix than anticipated to ensure successful implementations of Windows virtual desktops.

Citrix and Microsoft have again expanded their longstanding partnership dating back to the 1990s. This pact comes just over a year after they aligned on desktop as a service (DaaS) and endpoint management. Announced at last year’s Citrix Synergy conference in Atlanta, the companies described it as an extensive partnership. It centered around the then-pending launch of Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD), Microsoft’s ambitious cloud VD-DaaS service.

Both companies now look to ensure quicker and more successful rollouts of their respective DaaS offerings.

The latest pact is a tacit acknowledgment that Microsoft’s Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) and Citrix Workspace are better together. Some maintain Citrix Workspace or other desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) offerings are necessary to achieve the benefits of WVD.

Neither company is positioning this week’s announcement in those terms. But that’s how partners that have worked with both offerings see it. When asked, Citrix new SVP and worldwide channel chief Bronwyn Hastings said the partnership is about offering customers choice.

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Citrix’s Bronwyn Hastings

“I would say that the value of Citrix’s workspaces has really been realized or elevated,” Hastings told Channel Futures. “That’s because it allows for those environments to [be in their] optimal positions.”

Native WVD Efforts Stuck at the Gate

Leading into last year’s launch of Microsoft’s WVD, company officials in public presentations frequently touted connectivity with numerous third-party solutions. But according to partners, some Microsoft sales reps have told customers that they could deploy virtual desktops with WVD alone.

“Microsoft reps were more than happy to tell you that WVD was enough and you didn’t need Citrix,” said Paul Stransel, director of Presidio’s national EUC practice.

Stransel hopes this signals a change.

“To me, what this new partnership is saying, is Citrix is committing hard to Microsoft Azure. And Microsoft, in return, will commit to not trying to convert those customers to just a straight WVD implementation.”

Many pilots in which customers tried to deploy WVD as the sole digital workspace never got out of the gate — at least not as native WVD implementations. For example, XenTegra, a managed services provider and a Microsoft and Citrix partner, has done 20 WVD pilots this year. Pete Downing, XenTegra’s chief technology and marketing officer, said customers with Citrix infrastructure needed to pair WVD with Citrix Workspace.

Among the 20 WVD implementations XenTegra deployed, 80% enhanced it with Citrix Workspace, according to Downing.

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XenTegra’s Pete Downing

“If you look at Microsoft’s remote Windows desktop client, it’s way behind Citrix’s Workspace,” Downing said. ‘Yes, WVD does apps and it can do desktops. But it doesn’t provide an integrated look and feel for SaaS, web and on-prem web apps. It doesn’t do any of the workspace workflows that Citrix is pitching through their microapps.”

Even those without Citrix infrastructure required a solution to enhance WVD, Downing said. Such customers can also use Citrix Workspace, or alternatives such as VMware Horizon or various other cloud desktop service providers. Downing is in a position to know. XenTegra was Citrix’s U.S. partner of the year in 2019 and gives workshops on DaaS and WVD.

Coretek Services, another large Citrix and Microsoft partner, also found native WVD wasn’t suited to replace Citrix. Coretek conducted a significant number of Microsoft’s WVD “Lighthouse” and “Remote Workforce” implementations this year, fast-tracked when COVID struck. They included both Citrix and native WVD deployments.

Keep up with resources for supporting partners and customers during the COVID-19 crisis.

“The need of Citrix HDX quickly become a core requirement when compared with native WVD and the capabilities of the current RDS client and protocol,” said Coretek CTO Brian Barnes.

The Value of Windows Virtual Desktops

Nevertheless, partners haven’t soured on WVD, despite the early deployment issues. XenTegra’s Downing insisted that Microsoft’s WVD, successfully implemented, is …

… valuable to customers, and consequently to the partner community. The key benefit of WVD is that it’s the only DaaS offering that allows multiple concurrent interactive sessions. Known as Windows 10 multisession, WVD allows per-user licensing rather than Remote Desktop Services (RDS) Client Access Licenses (CALs).

“Windows 10 multisession is never going to leave Azure; you’ll never see it run outside of Azure,” Downing said. “Windows 10 multisession is the reason why you want to use WVD.”

Windows virtual desktops shifted from curiosity to necessity as the COVID pandemic struck earlier this year, Downing noted. “WVD solidified the need for VDI, but, but there was no compelling event to really push it to the next level,” Downing said. “COVID essentially forced us to rethink our remote work strategies, which then forced us to rethink how we scale out — and to literally scale from a cloud perspective.”

The COVID outbreak showed the benefits WVD can provide, said Microsoft 365 corporate VP Brad Anderson. In a brief video presentation streamed on his LinkedIn page, Anderson explained how. When it became evident that people would need to work at home, Microsoft turned to WVD for its developers. Anderson said Microsoft provisioned 30,000 WVD Windows virtual desktops for its developers within several hours.

“We saw organizations scaling to tens of thousands of Windows virtual desktop sessions in a matter of days,” Anderson said. “It quite literally was, spin up, the capacity is there, let Microsoft worry about all of that and you can make sure you re empowering all of your users.”

Anderson has emphasized the potential Microsoft sees for WVD since first revealing the offering two years ago. Last year, Anderson told Channel Futures that interest in the WVD preview was “literally off the charts.” noting 4,500 tenants at the time.

Terms of the Latest Citrix-Microsoft Partnership

As part of the newest iteration of the partnership, Microsoft Azure will remain a Citrix preferred cloud. While Citrix already has Microsoft-certified WVD connectors, both companies will create tighter integration between their offerings and offer new tools. Moving forward, they will offer bundles that include Citrix Workspace and Citrix SD-WAN with Microsoft Azure and Microsoft 365. Citrix’s Hastings said the companies will share more information in the coming months about deliverables in the coming months.

From a go-to-market perspective, both companies’ direct sales forces and channel partners will sell the new solutions. Microsoft will also offer them in its Azure Marketplace.

The partnership aims to make it easier to migrate on-premises Citrix VDI infrastructure to Azure, Anderson emphasized.

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Microsoft’s Brad Anderson

“All of the work that we are now doing [will] enable all the investments in the logic, the training, the know-how that that IT pros of Citrix have, [which] can all be applied up in the cloud,” Anderson said. “That means investments you’ve made on-prem, all now applied to the cloud.”

For example, Anderson said the companies are working to simplify moving customers’ existing policies for provisioning and configuring VMs in Citrix on-premises deployments to Azure. “There’s no incremental work that has to be done,” he said. “Your investments all play forward.”

IDC analyst and client virtualization research manager Shannon Kalvar said that is a critical point, but it has other implications.

“Depending on how Azure Stack evolves, the move could be less ‘public cloud’ and more ‘wherever the workloads need to reside for best performance,’” Kalvar said.

Kalvar added that the latest partnership is just another example of the interdependencies between Microsoft and its alliance partner ecosystem.

“All of these vendors who exist to provide implementation and operations software to support Microsoft products exist for a reason,” Kalvar said. “Microsoft has always had great ideas, decent products, and a lot of trouble with operating the systems over time; thus, the existence of companies like Citrix in the first place.

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About the Author(s)

Jeffrey Schwartz

Jeffrey Schwartz has covered the IT industry for nearly three decades, most recently as editor-in-chief of Redmond magazine and executive editor of Redmond Channel Partner. Prior to that, he held various editing and writing roles at CommunicationsWeek, InternetWeek and VARBusiness (now CRN) magazines, among other publications.

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