Citrix offers common management console with first step of Project Avalon

Exacalibur and Merlin lead the way as Citrix moves to the cloud

Citrix Systems has started to detail the future of Windows desktops and applications in its virtual environments with tech previews of Excalibur and Merlin, the first versions of its Project Avalon.

Project Avalon, which Citrix announced in May, aims to transform any Windows application or desktop into a service that runs on either a private or public cloud and is delivered across any network, to any device.

Excalibur and Merlin will make up the core of Project Avalon, Citrix announced on Wednesday at its Synergy user conference in Barcelona.

The Excalibur release of Project Avalon includes FlexCast 2.0 technology, and aims to address the challenges of managing Citrix environments.

For the first time, Windows administrators will have a common management console to configure any mix of virtual applications and desktops in a Citrix environment, and deliver them to end users with a delivery technology of their choice.

"We have unified the XenDesktop and XenApp in one common codebase," said Krishna Subramanian, vice president of marketing and business development at Citrix. "Even though customers will be able to buy them separately its all tightly integrated, and the management is also integrated and simplified so we can do cloud-scale automation next."

Getting the management right is incredibly important for Citrix, according to Nathan Hill, research director at Gartner.

"The complexity of managing Citrix environments has historically been a big challenge for organizations. As the diversity of what Citrix is trying to offer increases, they need to make sure the different delivery mechanisms are as simple as possible to manage ," said Hill.

Excalibur will also include an improved implementation of Citrix's HDX, which is made up of features that aim to enhance multimedia performance on virtual desktops. Upgraded versions of technologies such as HDX Broadcast, RealTime and MediaStream will help improve video playback, according to Citrix.

Using Excalibur, enterprises will be able to deploy Windows 8, Windows 7 and Windows XP virtual desktops.

The Merlin release will focus on delivering Windows as a cloud service. The platform will run Citrix's own CloudPlatform and public clouds such as Amazon Web Services' EC2 and Microsoft's Azure, according to Citrix.

The move to the cloud also adds a layer of automation and orchestration when managing applications or desktops.

"The way we see it, IT [departments] have to do more with less, and we see that trend continuing. Merlin will make them far more efficient," Subramanian said.

The move to the cloud will give IT staff more flexibility. Enterprises will be able to simultaneously run a mix of different Windows versions on servers and clients, and different versions of XenApp and XenDesktop as well. This will, for example, simplify migrations, Citrix said.

The Excalibur release of Project Avalon will be available as a tech preview to Citrix customers on Nov. 1, while the tech preview of Merlin will arrive during the first half of next year. The company isn't providing any details on when they will become generally available, according to Subramanian.

"This is a journey Citrix is going on, and I think are being quite transparent in the fact that it is going to take time to bring it together," Hill said.

Moving both Windows desktops and application to the cloud is a big step, and enterprises need time to prepare.

Citrix also made announcements that will have a more immediate effect for users, including new versions of XenClient Enterprise and VDI-in-a-Box, as well as new devices based on the HDX SoC architecture.

The HDX SoC (system-on-a-chip) architecture was announced by Citrix last year, and aims to cut the cost of thin clients and by extension the cost of using virtual desktops.

By using optimized ARM-processors for hardware acceleration rather than decoding and rendering virtual desktop traffic on general-purpose processors in software, clients based on the architecture can deliver the user experience of thin client hardware that costs twice as much or more, while reducing power consumption, heat, and footprint, according to Citrix.

New devices from Atrust, Centerm, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, IGEL, LG Electronics and NComputing will all be on display at Synergy.

While virtual desktops and thin clients can be found in enterprise data centers, Citrix also sees an opportunity for virtualization technology at small and medium-size companies, and the product that will help them adopt it is VDI-in-a-Box.

The upcoming version 5.2 of VDI-in-a-Box will be optimized for Microsoft's unified communications platform Lync, and also include support for hypervisors such as Citrix' own XenServer 6.1, Microsoft's Windows 2012 Hyper V and vSphere 5.1 from VMware.

A tech preview of VDI-in-a-Box 5.2 will come soon, according to Citrix. The company didn't elaborate on when general availability can be expected.

Last but not least, XenClient is a so-called bare-metal hypervisor for desktop virtualization.

The technology holds the promise of allowing desktop virtualization to work without a network connection and letting the IT department issue laptops that come with one OS for corporate use and one for personal use.

Version 4.5 of XenClient Enterprise is compatible with the third-generation Core and Core vPro processors from Intel, making it possible to use XenClient on the latest desktops, laptops and tablets, according to Citrix.

It will also be possible to run Windows 8 on top of XenClient.

Existing XenClient users will soon be able to download a tech preview, and general availability is planned for December.

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