Last week I traveled through various parts of Europe, while stopping for two days in Copenhagen for VMworld Europe. With eight days of travel, I thought it would be a good opportunity to test the feasibility of working from a server-hosted virtual desktop while traveling abroad. I run both Citrix XenDesktop 4.0 SP1 and VMware View 4.5 in my office lab in New Jersey. Accessing virtual desktops over the local area network using my Wyse Zero clients offers nothing short of an outstanding experience. I connect to my XenDesktop systems using the Wyse Xenith and connect to View using the Wyse P20. I’ll offer more on my experiences using zero clients in a future post, but for now I’ll say that user experience is easily on-par with a physical desktop.
Now onto the experiment. I wanted to see how both the ICA/HDX (XenDesktop) and PCoIP (View) protocols stood up to varying real-world network conditions. While traveling, I connect to my lab using a L2TP/IPsec VPN through a Vyatta VM appliance. A couple of years ago, I replaced a failed Cisco Pix firewall with the Vyatta appliance and have used it ever since.
The test itself is relatively simple. I connect to the XenDesktop and View environments one-at-a-time and perform a few basic tasks. After connecting, I open a Word document and add a comment. After that, I open a browser-based Flash application (imaginationcubed), watch the sample drawing, and then use the app to write the word “hello.” Each test lasts from just over one minute to three minutes, depending on the speed of the network I was on at the time. Also, I used Fraps to record my experience.
Note that the purpose of my experiment was not to conduct enterprise-scale benchmarking. Instead, I simply wanted to experience VMware View and Citrix XenDesktop while connecting from a variety of locations. My experiences are documented in the following posts:
- PCoIP vs. ICA/HDX: AT&T 3G from Newark Airport
- PCoIP vs. ICA/HDX: Munich, Germany to New Jersey, USA
- PCoIP vs. ICA/HDX: Gavle, Sweden to New Jersey, USA
- PCoIP vs. ICA/HDX: Oslo, Norway to New Jersey, USA
To summarize, I found that as latency increased beyond 200 ms, ICA/HDX had a decided advantage over PCoIP. Text entry and menu response with ICA/HDX was still good enough to keep me productive, while the PCoIP response hampered productivity. When latency was relatively low (e.g., under 120 ms) both protocols performed well enough to meet my expectations. At several locations (i.e., Newark Airport, Munich, and Copenhagen) both protocols were able to deliver a good user experience.
When traveling abroad, there were numerous instances where I didn’t have Internet connectivity. For example, Internet connectivity was down at my hotel in Copenhagen, leaving me without Internet access for two nights. Also, I didn’t have connectivity while at several airports; connectivity was available, but I chose not to pay for it. That experience underscored the need for me to be able to run my critical Windows applications client-side while traveling abroad. While many enterprises get by with physical laptops, I have talked to others who have used client side virtualization technologies from vendors such as RingCube and MokaFive to meet the needs of the mobile user. Of course, we now have tools like Citrix XenClient and VMware View “local mode” desktops at our disposal as well. Today, the server-hosted virtual desktop often is not enough for the traveling professional (depending on access and latency considerations). It has its use, but so does complementary technologies such as SaaS applications, client-hosted virtual desktop solutions, application streaming, and of course, the trusty physical laptop. As always, the users’ requirements should dictate the technology choice.
Clients I speak with consistently state that they desire to move away from legacy application delivery models that resulted in tethering a user to a single physical device. Server-hosted virtual desktop solutions such as Citrix XenDesktop and VMware View have their place, but my experiences over the past week have proven to me that they are not the silver bullet either, and I think the vendors would agree. Client endpoint-side caching solutions such as VMware View Local Mode, Citrix XenClient, the MokaFive Suite, and RingCube also have their place. Not all client-hosted virtual desktop solutions are ready for large-scale enterprise deployments, but they are steadily maturing and will get there in the next couple of years.
What is your experience using these protocols in a variety of scenarios? I kept my tests relatively simple because I had limited time to do them. For example, I didn’t test audio/video response. We are planning to publish more detailed research that compares remote display protocols in the coming months, and I would love to hear about your experiences.