Citrix has been in the business for over 20 years; the founder and dominator of the multi-user market. The questions are always the same: "Do I need XenApp or XenDesktop - Isn't Microsoft Remote Desktop enough? Do I have to spend a lot of extra money on Citrix?" I was a Microsoft MVP for Remote Desktop Service (RDS) for four years and I remember the last time I was in Redmond. I said some things Microsoft should change or add that have become true with the latest release of Windows server. I never have to "sell" anyone Citrix when RDS is just enough. It always depends, but I think things have changed such that it’s now time to re-think.

Citrix XenApp has been and still is the flagship of Citrix; of course they try to add features, but at the same time, have expanded their product line with Netscaler, XenMobile, XenClient, ShareFile, and so on. For customers who just wanted XenApp, Citrix actually renamed XenDesktop to XenApp in order to keep customers happy, only then did they ultimately install XenDesktop not knowing what would happen next.

Microsoft released server 2012 R2 and with it Remote Desktop Services that have grown up. Currently, there is a lot of information out there but still nothing that really explains "do I need Citrix?" Citrix has advanced features like support of NVIDIA GRID with server, reverse seamless, flash redirection, etc., but at the same time they don’t have features that RDP has had since day one. Copy and paste of files anyone? A common question between MVPs and CTPs is always "when is it enough?" Does Hyper-V have enough functionality that I don’t need VMware? Do I need all the extras or the gadgets? Is RDP or RemoteFX enough? At the end, it’s often the admin who doesn’t like changes and fights for his or her product. Customers should re-think and re-evaluate if they really need Citrix on top of RDS. If I tell a customer "you're fine with RDS", then I will save him so much money that my expense is a joke.

So let's get to it. Firstly, I will only write about server 2012 R2 because it's far more advanced than 2008 R2 and less painful in some areas. Secondly, I will compare it with XenApp 6.5 and not with XEN7 (XenApp/XenDesktop 7.x). The reason for that is I like to focus on the main needs of customers and XEN7 goes beyond and above that. In addition, it would blow up the article which will already be a challenge to keep short.

NOTE: You might find vendor presentations, documentations etc. that compare and if you read something like: "It's not about the features!" then it is about the features, otherwise why bring it up? 

I remember in the "good old days"  (I've been so long in the business of SBC as we called it) it was all about the "Macro Level" when talking about the Citrix "Value-Add".  What I mean is this:  Citrix has "Seamless Apps" and Microsoft has only the full Desktop; Citrix has real load balancing and Microsoft has the "bad" Windows Network Load Balancing (WNLB); Citrix has bi-directional audio, Citrix has ..., Citrix has …,  and Microsoft not.  This has shifted with 2012R2 from the "Macro Level" to the "Micro Level" for most parts except when it comes to what I would call "special Needs" features. What does that mean? It means for a basic multi-user environment, there is no huge difference anymore.  Ok, I can still see a question mark in some faces and I know people love lists that compare stuff.

 

Macro Level comparison   

Feature / Function

Microsoft Server 2012 R2

Citrix XenApp 6.5

Audio

Yes

Yes

Microphone

Yes

Yes

Client Drives

Yes

Yes

USB PnP

Yes

Yes

LPT/COM

Yes

Yes

Clipboard

Yes

Yes

Smartcard

Yes

Yes

Universal Printing

Yes

Yes

Session Management

Yes

Yes

Load Balancing

Yes

Yes

High Availability

Yes

Yes

Session Proxy

Yes

Yes

Seamless Apps

Yes

Yes

WAN Optimized

Yes

Yes

Profile Management

Yes

Yes

Flash Redirection

No

Yes

Base Deployment

Yes

Yes

Session Linger

Yes

Yes

Session Policies

Yes

Yes

Session Shadow

Yes

Yes

Clients

Yes

Yes

Web-based Access

Yes

Yes

     

Special Needs

   

Twain Redirection

No

Yes

Session Pre-Launch

No

Yes

Reverse Seamless*

No

Yes

 

* I'm sure there's more, but I think you get the idea.  When you look, both products have basically the same features or functionality, except when you get into the Special Needs area. In my opinion, not many are using those special features or even know they exist (Reverse Seamless anyone?).

Let's have a look at some of the previous features that the "Micro Level" comparison would look like.

 

Micro Level comparison  

       

Feature / Function

Microsoft Server 2012 R2

Score

Citrix XenApp 6.5

Score

Client Drives

  • Asynchronous write

  • Selective drives

  • Filter drives

  • Read-only drives
  • Bandwidth limit

  • WAN Option (Multistream – CloudBridge)

Yes

  • No

  • No

  • No

  • No

  • No

  • No

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

 

Score Result

 

1 

 

7 

Clipboard

  • File Copy-Paste

Yes

  • Yes

1

1

Yes

  • No

1

0

 Score Result

 

2 

 

1 

Universal Printing

  • Fallback

  • Bandwidth limit

  • WAN Option

  • WAN Optimized

  • WAN Printing Policies

  • Universal print server

Yes

  • Yes

  • No

  • No

  • No

  • No

  • No

1

1

0

0

0

0

0

Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

 Score Result

 

 2

 

7 

Load balancing

  • Server weight

  • Application weight

  • Load Throttling

  • Load Policies

  • Preferred Load

Yes

  • Yes

  • No

  • No

  • No

  • No

1

1

0

0

0

0

Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

1

1

1

1

1

1

 Score Result

 

 2

 

 6

High Availability

  • SQL Database

  • Active/Passive

  • Local Cache

Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

  • No

1

1

1

0

Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

1

1

1

1

 Score Result

 

 3

 

4 

Base Deployment

  • Central Deploy

  • Central Configure

  • Central deploy all components

  • Central configure all components

Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

1

1

1

1


1

Yes

  • No

  • Yes

  • No

  • No

1

0

1

0


0

 Score Result

 

4 

 

2 

Clients

  • Windows

  • MAC OS

  • iOS

  • Android

  • Multistream

  • HTML5

Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

  • No

  • No

1

1

1

1

1

0

0

Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

  • Yes

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

 Score Result

 

5 

 

 7

Score Overall

 Microsoft Server 2012 R2

19

 Citrix XenApp 6.5

34

 

These are some random features I picked but in my opinion, shows well the differences between RDS 2012 R2 and Citrix XenApp even though (don't forget) the "special Needs" Features.

Some of you may think I forgot about  "this or that feature" and it’s probably true for both sides but, in my opinion, the end result is more or less the same. The result is that you have to look more into the micro-level these days if you want to compare, and that says a lot.  Also, these are "hard facts" (you could say) but you should know there are "soft facts", as well. Microsoft RDS 2012 R2 impresses with an easy and quick deployment of the environment. You don't need to be an expert to get it up and running and you will be fine with the default settings. There is not much room for tweaking things but that also means not much room for messing things up.

If you are mainly a Windows shop then you are good to go and RDS does what it's supposed to do. The RDP Client is rock-solid and doesn't surprise you all the time with things that just don't work anymore.  In addition, forget about the deployment since it's pushed out with Windows Update; you don't need to know fancy and long command lines to install the clients -- configured through group policies, you're done quickly.

I believe many companies that are using XenApp 6.5 today could probably live with just 2012 R2. They have basic needs and RDS serves those needs. However, in my experience with Microsoft Support, RDS is below average. Get Microsoft premium support if you are really hoping for some help in that area.

Installing applications, customizing, and restricting the desktop are things you have to do on both platforms and, as a matter of fact, I just used the same things I use with Citrix; applied it to RDS and I was good to go. So, someone who knows about Citrix XenApp can easily do RDS, as well.

 

Summary

Microsoft RDS 2012 R2 has a lot to offer and it might be enough for many companies. Deployment is extremely easy; just set up a bunch of servers 2012 R2 and then run the Wizard. If your company is a Windows shop, then the client isn't a problem and you're already set. Additionally, if you want to use an iPad or an Android tablet then just download the app, put in the URL, and that's it.

What should I do, use RDS or Citrix? Make a list, especially about the "Micro Level" features you are looking for or not, and question whether you have special needs like Twain or Reverse Seamless. Will your environment and request for features grow larger over time? The company should have a vision and a budget and then you can see if you match both.

 

Q & A

Some people have asked if I myself am doing or have done pure RDS environments for customers? 
Yes, even though I do a lot of Citrix implementations (not just XenApp), I have set up some RDS environments and the first with server 2008 R1 for around 150 concurrent users, and recently an RDS farm based on 2008 R2 with around 600 concurrent users, including WAN connections.

Why did not go with 2012 R2?
Because you have to pay for the new RDS Cals and it is a big point in the customer's budget. Also, customers see the Windows 8 Desktop and are kind of "scared" for no reason. Looking at the deployment, those customers should be more concerned about the 2008 R2 deployment than about the Windows 8 Desktop.


What about the protocol? ICA vs RDP?
You find a tone of information about it on the Internet and the reason I didn't write about it. Just search for Comparing Remoting Protocols or ICA vs RDP and you will get a lot of results.

 

VOTE

1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 Rating 4.85
 

Comments  

Ctxblog.fr
# 0 Citrix architectCtxblog.fr 2016-08-17 13:38
Totally agree with you, excellent post
Reply
dennis-360ict
# 0 RE: Remote Desktop 2012 R2 vs. XenApp 6.5dennis-360ict 2016-08-19 10:04
This is a real good summmary of the features, excellent.

We've been doing a large implementation of Win08R2 with 6500 users and growing 500 users per year. We've been doing migration testing for Win12R2 but found major problems when we wanted to replace Win08R2 with Win12R2/Win16. One of them were not be able to use udp with kemps (however that seems to be a limitation of kemp, see www.360ict.nl/blog/no-udp-support-on-kemp-for-load-balancing-remote-desktop-gateway/), but mainly on the management point of view and all hacks involved like www.360ict.nl/blog/set-certificate-on-the-rdp-protocol-on-the-windows-2012-r2-rdsh-server because the GUI to do that was just gone. The cost of a SQL 2014 (AAG) cluster required for the RDS CB was also adding to Win12R2 RDS costs becasue Win08R2 had no such requirement (although compared to Citrix, RDS is still way cheaper). Setting up Citrix is way easier than Win12R2 for large implementations, even though in our case is was (eventually) more profitable to go without Citrix. Btw, we still use Citrix for those 5% of users that have problems in RDS (like for specific printers: www.virtualizationadmin.com/articles-tutorials/vdi-articles/microsoft-hyper-v/how-configure-microsoft-rds-universal-printing.html and here www.360ict.nl/blog/rds-easy-print-not-printing-on-hp-printers/. So i can' t agree with you it's easy to setup Win12 for _large_ implementations even though it's possible.

We have planned to do a presentation of our results on briforum/E2VC/etc later this year, but it's not ready yet.
Reply
Thomas Kötzing
# 0 larage envrionmentsThomas Kötzing 2016-08-19 11:46
>So i can' t agree with you it's easy to setup Win12 for _large_ implementations
Normally I don't think large environments go with RDS. Setting up 2012R2 RDS for small or mid-size is quickly done but it also depends to what degree (incl. SSO, RD GW, Customize RD Web etc.) you want to configure RDS
Reply
Dennis-360ict
# 0 RE: Remote Desktop 2012 R2 vs. XenApp 6.5Dennis-360ict 2016-08-21 14:15
True, i think most go with citrix from ~1000 users. Although i have to say it seems to me in an attempt to make things simpler in win12r2, i actually found the opposite, while Xenapp infra remains the same basic infra for a lonh time.

We actually don't have any internal users, all our users come from the outside through rdweb/rdgw, which adds to the complexity for using win12r2 rds.
Reply

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