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Tale of the Tape: Citrix vs Microsoft RDS

Tale of the Tape: Citrix vs Microsoft RDS

When considering a move to the cloud it is important to look at all the available options, whether looking at storage, software or a desktop solution. The latter will be our focus today.

We are going to compare two desktop virtualisation solutions; Microsoft RDS and Citrix XenDesktop

What is Microsoft RDS?

Previously known as Terminal Services, Microsoft RDS allows the user to take control of a virtual machine and access applications or desktops over the internet. RDS is Microsoft’s implementation of a thin client solution, so the user’s sessions are hosted and processed on a server – as opposed to the local device. 

What is Citrix XenDesktop?

From an end user point of view, Citrix XenDesktop offers very similar functions to Microsoft RDS, it allows users to access their desktop or applications from anywhere on any device. So that is the biggest difference? Citrix has focused on making sure the user experience is better than using a traditional desktop and has developed a central management tool that makes scaling and controlling the infrastructure easier than ever.

What are the differences?

As we have said, at their core Microsoft RDS and Citrix XenDesktop are very similar – users access a desktop or application that is hosted within a data centre. However, they differ in enough ways to make them two very distinct products. So we are going to highlight those differences across five key attributes; Performance, Scalability, Usability, Reliability and Price.

Microsoft RDS Citrix XenApp/XenDesktop
While using Microsoft RDS users interact directly with the server, meaning they are sharing the finite amount of resources available. Therefore, as more users log on the performance will begin to drop, resulting in frequent go slows and possibly crashes.  Citrix, on the other hand, creates a buffer between the users and the server. This buffer compresses the data in transit, reducing the strain on the server, allowing more users to be online at the same time and creating a smoother, seamless experience across all devices. 
As mentioned above, users interact directly with the servers when using RDS. Therefore, when the server reaches capacity no one else can log in (and it is not unheard of for those currently logged on to be kicked off). To increase capacity a new server will need to be bought, spooled, configured and patched, which is both expensive and time consuming. With Citrix all a business needs to do is request more resources. That is it. Resources can be scaled up (or down) week by week, or month by month, depending on what is required at that particular time. 
RDS only allows one application to be used at a time. It doesn’t allow for multiple applications to be used like a traditional desktop or tablet does. There is also a limit on the applications that can be accessed in the first place. However, RDS does work for remote users that only need to access a single application (rather than a full desktop). Citrix delivers a consistent experience across all devices. Once the device has loaded it has the same look and feel as a traditional desktop, users can interact with as many applications as they need to, from wherever they are. 
RBS requires a consistent internet connection. If a connection is unreliable users risk being kicked off without warning and without a chance to save their work. While Citrix also requires an internet connection to function, it deals a lot better with patchy connections because it has a feature called ‘Session Reliability’. This keeps sessions open despite any internet issues that might be happening in the background and gives users a chance to save any work they have open. 
RBS is undoubtedly the cheaper option and for many, that is all that matters. Regardless of the advantages that Citrix has, many will gravitate towards Microsoft because it is the cheaper option.  However, as we have shown, there are a number of features that are lacking in comparison to Citrix. While Citrix is the more expensive option, it is arguably the better option. Citrix has been built from the ground up as a true replacement for existing PCs, not just to supplement them. 

It is clear that Citrix is the superior of the two Hosted Desktop products and performs better across all the given criteria. However, what we often see is businesses choosing Microsoft RDS because it is the cheaper option as they see XenApp/XenDesktop and RDS as the same. What our comparison shows is that this is not the case. Low cost means features are lacking and could result in further (and higher) costs down the line as the product performance fails to meet the needs of your business.

If you have any questions about Hosted Desktop (or any other cloud services) our team are happy to help. Just give us a call on 0800 023 9061 or email

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