Introduction to VMware Horizon for Citrix Practitioners

VMware Horizon 8
Horizon Cloud Service – next-gen


Today's workforce requires access to applications, at any time, from any device. In this new mobile-cloud world, managing and delivering services to end users with traditional PC-centric tools remains a challenge.

VMware Horizon provides a digital workspace with the efficient delivery of virtual desktops and applications that equip workers anywhere, anytime, and on any device. With deep integration into the VMware technology ecosystem, the platform offers an agile cloud-ready foundation, modern best-in-class management, and end-to-end security that empowers today’s Anywhere Workspace.

Purpose of This Guide

This guide is written to help familiarize Citrix Administrators with how Horizon is designed. The content has been organized in a manner that should be readily consumable by Citrix practitioners. The intent is to help Citrix practitioners understand components in a Horizon environment, compared to how they are typically organized in a Citrix Desktops & Apps deployment.

It is not a comparison of features in Citrix against what is available in Horizon. The content is not a complete list of Horizon’s features and capabilities. This asset intends to help you understand the basic Horizon environment, and point you to resources for more detailed information so that you can continue your learning about the Horizon platform.

Deploying Horizon is simple and straightforward; you can set up a basic environment in just a few hours. This guide points you to step-by-step guides and interactive labs to get you quickly set up, running, and comfortable with a Horizon deployment.

This guide introduces you to Horizon and discusses:

  • Horizon features and benefits.
  • How Horizon features correlate to Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops features.
  • Where to learn more and try Horizon.


This guide is intended for anyone who is a Citrix administrator and has a Citrix background who wants to learn about Horizon. Familiarity with networking and storage in a virtual environment, Active Directory, identity management, and directory services is assumed.  

Introduction to Horizon

Horizon is a family of products that securely deliver virtual desktops and apps on a modern architecture - whether on-premises or in the cloud, providing the best experience anywhere, anytime, and on any device. It enables organizations to optimize collaboration tools, get support for a range of client devices, and leverage an adaptive protocol that adjusts to changing network conditions. Horizon provides centralized desktops and apps which ensure strong security with no data residing on the device, streamlined patching, complete access control, and the delivery of trusted images every time.

Two Architectures for the Horizon Platform

The Horizon family has multiple hybrid delivery architectures, based on the infrastructure that is used to host the user capacity. The one notable difference between the two platforms is that Horizon Cloud-based deployments leverage a significant amount of its capabilities from the Horizon Cloud Service so that organizations can take advantage of a multi-site model where users are directed to resources in many locations. Horizon 8 can be connected to a cloud service, and is required to be connected depending on your license type, but is not reliant on cloud-based functionality to operate.

Horizon 8 - Horizon 8 is focused on delivering desktop and remote applications on VMware vSphere-based platforms. As a solution, Horizon 8 can be deployed on-premises or in vSphere-enabled cloud platforms.  Horizon 8 can be connected to Horizon Cloud Service for additional functionality. For a more detailed overview on Horizon 8, see What is VMware Horizon 8?

Horizon Cloud Service – next-genHorizon Cloud Service is built as a SaaS-based platform that delivers desktops and remote applications on native cloud infrastructure platforms. Critical services such as the administrative console, brokering, and Image Management are delivered as a part of a cloud-based control plane called Horizon Cloud Service. Horizon Cloud service leverages a Horizon Edge Gateway deployed on an infrastructure platform to provision virtual desktops and application hosts to service end-users. For a more detailed overview on Horizon Cloud Service – next-gen, see What is Horizon Cloud Service – next-gen?

End User Experience (User Layer)

Horizon uses the same client and agent across deployment architectures. These components deliver similar basic end-user functionality on each Horizon platform, dependent on the Provider infrastructure platform’s capabilities.

The Horizon Client is installed on a client device to access a Horizon-managed system that has the Horizon Agent installed. You can optionally use a web browser as an HTML client for devices on which installing client software is not possible.

The Horizon Agent is installed on the guest OS of the target VM or system. This agent allows the machine to be managed by Connection Servers and allows a Horizon Client to form a protocol session to the machine.

Horizon is a multi-protocol solution. Three remoting protocols are available when creating desktop pools or RDSH-published applications: Blast Extreme, PCoIP, and RDP. All of these display protocols are encrypted, so you do not need to leverage a VPN to connect remote users to their resources. 

For more information on display protocols with Horizon:

Delivering Secure Workloads (Access Layer)

Depending on your Horizon deployment, you may or may not choose to implement the components below. Some Horizon customers have an internal-only deployment to maintain a secure environment where users can access desktops and applications.

Most organizations want to enable remote or untrusted users to access resources provided by a Horizon implementation.

Unified Access Gateway

VMware Unified Access Gateway is a virtual appliance that enables secure remote access from an external network to various internal resources, including Horizon-managed resources. For most Horizon environments, the edge is secured by a Unified Access Gateway.

For more information on Unified Access Gateways in a Horizon environment see:

Workspace ONE Intelligent Hub

The Workspace ONE Intelligent Hub is an endpoint application that delivers digital workspaces to employees. Intelligent Hub serves as the delivery component for web, mobile, and desktop, where employees can find everything they need to be productive. That includes single sign-on capabilities, a unified app catalog, People Search, remote troubleshooting assistance, and more. For more details, see What is Workspace ONE Intelligent Hub?

Basic Architectural Components (Control Layer)

The core components of Horizon deployments are mostly similar, with some key differences explained below. The basic user flow is that a Horizon Client connects to a broker, which connects users to virtual desktops and apps. The Horizon Client then forms a protocol session connection to a Horizon Agent running on a virtual desktop, RDSH server, or physical machine.

Horizon Edge Gateway

A Horizon Edge Gateway deployment connects the infrastructure to the Horizon Cloud Service. The Horizon Edge Gateway deployment configuration can take on a different form based on the underlying infrastructure platform. This component provides connectivity between your infrastructure and the Horizon Cloud Service. Critical functionality includes subscription entitlement for Horizon Universal or Horizon Plus subscription customers, monitoring of Horizon components, and where necessary, orchestration of infrastructure. You can read more about the Horizon Edge Gateway in Horizon 8 environments in the Horizon 8 Reference Architecture

Horizon Clients and Agents

Horizon Clients and Agents are similar across Horizon deployments. Functionality that is not dependent on OS or specific infrastructure platform components should function equivalently on Horizon 8 and Horizon Cloud deployments.

Brokering Components

For Horizon 8 deployments, the users are brokered to workloads via the Connection Server which is hosted in each Horizon 8 pod in your infrastructure. For more information, see the Architecture Overview section of the  Horizon 8 Reference Architecture.

For Horizon Cloud – next-gen deployments, users are brokered to workloads via a component in the Horizon Cloud Service, hosted by VMware. For more information, see the Architecture Overview section of the Horizon Cloud – next-gen Architecture.

End-User Capacity (Resource Layer)


End users leverage virtual desktops and remotely delivered applications with Horizon. End-user capacity includes:

  • Virtual Desktops (Persistent, Non-Persistent)
  • Shared Desktops (RDSH or Windows Multi-session)
  • Application Host Farms (RDSH or Windows Multi-session)

Horizon supports several operating systems as end-user capacity. Not all operating systems are supported on all infrastructure types due to infrastructure provider restrictions and virtual machine availability. See the links below for the lists of supported OSs for Horizon. Note the Additional Information section of the KBs below for links to Horizon Cloud-supported OSs.


Virtual Desktops - Persistent

Full-clone virtual machines that are used for delivering a full desktop, shared desktop, or a shared application host environment to an end-user. The user’s persona is delivered by Dynamic Environment Manager. After creating the virtual machines, they will drift in configuration from the golden image. They will need to be updated individually using traditional OS management systems.

You can find details on typical use case services with Horizon 8 in the Business Drivers, Use Cases and Service Definitions chapter of the Reference Architecture.

Virtual Desktops - Non-Persistent

Virtual machines that are built, used, and recycled or deleted with each use. You can use a single image for creating the VMs. Optionally, a user’s applications can be delivered to the desktop via App Volumes, and the user’s persona is delivered by Dynamic Environment Manager. This gives the end-user the perception that they are using the same virtual machine each time they log in while avoiding the need to maintain a full lifecycle of patching and updating each virtual machine.

There are multiple methods for provisioning non-persistent workloads:

  • Full Clones – A user is assigned to a virtual machine that they use for that session. When the user logs out, the desktop is recycled for use by other users.
  • Instant Clones – A VMware-based technology that provides single-image management with automation capabilities. You can rapidly create automated pools or farms of instant-clone desktops or RDSH servers from a golden image VM. This technology reduces storage costs and streamlines desktop management by enabling easy updating and patching of hundreds or thousands of images from the golden image VM.

App Volumes can be used to deliver traditional Windows applications to users while they are using a virtual machine. Dynamic Environment Manager can bring a user’s profile to the desktop to give the user an impression that they are getting a full desktop experience on each login when they are really using a composed desktop.

You can find details on typical use case services with Horizon 8 in the Business Drivers, Use Cases and Service Definitions chapter of the Reference Architecture.

Shared Desktop & Shared Application Hosts

Microsoft Windows machines that provide published applications and session-based remote desktops to end users. Horizon-published desktops and applications are based on sessions to RDSH servers or sessions based on Windows multi-session VMs on platforms where available. Administrators use Microsoft Remote Desktop Services (RDS) to provide users with desktop and application sessions on RDS hosts.

You can find more details on Shared Desktops and Application Hosts:

Shared Desktop & Application hosts are typically organized into Farms, which have load balancing and power management capabilities to help distribute users to their shared resources efficiently. You can find more details on load balancing and power management with the resources below:

  • Configuring Load Balancing for RDS Hosts in Horizon Console for Horizon 8 deployments
  • Managing Farms in Horizon Cloud for Horizon Cloud deployments



Infrastructure Layer (Provider)

Some basic architectural components (control layer) and all end-user capacity (resource layer) run on infrastructure platforms such as VMware vSphere, Microsoft Azure, or Amazon Workspaces. Horizon orchestrates user resource creation and recycling based on how the Horizon deployment is configured to do so automatically.

Horizon 8 can provision or manage virtual machines on multiple infrastructure platforms:

  • vSphere
  • Cloud platforms leveraging vSphere (ex. VMC on AWS). See Horizon on VMware Cloud Platforms on the Horizon tab of the Reference Architecture.
  • Horizon 8’s ability to manage Remote Agents enables you to manage capacity from other platforms with your Horizon 8 deployment. Examples include:
    • Unmanaged capacity in remote data centers
    • Unmanaged capacity in cloud infrastructures such as Amazon Workspaces

Horizon Cloud Service – next-gen can provision virtual machines on native Microsoft Azure.


Horizon Cloud Service – next-gen

Horizon Cloud Service – next-gen delivers virtualized Windows desktops and apps to just about any endpoint device you can think of. Devices can include Windows, Mac, and Linux desktop computers and laptops, Chromebooks, tablets, smartphones, and thin and zero clients. The difference is that Horizon Cloud – next-gen is a cloud-based service, managed by VMware, that delivers and maintains all the critical management tools used in a Desktops-as-a-Service (DaaS) deployment for use with your choice of capacity, from on-premises platforms, or cloud-based infrastructure platforms.

Horizon 8 and Horizon Cloud deployments leverage a Horizon Edge Gateway to connect to the Horizon Cloud service and take advantage of its features and capabilities.

For more information on Horizon Cloud Service, how it works, and how Horizon deployments leverage the Horizon Cloud Service, see the resources curated on the Horizon Cloud Service page on Tech Zone.

Getting Started

Now that you have been introduced to Horizon features and capabilities, you can delve deeper into the product with the resources listed in this section. Start with the Hands-on Labs for practical experience without additional infrastructure—all you need is access to a web browser. Next, you can create a proof-of-concept environment, and finally, deploy a large-scale environment.

VMware Hands-On Labs

VMware Hands-on Labs is a free online portal that provides access to the latest products in a tested and documented cloud-based virtual lab environment. Explore the features and functionalities of Horizon using only a web browser.

Deploy a Proof of Concept

After you develop some familiarity with VMware Horizon, you can create and optimize a proof-of-concept environment using the  Quick-Start Tutorial for VMware Horizon and optimization tools.

Deploy a Production Environment

When you are ready to set up a production environment, refer to the VMware Workspace ONE and VMware Horizon Reference Architecture, which provides a framework and guidance for architecting an integrated digital workspace using VMware Workspace ONE and VMware Horizon.

Summary and Additional Resources

In today’s mobile-cloud world, managing and delivering services to end users with traditional PC-centric tools is challenging. But VMware Horizon provides IT with a streamlined approach to deliver, protect, and manage Windows, Linux, SaaS, web, and mobile desktops and applications while ensuring that end users can work anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Topics discussed in this paper included:

  • Introduction to VMware Horizon and its features and benefits
  • Advances and enhancements to VMware Horizon 
  • Administration similarities between Horizon and Citrix

Additional Resources

For more information about VMware Horizon, see the links below. You can also learn more about VMware Horizon at:


The following updates have been made to this tutorial:


Description of Changes

  • General update and refresh of content for currency
  • Added new and updated content, rebranding, and updated figures.
  • Major updates to content, figures, and links.
  • Initial publication.

About the Authors and Contributors

The latest version of this paper was updated by:

  • Dale Carter, Director, EUC Technical Marketing, Cross-Product/Solution Technology Team, EUC Division, Broadcom
  • Rick Terlep, Staff Architect, EUC Division, Broadcom

contributors to this document include:

  • Graeme Gordon, Senior Staff End-User Computing Architect, EUC Division, Broadcom
  • Rob Beekmans, Senior Competitive Technical Manager, EUC Division, Broadcom
  • Gina Daly, Technical Marketing Manager, EUC Division, Broadcom
  • Jim Yanik, Senior Manager, EUC Division, Broadcom
  • Caroline Arakelian, Senior Technical Marketing Manager, EUC Division, Broadcom


Your feedback is valuable.

To comment on this paper, contact End-User-Computing Technical Marketing at

Filter Tags

Horizon Horizon Document Deployment Considerations Intermediate Deploy