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Citrix Essentials: Enterprise Maneuvering

Lots and lots of virtualization news this week. I'll break it all down in separate blog entries, to keep things manageable.

First, let's take a look at Citrix Essentials. The way to think about this is that it's another version of the Terminal Services/XenApp (formerly Presentation Server) relationship. Citrix and Microsoft have carved out a partnership unparalleled in this industry. They make a product that basically does the same thing: provide remote access to and delivery of an application (TS and XenApp, in this case). TS is more for smaller shops; XenApp is the enterprise version, adding functionality that makes it a better fit in the datacenter.

In the meantime, Microsoft continues to improve TS and add features, but not to the point that it can be seen as a XenApp replacement. It purposely cedes the big datacenter to Citrix, apparently content to make less money for Citrix' benefit. Citrix, meanwhile, thrives. Presentation Server, for many years, was its business -- and still is, in every meaningful way.

But since the purchase of XenSource, Citrix is starting to see itself as a major virtualization player. It's a good fit, because XenApp has always been a virtualization product in a way. But it's thinking bigger now -- much bigger. Citrix knows enterprise at one level, and thinks it can ride Microsoft's coattails right into the next level of enterprise virtualization.

And it's counting on the fact that Microsoft will constrain itself to providing the base hypervisor -- Hyper-V -- and the management component (i.e. System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM)), and not step over the line into the key piece of the Essentials pie, which is its StorageLink storage technology. Citrix has well-founded hope in this regard, as Redmond has never been one to dabble too much into storage. It's not hard to imagine Microsoft saying "Hey, you guys can have that. It gives us more resources to pour into making VMM the dominant virtualization management app." Just like TS/XenApp, Microsoft and Citrix hope to divide the spoils without encroaching on each other's territory.

However, in this situation there's a difference, and it's a huge one: Citrix and Microsoft pretty much own the remote app delivery space. That is not the case with virtualization. To get into those enterprises, Microsoft and Citrix have to offer a solution that's as good, or nearly as good, as what VMware offers, for significantly less money. Will Essentials, in combination with Hyper-V and VMM, be enough, technology- and price-wise, to overcome VMware's lead in reputation and installed base? We'll see.

As far as Citrix is concerned, a hidden benefit of Essentials is that it takes some ammunition away from those who charge that Citrix is all about XenDesktop and nothing else nowadays. This is a big datacenter virtualization play, and shows that Citrix is continuing development on that front. Even that, however, has a desktop virtualization (i.e. XenDesktop) benefit: VDI requires many, many more VMs than server virtualization, which is still the virtualization king. Where will those desktop VMs live in an enterprise setting? You guessed it -- the SAN, which StorageLink is all about. Very smart move by Citrix.

Posted by Keith Ward on 02/23/2009 at 12:48 PM


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