How Gravitant Can Help IT Wrangle Cloud Services Sprawl

I have always maintained that the cloud will arrive in bits and pieces, not in a single large chunk. The shift to cloud computing will be slow and selective instead of a complete rip and replace where you migrate everything to the cloud as if you're building a brand new datacenter for your enterprise.

I have also maintained that cloud coupled with consumerization will significantly loosen IT's historical grip on technology, so much so that if left ignored or unchecked it will lead to "shadow IT" and to unsponsored cloud services sprawl within the environment.

That unchecked cloud sprawl is already occurring and many factors are contributing to it, primarily because we are taking cloud and its impact too lightly.

At one point saying cloud would immediately lead to every other Joe cracking a cloud joke about what cloud really means and how irrelevant and meaningless it is. Meanwhile, users are installing and using consumer cloud services like Dropbox and business units such as marketing were consuming enterprise-grade services like Amazon AWS' IaaS. Even CIOs and IT management started to realize the benefits of cloud and began to adopt SaaS services like Salesforce and adopt services like Office 365 and outsourced mail, unified communications, backup and much more.

Take a step back and look at this spectrum of services I just mentioned while keeping in mind this is a subset of what is really going on out there. The problem is bigger. Correlate the use of those services with the fact that each of these services is assessed, designed, deployed, consumed and supported differently with separate contracts for each and you will quickly realize that almost every enterprise is experiencing cloud services sprawl whether they like it or not.

And yes, the move to cloud shifts from a CapEx-heavy model to an OpEx-optimized one, but with all these services in an enterprise, who is really tracking them all and how? By generating reports and using Excel spreadsheets to manage this is inefficient and very passive as opposed to real-time, up-to-the-minute data that allows you to see the big picture immediately. This assumes that you are aware of all the cloud services that are being consumed, so what about those that you don't know about?

Organizations that realize this problem exists and needs to be fixed sooner rather than later will be able to transform IT from a center that delivered IT-built internal services to a broker that governs cloud services and that allows internal IT-built services to compete with public cloud delivered services. Here's an example: Today, if your CMO is using Amazon to run his/her campaigns, you will find it very difficult to curb or stop that CMO form doing so without providing an alternative that is just as efficient, just as good and most importantly just as fast (from a provisioning perspective). This is one of the drivers that I explain to my customers as to why a private cloud on-premises deployment is crucial to them. By deploying a private cloud, IT provides an alternative that they can then take to the CMO or other business units that are consuming external resources and offer up an internal solution which may have several advantages in security, cost efficiency, privacy and more.

Another example is deploying an enterprise-class cloud file sync solution where you can then go your users and remove access to Dropbox while providing a solution that is sponsored by IT and offers the same functionality with benefits as mentioned before.

This approach now earns IT the right to take away services from business units and regular users that are consuming these services, but how do we bring all these services under a single pane of glass? How do we discover cloud services that are running within our environment? Furthermore, how do we present to our internal customers external services from Amazon side by side with similar services delivered by IT and allow them to weigh the price comparison and all the other pros and cons of each solution and consume whatever they are willing to pay for? How do we bring all the different cloud services that we have today under a single pane so that we can track the billing and chargeback or showback in real time? Basically, how do we transform IT into a broker of services?

One of the companies that I have had a "cloud crush" on is Gravitant with its CloudMatrix platform allows enterprises to govern external cloud services and offer up IT-designed and -built services under a single pane of glass. CloudMatrix also allows you to discover what cloud services are running in your environment and bring those under the same platform as well. Real-time billing and consolidation of billing is a huge benefit that organizations will appreciate.

The cloud is already changing the enterprise IT landscape, and we should recognize that our role is not restricted to building technology services but evolving to also governing a lot of these cloud services that are being consumed by our users, our business units and lately by IT. Platforms like CloudMatrix brings discipline, organization and clarity to a chaotic space that is bound to continue to grow. 

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 06/03/2014 at 3:20 PM0 comments

With Rackspace Buy, Citrix Can Lead the Cloud Conversation

I have, on several occasions advocated that Citrix should buy Rackspace, most recently here in my InformationWeek blog and some time before that, I suggested that Cisco should buy both Citrix and Rackspace here in my Virtual Insider blog.

I still stand by my recommendation that if Cisco really wants to have a chance in hell of "crushing" VMware (John Chambers' words, not mine) in the software-defined networking space, it will need a hypervisor, and unless it plans to acquire Red Hat or Oracle, it's only other choice is Citrix. (I'll let that topic marinate for a while and talk about it some other time when we can expand on it a bit.)

When I wrote my columns on Citrix or Cisco acquiring Rackspace, I based my opinions on my knowledge of things that you can observe from outside of Rackspace, things like stock price dropping, CEO vacancy, a sales force incapable of selling to the enterprise, and so on. This past Friday, Rackspace pretty much put itself up for sale by hiring Morgan Stanley to broker a deal with a potential suitor.

I still maintain that it would be a strategic "miss" on Citrix's part to not step in and acquire Rackspace. Citrix cannot allow itself to become middleware, it just cannot be satisfied with that position. The acquisition of Rackspace would shoot Citrix to the forefront of the cloud conversation in the public eye and get the attention of enterprises, especially what with all the buzz going on around OpenStack.

Rackspace is the perfect size. It's not too big, not too small, and can be easily digested by Citrix and groomed for growth. Citrix can bring a lot of goodness to Rackspace, especially from a sales perspective and how to sell in the enterprise. Citrix has an army of account reps that focus entirely on the enterprise. Meanwhile, Rackspace has an inside sales army that develops leads, for the most part.

In addition to the sales force component, Citrix can also augment Rackspace from a large partner community perspective and also from a consulting services and expertise perspective. In many ways, it can help RAX build the intellectual property needed to support enterprises moving to the cloud, not to forget that Citrix can also bring education and training capabilities for partners and IT professionals.

Rackspace, on the other hand, puts Citrix front and center into the cloud conversation. Citrix/Rackspace would be to Microsoft Azure what Citrix XenApp was to Microsoft Terminal Server. Think about it: Microsoft Azure is a very generalized cloud infrastructure. Rackspace is all but generalized -- its claim to fame is "fanatical" support, in addition to value-added services that one cannot obtain from the likes of Azure, AWS, IBM or others. Is that not what Citrix has always done -- add value, features and capabilities on top of a platform? Why can't that platform be the cloud?

Citrix must not sit this one out and be on the side lines enabling partners or take the approach that it is just middleware to everyone else. The cloud is too big to sit out and it is not enough to have enterprise software for on-premises or for other cloud service providers to use. Citrix needs to enter this game and Rackspace gives it that opportunity.

Missing out on Rackspace would be a mistake, as Citrix won't come across another CSP with such strong brand recognition, the right size and poised for growth with the right suitor. And Rackspace owns one of the most talked about cloud management stacks in the industry today.

Citrix can also then offer Workspace Services on Azure or its own cloud, just like it has XenServer and it supports Hyper-V and vSphere.

If not Citrix, Cisco would do wonders with Rackspace in a short period of time. Cisco announced its Intercloud intentions and I expect that we will hear a lot more about this during the upcoming Cisco Live event in June.

Speaking of Cisco Live, what a great time and venue to announce the Rackspace acquisition. Cisco can bring to Rackspace all the benefits and goodness that I mentioned that Citrix can bring, and then some. The only reason I like pairing Citrix with Rackspace as opposed to with Cisco is that in the latter RAX would quickly melt in the Cisco engine. Of course, Rackspace would be a strategic project for Cisco, but with Citrix, Rackspace would elevate the companies to a different level.

I have always maintained that cloud is first and foremost about scale, and that's why there's a definite advantage to Cisco acquiring RAX, as it has the ability to rapidly and "fanatically" expand RAX to Amazon- and Azure-scale levels. Cisco definitely has the means and capabilities to do that.

Let's not dismiss other potential suitors for RAX. VMware which could use Rackspace to enforce vCHS. I'd be less excited to see EMC buy it just because I think the synergies would be missing. And if IBM acquired Rackspace it would be to add more capacity and to get OpenStack, which is not exciting or interesting and I don't see IBM being motivated to create something new or different. The same applies to HP, Dell, Verizon, ATT and a whole slew of potentials. I just don't see them being successful.

I truly hope Citrix steps in and picks up Rackspace, as customers would be the ultimate winners.

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 05/22/2014 at 7:00 PM0 comments

Microsoft Dodges VDI Licensing Conversation, Releases Azure RemoteApp

Last week at TechEd 2014, Microsoft released Azure RemoteApp. While speculation was floating for months whether Microsoft would venture into the desktop as a service space with what was internally known as "Project Mohoro," instead Microsoft dodged that bullet and released what is essentially a SaaSified version of its Remote Desktop Session Host platform.

Microsoft's infatuation with its client-OS licensing and its refusal to relax its service providers license agreement to allow deployment of Windows client OS as a service (a.k.a. DaaS) and to simplify enterprise VDI deployments is a truly a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

I can understand that Microsoft wants to capitalize on Windows client OS licensing, as that is a strategic product for them. What I don't understand is why it needs to be so complicated and how they can justify hanging on to this policy when the CEO clearly set the ship's course to "Cloud First, Mobile First." Seriously, Microsoft, it's time to rethink VDI licensing.

Coincidentally (or not), the Microsoft announcement on Azure Remote App comes merely a week after Citrix announced its Workspace Services, which is Citrix essentially SaaSifying XenApp and XenDesktop and thus repeating the synergies that existed in the 1990s between MetaFrame/Presentation Server/XenApp and Terminal Server/Terminal Services/RDSH. These two companies seem to be auto-magically attached especially around these two products in all their transmutations.

The Azure RemoteApp cloud service will allow customers to deploy preconfigured and provisioned Microsoft applications or customer-provided applications. RemoteApp's advantage is that it removes the complexity of deploying infrastructure and maintaining that infrastructure.

Let me be clear: By infrastructure I am talking about deploying the virtual or physical machines, installing and configuring an operating system and then maintaining and patching that operating system and all its dependencies. In addition, scaling this infrastructure up and down as the load increases or decreases has traditionally also been on the IT professional. RemoteApp simplifies all of this by abstracting the platform-related tasks and offloading them to Microsoft, and this includes automatically scaling the environment. By doing this, Microsoft allows the IT professional to focus on what matters most, which are the applications that directly impact and affect the business. IT professionals can very easily upload images that contain all the necessary applications onto Azure RemoteApp. From there and on, it is a true cloud service offering. I must admit that I find this to be really cool.

Now let me give you another tidbit to think about: Since Citrix Workspace Services s also built on Microsoft Azure Infrastructure as a Service, would it be inconceivable for one to think that there will be a sort of connector that would allow Azure RemoteApp to be delivered into CWS? We can accomplish this today with Microsoft App-V configuration within XenApp and XenDesktop, so why not extend this to the cloud?

All in all, Azure RemoteApp will definitely hit home with many enterprises and many IT professionals as we journey into the cloud era. As more enterprise applications and platforms either migrate to the cloud or are integrated into a cloud strategy, it will only be a matter of time before Microsoft relaxes its grip on licensing for VDI. What Microsoft is doing with licensing no longer resembles the times we are in -- that model belongs to an era that is long gone.

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 05/19/2014 at 1:07 PM0 comments

Citrix To SaaSify XenApp, XenDesktop with Citrix Workspace Services

Citrix proved at Synergy 2014 last week that mobility and end user computing is at its core DNA and that the company is still able to innovate and think outside the box. I was completely surprised when it announced Citrix Workspace Services. It is not even beta yet, but what Citrix previewed was really cool and very telling as far as where the company will take its flagship products and how it intends to compete in the future.

The keynote announcement around CWS definitely left us all asking a thousand questions. To simplify what Citrix is trying to do here, Citrix is SaaSifying its XenApp and XenDesktop platforms -- as simple as that. Instead of the customer having to install and configure XenApp and XenDesktop, that configuration will be simplified and streamlined on top of Microsoft Azure. There will be connectors available to plug-in resources from on-premises to public clouds like Amazon and others, I am sure. In essence, Citrix has separated the management plane from the resources plane.

Let's break this down even more. The management plane lives on Azure and is a managed instance that Citrix makes available to customers. As the architect, engineer or admin of your company, you can log in to CWS, select the version of XenApp or XenDesktop that you wish to build and configure your database (hosted on CWS), and maybe even choose the geography where you want to deploy that instance.

Once you've configured your management plane, you can then start connecting resources. If your hypervisor of choice is vSphere and that happens to be on premises, you install a connector on vSphere and attach that to the management plane. Now from within your CWS, you can see vSphere available for you to provision against. You can do the same with others on a geographical scale, where Hyper-V is used in one location and XenServer at another, and so on.

Once you've identified resources, you can then provision VDI instances, XenApp instances or a mixture of all the above. This is definitely a positive mutation from DaaS, this carries the best of both worlds and simplifies upgrades and migrations to new versions or even newer platforms.

What I like even more about this is the ability to plug in additional Citrix products. So, by following this approach, if a customer wants to use ShareFile, they would simply enable it and connect it at the management plane level and that would make it available for immediate use. Think about how simplified licensing would become as well and how quickly you can consume licensing. Unexpected blizzard in Chicago that shuts down the city and you need licenses immediately? No problem, how many do you need?

CWS does not mean that you will not be able to install XenApp, XenDesktop and all the other Citrix components the traditional way anymore, you will always have that option, but CWS significantly simplifies that. Heck, I am willing to bet that once CWS is rolled out, we will see Citrix rolling out CWS virtual appliances for on-premises deployment. Just like Microsoft promises that future versions of Windows Server will look like Azure, future versions of Citrix products will also look like CWS in that they are containerized virtual appliances. This opens up a slew of managed services offerings that Citrix can directly manage or that partners can manage on behalf of customers.

I was pressing Citrix hard for a cloud strategy and I still am -- I don't think one clearly exists yet. Still, I will also admit that CWS is a very interesting take on innovation without trying to build it themselves and get into this DaaS turf war. Citrix with CWS will be able to carve out a large piece of the pie and with a single master blow address any questions around deployment complexity, time to deploy, platform for deployment and many more. You want DaaS? CWS offers it. You want on-premises? No problem, you want both? Sure thing.

Citrix definitely continues to lead and innovate in the end-user computing space and has shown time and again that they are able to get out of a pinch, out of a corner. I say this because prior to Synergy, that's where VMware had Citrix. Now I feel that Citrix not only is out of the corner but will also force VMware to follow this model because it makes perfect sense. It's as if the competition is making these companies feed off each other in this space, and the innovation as is a result is bringing out the best in each company.

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 05/12/2014 at 1:32 PM0 comments

Next Week, You Can Find Me at EMC World, Citrix Synergy

Next week will be an interesting week as I bounce between Citrix Synergy in Anaheim and EMC World in Las Vegas.

For those of you attending EMC World, without a doubt "Project liberty" without a doubt will steal the show. Projectd Liberty is EMC's first foray into software-defined storage. I am very excited about it and you'll find me hovering around "Area 52," the code name for the location where Project Liberty will be featured.

What is Project Liberty in plain terms? It's a virtualized-software-only VNX appliance that can be deployed on pretty much any kind of hardware, whether that hardware was purchased from EMC, a competitor or something customized from off-the-shelf hardware. 

I am sure one of you is thinking, "EMC already offers a VNX virtualized appliance, so what's the big deal?" The big deal is that the current offering is not production-ready and is meant for training purposes for the most part. Project Liberty will be fully production-ready on EMC as well as other hardware.

The great thing about this project is that it accelerates and simplifies cloud adoption. So, you will be able to deploy an instance of the VNX appliance in your preferred cloud and manage it just like you would your on-premises deployment. This enhances several cloud solutions, especially DRaaS.

There's more. You can deploy the VNX instance for point solutions like VDI. In the past, you had to acquire hardware and software from EMC or others. With Project Liberty, you'll be able to deploy the VNX appliance and leverage whatever hardware you want. This can also be deployed in remote offices where needed. The idea is to have the same software, and have centralized management of your storage environments whether it's on-premises locally, remotely or in the cloud. This approach will lend itself very well to private cloud deployments because it significantly facilitates automation and orchestration.

I am sure we will hear about integration with OpenStack and VMware vCloud at some point.

Let's switch focus to Citrix Synergy, where there's also a lot going on. I'll mainly be on the lookout primarily for XenApp 6.5 to 7.5 migrations, feature parity and feature releases. I'm also looking to get a sense for how Citrix will respond to VMware Horizon 6.

Also on my radar at Synergy is Citrix's public cloud strategy from a DaaS perspective in particular, but also what plans they have for CloudPlatform from an on-premises perspective and even more integration with the other Citrix products and suites.

Of course I cannot attend both conferences without finding that one vendor that will have some really cool technology to showcase, so I will definitely be on seeking them out.

I hope to see those of you that are attending either show out there. For those that can't make it, I promise to bring back as much relevant and interesting content as I can and to cover it in this blog. If there is anything in particular that you are expecting, hit me up in the comments section.

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 04/30/2014 at 3:18 PM0 comments

Microsoft Seeks To Empower Users With Big Data Tools

In a data-driven culture, the potential for maximizing business profitability by leveraging Big Data represents a great opportunity. But, it has been hyped and rumored that in order to manipulate this Big Data and be able to visualize it and drive the benefits from it, enterprises have to hire a new breed of specialists that scarcely exists today: data scientists.

Microsoft disagrees and wants to empower the average user to be able to manipulate and visualize data without being a data scientist by enhancing its front-end tools like the Office suite and minting them with Big Data and Business Intelligence capabilities. As a prime example, Microsoft aims to enable the average user to use Excel in conjunction with Power BI to translate regular rows of data into visual, actionable assets.

It's truly refreshing. For once, someone is simplifying Big Data and saying, "Look, it does not have to be this complicated. Human beings understand Big Data naturally, so why should technology complicate what we do naturally without knowing?"

Eli? Are you saying humans are Big Data analyzers? Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. Our nature is to absorb and analyze data of different sources, correlate it and then make decisions based on it. We even absorb structured and unstructured data as well naturally. Here's an example: When driving a car, you are absorbing and analyzing different data sources that are unstructured and unpredictable. First, you need to learn how to drive a car. That comes through a structured data source. Someone took the time to show you how to drive the car, showed you the gas pedal, the brake pedal, how to park, how to turn, etc. You learned the rules of the road from a book. All of this is structured data.

Now while driving, you absorb unstructured data in the form of pedestrians crossing the roads or bikers coming up on the side, pot holes and debris on the road. You also have to factor in weather and adjust your driving based it. The way you drive in snow and rain is different how you drive in sunny, 80-degree weather.

So, when you factor in the weather, road conditions and pedestrian and adjust your driving accordingly, are you not correlating different unstructured data sources which your brain is then visualizing in real time? Is that not Big Data? And if you don't need to be a car scientist to drive a car, you should not be a data scientist to analyze data. Of course, I want to keep things in perspective. Large, complicated data sets require advanced skill sets, and then again, driving a car is not the same as piloting a plane. And the same applies to data scientists.

With that all in mind, consider what Microsoft last week unveiled in its portfolio of products geared towards big Data. They started off with a new version of SQL Server 2014 that has in-memory processing for all workloads. That means that SQL can process workloads up to 30 times faster. That is huge and so is its potential financial impact on business from a profitability stand point. What is the most critical aspect of a sale? I will tell you without fail it is timing. The consumer is likely to change his or her mind if they are given enough time to process something. It has happened to me many times where I was ready to buy something, asked a question and it took the sales rep five minutes to get me an answer: "Sorry sir, my computer is slow today." No, your computer is not slow, your database probably is, and by the time I get my answer, I may not be interested in buying anymore.

Microsoft also announced an appliance-based Big Data analytics solution called Analytics Platform System that unifies SQL Server and Hadoop from a software stand point and leverages Microsoft partners for converged infrastructure on the hardware side.

Of course, no Big Data announcement is complete without a cloud twist of some sort: Microsoft announced Azure Intelligent Systems Service which will allow you to collect and manage data from the Internet of things. This is important because I constantly tell my customers, if the Internet of Things were to take shape and we start seeing sensors, machine-to-machine communication, human-to-machine, and so on, our private datacenters will never be able to keep up with the amount of compute or storage needed for this real-time world. We don't even have the ability, scale or discipline to rapidly build or expand our private data centers to keep up with this real-time world.

As a result, relying on public cloud services for its scale and ability to handle these large sets of data is inevitable and this is where this Azure announcement fits the bill perfectly. Microsoft is positioning Azure as a contender to host these data sets and enable customers to visualize them.

Microsoft's strategy is a smart one: enable the business at the local level with SQL Server on the back end and Office at the front end. Better yet, accelerate adoption by offering appliance-based software, hardware and support and position yourself to take advantage of the Internet of Things with Azure, so that customers that are using your on-premises based solutions will want to migrate to a platform that they are familiar and comfortable with when the time is right.

I definitely like the new Microsoft CEO and his vision. Thoughts? Please share in the comments section.

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 04/21/2014 at 1:10 PM0 comments

The Sky Is Not Falling On Citrix's Head

One of my favorite comic book series is "The Adventures of Asterix." In it, the fearless Gauls who resisted Julius Caesar's Roman Empire had but one fear in life, that the sky would fall on their heads tomorrow.

Last week, Brian Madden's post, "Cloud platforms diminish Citrix XenDesktop/XenApp's value. *This* is the opportunity for VMware!" essentially implied that the sky was falling on Citrix's head tomorrow and that VMware is on the verge of achieving "Plato's Republic" in terms of tight integration among its current and acquired products, remarkable automation and orchestration, perfect agility and mobility between cloud and on premise cloud-like deployments, exemplary and complete feature set across the portfolio.

Madden makes some excellent points, but it's a bit one sided and too much doom and gloom. The same argument with exactly the same points can be made for VMware if we were to consider that Microsoft already has all the components needed.

Microsoft has a very good hypervisor and I think everyone would agree that at this point it is good enough. The company has an excellent application virtualization technology. It has RDSH and RemoteApps. It has the remote protocol, whether RDP or RemoteFX. It has an excellent management suite in System Center. It has a VDI broker. And it has Azure, a very mature and very large-scale worldwide cloud deployment. Once project "Mohoro" comes to life, Microsoft will then also have a DaaS offering.

If all the above was not enough, Microsoft also controls licensing. Considering everyone is trying to virtualize its operating systems and its applications, that would give Microsoft a definitive edge. Microsoft also has decent integration across all its products and is making great progress in terms of private cloud.

All that being said, the question now becomes: Why would anyone use VMware? And ironically for that matter, Citrix? The world, however, is not that black and white and features matter a great deal. So does performance, security, scalability, maturity, and ease of use. This exactly where Citrix has been playing since its inception and this is exactly why VMware will be able to compete and why not everyone will just use a Microsoft solution.

VMware Has Its Challenges
VMware has always had excellent vision. Heck, it practically invented an industry that did not exist, and I am a fan of that vision. But its execution has been spotty and slow especially when it comes to EUC. It took VMware quite some time to collect all the necessary pieces to fulfill an end-to-end end-user computing solution. VMware now has most of the components and if rumors are true, VMware will soon announce a direct competitor to Citrix XenApp.

That's great, but VMware is now challenged with integrating all these products and history has shown us that VMware has been slow to integrate technologies. Think ThinApp, and profile management. VMware now has to integrate AirWatch with Horizon View. It also has to integrate AirWatch's Secure Content Locker with Horizon Data. VMware has to figure out how to integrate Desktop with Horizon View and how all this will tie into vCloud. VMware has to, at some point also acquire Teradici, something I have been screaming about for years. (VMware, you cannot OEM the heart of your solution, your remote protocol.)

So, VMware has its work cut out for itself and it will be busy for quite some time with all this integration stuff. Let's not forget the fact that as it integrates them, the company has to continue to innovate across all these products to remain competitive.

What's Up, Citrix?
Citrix on the other hand has done a wonderful job building a true end-to-end end-user computing suite that spans beyond just Windows desktops and apps to include MDM, MAM, cloud storage, collaboration, topped with a suite of networking products for security and acceleration and optimization. Citrix has been building this portfolio by acquisition and by development and has been integrating for quite a while now, and while tighter integration is still needed and some enhancements are needed here and there, Citrix is very far along and ahead in some cases.

Citrix has been so focused on its mobile work styles vision that it is completely missing out on the cloud opportunity. Sure, it has a good cloud portfolio with CloudPlatform and it has been working on integrating that with its mobile work styles vision. And that's exactly the problem: Citrix is integrating its cloud portfolio with the mobile and desktop virtualization product suites instead of going after the cloud from a platform perspective. Citrix absolutely has a lot of catching up to do in this space.

I hope that Citrix realizes that its strategy of empowering cloud service providers is a 1990s approach and that making an acquisition in this space would properly position the company to take advantage of the cloud just like Cisco, EMC, VMware, Microsoft and others are doing. Empowering is not enough, Citrix -- you must own a piece of the cloud. That will be beneficial for Citrix to deliver its own DaaS solution but also expand its offering.

My suggestion is that it acquires Rackspace, a company that has built a great brand name for itself and one that I believe Citrix is capable of acquiring financially. Citrix can bring a lot to Rackspace immediately in regards to solutions, but even more important is scale. See, Rackspace has for the most part been a direct consumer sale company with very little enterprise sales experience. Citrix can bring an army of sales people and partners that would immediately be able to sell the portfolio as they are familiar with it, with only a little bit of training needed. Rackspace brings to Citrix a profitable business, a great brand name and the ability to immediately own a piece of the cloud and begin to build and offer Citrix solutions. Some OpenStack/CloudStack bickering aside, a Rackspace acquisition is exactly what Citrix needs.

So, the sky is neither falling on Citrix's head, nor is VMware on the verge of achieving Plato's Software Portfolio Republic. Both companies have excellent vision, excellent product portfolios with gaps and a lot to improve on. I see VMware competing with Citrix neck and neck, and that means we as customers are poised to benefit from that competition with reduced pricing on XenApp, and better features from either company's solutions as the competition heats up.

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 04/08/2014 at 1:35 PM0 comments

How To Prevent Uncontrolled Use of VMs as Routers or DHCP Servers with Hyper-V R3

Hyper-V R3 has two advanced but somewhat overlooked networking features that can be handy and I'm sure administrators would appreciate them and put them to good use, so we'll cover them here.

You've worked in the enterprise long enough, so you've come across rogue DHCP servers and routers that show up on the network and could cause headaches. Many years ago before virtualization and even VMware, I had to deal with these types of problems, especially with physical developer workstations acting as DHCP servers (among other things) that our friendly developer colleagues innocently believed weren't a big deal. Back then tracking down these machines that were offering these services was not as easy or simple. Sure, there are ways of configuring the switches and routers to handle this issue, but this is only aspect of it -- we still need to get to them and turn them off. In later years, software was available to help track them down.

The problem still exists, except now they're in virtual machines. There are many ways to control them depending on how you provision these VMs. So while the problem isn't as widespread as it used to be, I still find that it is useful to know that safeguards are available to deal with them should the need arise. 

The two features in Hyper-V R3 that address this issue are DHCP Guard and Router Guard. Both are accessible from the Network Adapter's Advanced Features node of a virtual machine's settings. As the names imply, if you enable either of the two guards you can prevent a VM from being able to broadcast packets or acting as a DHCP server; with Router Guard enabled, you can prevent a VM from acting as a router and redirecting packets. 

Where such features can be very handy is in the event of a VM being connected to multiple virtual networks and where you only want this service to be broadcast on a specific virtual network rather than all of them. You can then enable DHCP or Router Guard on those networks that should not be receiving these broadcasts. It's useful for both servers and desktop VM implementations. They don't always have to be implemented to prevent misuse or abuse -- you can leverage them to address a situation where you are designating those VMs for a specific purpose.

One final thought on these two features: While some of you may want to enable this by default and make it part of the process of provisioning these VMs, keep in mind that these two features have a light performance penalty when enabled. So make sure you are testing, comparing and contrasting before you decide to use them.

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 04/02/2014 at 11:18 AM0 comments

vSphere Mobile Watchlist: Monitoring On The Go

Mobile devices are infiltrating our lives and changing our every behavior and habit-- from the way we shop, to the way we learn and even the way we make decisions. So, IT professionals are expected to gravitate and welcome mobile applications that allow them to perform certain aspects of their jobs on the go.

VMware's solution for monitoring VMs is vSphere Mobile Watchlist. Available in both the Apple AppStore and the Android Market, the app can monitor and alert, and it has remediation and delegation capabilities. You are able to configure a watchlist of important VMs and can monitor them on the go. In the event of an issue, you are able to initiate remediation or delegate the task to another member that can help in troubleshooting the issue. The idea here is that you can be made aware of an issue or outage as near to real-time as possible, and can respond with some form of action.

From a remediation perspective, the application can be used to initiate all power operations that can be done from a traditional client, such as a restart, shutdown, reset, power on and power off. The application also provides a dashboard with a summarized view of watched VMs, where you can view state and health and other information.

From vSphere Mobile Watchlist you can acknowledge any alerts that the VM presents, and disregard those that are safe for now and act on the ones that need immediate attention. What I also like is that the application is able to suggest VMware KB articles that may be relevant to the alerts, which can be passed along to other team members.

Another cool use case that the mobile app enables is "read-only": Mobile users with read-only capabilities can monitor an environment, but are limited in their capability to remediate based on the role or permissions of that person. It should be named "role-based" access, considering you could modify the user profile and give them limited remediation capabilities.

On the security end, VMware applies the same security requirements on vSphere Mobile Watchlist that it does on its popular vSphere Web Client, so this is another good reason and opportunity to seriously consider a Mobile Device or Mobile Application Management strategy as the number of mobile applications being used by end users and even admins continues to grow. Today, in order to run this mobile application, some form of VPN needs to be established in order to meet the security needs for the application to function properly.

Something tells me that we will be seeing more mobile applications that are geared towards IT professionals from the major software vendors in the months to come.

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 03/31/2014 at 3:37 PM0 comments

ThousandEyes, AppDynamics: New Breed of Application Performance Management

I have yet to come across an enterprise that has used application monitoring in any proactive way. In most cases, admins use systems that use a red light or show an up/down symptom indicator, and look for before they take any kind of action. In essence, we acquired the software but only scratched the surface of most application monitoring software capabilities. More often than not, we never fully configured those tools.

To go even further, you've likely been in a situation where an alert would go off and the up/down indicator was just that - an indicator. It didn't help much, so you had to fish around for the reasons the application was not working properly. Three days of research later, you figured out that the database reached its maximum connection limit.

I am sure some of you will throw in the mix synthetic monitoring and some other fancy keywords. Synthetic monitoring is great, but I still insist that most of us never really configured it or barely got the basic functionality out of it.

Taking all the above into account, we still managed to get by with somewhat acceptable service levels. That was a different time, a different era. It was a time when everything was contained within the boundaries of our data center and we had control over every aspect of the application. A time before SaaS, the cloud, social or mobile.

Today, add all these factors into the mix and you can pretty much render traditional application performance monitoring as obsolete. Now, you have to consider so many new variables, such as your many different SaaS application providers, your cloud provider, the Internet, and, of course your traditional data center. Troubleshooting, monitoring and watching the up/down indicator is no longer a strategy that allows you to just get by in order to maintain any sort of reasonable service levels.

Imagine having an issue and getting into a pointing contest between your internal IT team, your cloud IaaS provider and possibly your SaaS provider -- not to mention your Internet provider -- on where the slowness is, where the outage occurred or who is responsible for fixing it. Imagine getting that call on Monday morning: "Hey, the application was horribly slow on Sunday around 3 pm." Anyone care to troubleshoot that for your CFO with all the factors I mentioned weighing in?

You can see why I am excited about ThousandEyes and AppDynamics. There are other good app monitoring solutions, but those two caught my attention because of their ability to monitor and pinpoint issues within the data center and across the application stack, as well as between the data center and the cloud provider and the Internet provider that the traffic is passing through. You are essentially able to see end to end what is going on with your applications and where you might have impendig issues.

In addition, both companies have significantly aggregated large amounts of data into visually pleasing to navigate dashboards that go beyond traditional up/down monitoring , all the way to exposing the entire landscape of an application with all its interdependencies. IT pros will find themselves actually wanting to navigate through, fully configure and use these tools because  of the great value that you can finally derive from them without needing a PhD to configure them.

Another nifty feature: After you've detected an issue you can share and collaborate with coworkers or maybe even professionals from other companies to visually see the problem and work together to address it. The share and collaborate feature is one that will be most valued just because of the ease with which you can share that information. (I know, right? It's such a basic feature, but so powerful.)

Route changes, link delays, bandwidth issues, database connectivity problems, user experience enhancement and more are all new features that these new breed of application performance management tools offer. The exciting thing about some of these companies is they have helped large SaaS providers like Twitter and Citrix GoTo enhance and improve their user experience by detecting potential issues which allows developers or IT professionals to then address by reconfiguring or enhancing the software code.

How many of you are looking at ThousandEyes or AppDynamics today? What has your experience been in a world that is no longer contained within the boundaries of a data center, be it physical or virtual for that matter?

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 03/26/2014 at 2:03 PM0 comments

10 Can't Miss Citrix Synergy 2014 Sessions

Citrix Synergy 2014 is in Los Angeles in a few weeks, and Citrix has released the session catalog online. I took a good look inside and here are my recommended sessions, hand-picked to help you navigate the sea of information that typically are presented at these conferences.

A session that needs no introduction and is year after year one of the best, most interactive sessions of the show is "Geek Speak Live." You can’t attend Synergy and not participate in it. The panel is top notch, the topic are often timely and the setting is a casual one. For those who want to track me down, don't miss that session, because I'll be there. There are several Geek Speak Live sessions so be sure to check the catalog.

Next up is SYN251 – Direct from the performance labs: Best practices for VDI, a virtual reality check presented by my friend and fellow CTP, MVP and vExpert Ruben Spruijit and Jeroen van de Kamp. Do you think you know VDI best practices? You will find that the research that Ruben and Jeroen do is pretty deep and extensive and you are bound to learn a lot from their session. If you are working on a VDI deployment, attend this session. Remember, VDI in a POC or a limited deployment of up to 500 is not a big deal, but VDI at scale is a different beast!

Speaking of VDI at scale, are you working for an enterprise with a VDI project in the tens of thousands? Then I recommend SYN119 – How Atlanta Public Schools delivers virtual desktops to 50,000 students, presented by Thomas Gamull. If you are in healthcare, check out SYN250 – Deploying XenDesktop with Cisco UCS for 10,000 healthcare workers, presented by my good friend Jarian Gibson. This will be a technical session, so bring your coloring books and crayons.

Are you looking at the cloud for possible deployment of your VDI environment? We all love showdowns and comparative analyses that can save us a ton of research and heartache, right? I have a session for you: SYN254 – Showdown: AWS vs Azure for desktop delivery, presented by another one of my fellow CTPs, Henrik Johansson. Henrik does an excellent job and is very thorough. I am personally very interested in this session.

Do I need to stress the importance of monitoring and proactive identification of issues or user experience degradation? We have all experienced that. Heck, it is the dreadful demise of our day when we get these types of calls. Check out SYN326 – HDX Insight to identify XenDesktop Bottlenecks, also presented by Henrik.

You can’t attend Synergy and not get a taste for GPU computing in virtual desktops and to get an unbiased, unfiltered, honest-to-God opinion, I can’t think of anyone better than my fellow Chicagoan and friend Shawn Bass and his evil German mad scientist and fellow CTP Benny Tritsch. Think you are technical and can handle this session? Show up and prove me wrong by attending SYN324 - Comparing GPU-accelerated high-end graphics performance of virtual desktop platforms.

If you say you don’t have a Dropbox problem in your environment, you are either not aware of them or you're ignoring it in the hopes that it will go away. Likely, you are wrong on both counts. Come to SYN216 – ShareFile: What’s New and What’s Next. ShareFile is quickly competing with XenApp as my favorite Citrix product.

I have always maintained that enterprises should look at End User Computing holistically and not in a silo -- not just XenApp and XenDesktop, not just ShareFile and XenMobile, but all of them together and how they integrate. SYN308 - How XenMobile integrates with NetScaler, XenDesktop and XenApp for complete enterprise mobility should cover a big chunk of that strategy.

Finally, you can’t go to Synergy and not attend a cloud session that is tied to business. For that, I recommend SYN233 - Achieving business agility with cloud computing in data-intensive, media-rich, web-scale environments. I have high hopes for this session.

As you can see from the session catalog, the show is packed with excellent content and you can’t go wrong with session choices. I just figured I would give you my perspective and some of the sessions that I will be attending. If you have other sessions that you think should be highlighted, add them in the comments section. I hope to see you there!

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 03/12/2014 at 5:13 PM0 comments

Can Private Cloud Storage Accelerate Enterprise Cloud Adoption?

The barrier to mass cloud adoption by enterprises is realistically two-fold. First, the amount of data that is stored on premise would take an exorbitant amount of time to move to the cloud and would in many cases not be financially beneficial. (we're not even mentioning security and privacy concerns about data and a whole slew of other things). The second thing is, even if we move all the data into the cloud, the communications link would dictate that the compute (VMs) be as close as possible to this data, because most enterprise applications and databases are latency-sensitive. This would suggest that you now need to move your compute and your storage to the same provider, and that leads to vendor lock-in.

There are many options that can address some of these caveats and overcome some of these situations, but there really isn't an elegant one yet for this problem. Well, what if certain data centers could establish direct, high-speed, low-latency connections to the major cloud service providers like Amazon, Azure, vCHS, IBM, and others? It would plug one of the two challenges I mentioned earlier, but then we still have the issue of storage.

Let's stretch the "what if" a bit more: What if these data centers also offered customers the ability to host their storage arrays in a fully managed offering? The customer still buys the storage arrays, but they never see them. Instead, the storage is managed on their behalf and they can pay as they grow. So, instead of buying all the storage upfront, they buy what you need now and then as they need more, it is made available to them. And the customer dictates SLAs and the provider bills accordingly. This would now centralize the storage in a location that can be accessed by several cloud service providers over high-speed, low latency links, thereby doing several things: avoiding lock-in, addressing the security and privacy concerns, and enabling enterprises to move applications and databases into the cloud without worrying about latency or a degraded user experience.

Now, before every vendor under the sun jumps on my comments and says we are already doing this, read carefully what I am suggesting. I understand that today you will place an array on premises or at a customer co-located space. I understand that you are willing to manage it on their behalf, that is great too. What I am suggesting is, take the customer out of the data center business and out of the co-location business altogether. The customer buys the array and where it is stored is not their concern as long as it meets certain criteria. What but the customer needs is that the storage array need not be in a customer cage. Instead, it could be wherever as long as the storage is theirs and managed on their behalf.

Back to the scenario I described earlier: We now have centralized storage in a location that is accessible by cloud providers and they are offering it at a high speed with low latency, which means the compute, your VMs, are now free to live on any cloud. So, they could be on Azure today, and tomorrow VMware introduces a limited-time offer where the VMs could be cheaper to host. Guess what? Migrating those VMs is now very easy. Maybe, the day after tomorrow Amazon offers cheaper prices, so you move back to that provider. Your data is still in the same place, but you are not locked in with your cloud provider anymore.

In this model, we are blending the traditional data center model with the cloud for a best of breed solution. In such a scenario, you can enable services like DaaS and not worry about user experience or performance. You can move your tier-1 apps to the cloud and not worry about performance.

What do you think? Is this the way we are going to migrate to the cloud and get out of the data center and infrastructure-owning business altogether? Where do you see challenges? What am I missing? Please share in the comments here.

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 03/10/2014 at 3:11 PM0 comments

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