In-Depth

Citrix, Apple Working on iPhone Integration

Integration with XenApp and XenDesktop expected to be available early next year.

VMware's recent purchase of Trango Virtual Processors brought attention toward a previously little-known market segment: virtualization and telecom. To date, most of the telecom activity has centered on virtualizing mobile phones. While estimates vary concerning the degree of market opportunity in telecom virtualization, many analysts agree that the potential is significant.

So far, there's been little competitive activity in response to VMware's acquisition. Some VMware competitors are involved in the mobile handset market, although not quite in the same way. And while Microsoft provides specialized OSes such as Windows Mobile and is a leader in datacenter virtualization, it has yet to make any major announcements about its mobile virtualization plans.

On the other hand, Citrix, VMware's other major competitor, is currently spearheading some significant efforts with respect to Apple's iPhone. Though Citrix hasn't made any formal announcements about this partnership, sources at the company say it is working to develop virtualization software that will securely migrate a Windows desktop to an iPhone.

The iPhone's potential for business use has been a much-discussed topic. "We view the latest- and future-generation mobile handsets as a logical extension of corporate IT infrastructures. Due to obvious size and convenience factors, employees will increasingly use mobile devices rather than laptops during travel and customer calls," said Charlie Burns, an analyst with Saugatuck Technology.

But many businesses have not switched to the iPhone because of its lack of full integration with corporate e-mail systems. To address this problem, Apple is moving toward a more BlackBerry-like iPhone, announcing in March that it was working to revamp its software to support Microsoft Exchange -- a shot to the bow of Research In Motion, the company that makes the BlackBerry.

But e-mail is just the first step. "While mobile e-mail and instant messaging are early examples of this use, more sophisticated devices enable viewing, modifying and displaying files such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint. And, for reasons such as employee productivity, companies will move to deliver business applications via mobile devices." Burns said.

The Citrix solution would accomplish much of the same sort of integration that's taking place with Apple and its business software partners such as SAP, but in a more organized and comprehensive way. It would integrate both XenApp (formerly known as Presentation Server) and XenDesktop products; XenApp would allow specific applications to be pulled off a subscriber's desktop, while XenDesktop would allow the entire desktop to be accessed.

Having XenApp on an iPhone would offer the advantage of security, a major concern whenever business apps are migrated to mobile devices. According to Chris Fleck, vice president of solutions development for Citrix, this is one of the biggest reasons more companies haven't moved to iPhone implementations.

"The big issue that customers we talk to are concerned about is the same thing they worry about with laptops...that they will be lost or stolen with critical information on the device," Fleck said. "In a Citrix environment, the data never resides on the device -- it's always on a secure server back in the datacenter."

According to Fleck, XenApp is scheduled for implementation first in the timeline. He added that Citrix expects the products to become available in the first half of next year, when the Citrix software will be downloadable from Apple's App Store.

Citrix wants to bring its presentation and hosted desktop virtualization product offerings to as many different types of devices as possible. The company has mobile clients available today for both Windows Mobile and Symbian devices, but there are performance drawbacks. However, the increasing availability of 3G combined with the iPhone opens new windows of opportunity: Both screen size and zooming features make applications easier to use, and improved response time is now possible via the bandwidth capacity of 3G wireless coverage, now accessible with the latest version of iPhone.

About the Author

Tom Valovic is a freelance technology writer.

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