Dan's Take

Citrix: Past, Present and Future

After another CEO departure, the company is in dangerous waters. It needs more balance if it's going to avoid the sharks.

January 2016, Citrix appointed Kirill Tatarinov as President and CEO. The announcement of his hiring proudly proclaimed that "With 30 years of industry experience, Mr. Tatarinov has a long and successful track record overseeing product strategy and commercial operations in software and services."

Eighteen months later, Tatarinov stepped down. If we look at the company, the markets it's attempting to serve and market trends, we can see that the company has been chasing the market and seldom is out front. This may have contributed to Tatarinov's quick departure.

Strong Headwinds
Back in 2015, I wrote an article that laid out what markets the company was focused on and the headwinds it was sailing into. At that time, the company was fighting a multi-front war in all areas of virtualization. Citrix presented itself as a virtualization technology company with an emphasis on access virtualization for Windows-based computing environments. It also focused on application delivery in the hopes of getting out in front of an increasingly diverse and distributed computing environment.

Decreasing Relevance
As more and more end user computing was done using Android and iOS-based smartphones and tablets rather than on Windows-based desktops and laptops, Citrix tools that focused on Windows-based computing environments were far less interesting.

As enterprise computing started shifting to more Linux and cloud-based computing environments, Citrix's server-based tools focusing on encapsulating and delivering Windows environments to Windows desktops became less and less interesting. VMware, Microsoft and open source virtualization technology was seen as leading the charge into a virtual or "software defined" world, while Citrix was mentioned less and less often by major enterprises, software vendors and in the media.

Apple and Google were seen as leading the charge into intelligent handheld computing. Citrix wasn't seen as being necessary or helpful in the new world.

Where Citrix Stands Today Since 2015, the company has trimmed its product lines and tried packaging and re-packaging its technology hoping to attract a larger audience. Its product portfolio now includes the following (as categorized by Citrix):

  • Application Virtualization and VDI. XenApp (an application virtualization product), XenDesktop (an access virtualization platform), and XenServer (virtual machine (VM) software based on the open source Xen project).
  • Enterprise Mobility Management. XenMobile is a mashup of "mobile device management (MDM), mobile application management (MAM), mobile content management (MCM), secure network gateway, and enterprise-grade mobile productivity apps in one comprehensive enterprise mobility management solution."
  • File Sync and Sharing. ShareFile on-premises and cloud-focused file sharing and synchronization.
  • Networking. The primary offering here is NetScaler, a set of products that include a sophisticated file caching/compression/transport product; a firewall for the NetScaler environment; a gateway for the NetScaler environment; tools for management and use of the NetScaler environment; and a tool to optimize traffic to and from a WAN networking environment.

The company also dabbled in a lifecycle management product for Citrix application environments; social collaboration and project management; a tool for provisioning cloud-based computing environments; and an online document signing product.

Dan's Take: Be More Than Windows
The industry has pivoted to iOS, Android, Linux and cloud-based services. Microsoft took note and built the Azure public cloud. In addition, it made Microsoft Office available on iOS and Android. Citrix, in the meantime, packaged and repackaged its Windows-focused offerings and called them by other names, but its Windows orientation was always visible.

If an end user uses an app or Web browser to access enterprise applications, access virtualization offering access to Windows-hosted applications is of less interest.

If an enterprise is building its enterprise workloads using services and micro-services hosted on Linux or in Linux-based containers, Windows-based tools also seem of less interest.

Citrix faced the same problems presented in the well-known book "The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (Management of Innovation and Change)," by Clayton M. Christensen. In this case, the company didn't find a way pivot with the market. Tatarinov did his best to refine and re-imagine the company to preserve revenues coming from the company's current technology portfolio, but didn't find a way to out-Microsoft Microsoft, out-VMware VMware, out-Apple Apple or out-Google Google.

What it does having going for it is an impressive portfolio of technology that can be used in many ways. To survive, however, it needs to move away from its narrow focus on supporting Windows-centric environments to a much broader focus. Consider that it has capabilities in Linux, Windows, iOS, Android, UNIX, virtualization and cloud computing. It's even a founding member of OpenStack.

Citrix needs to broaden its smartphone/tablet focus, not just support their use as endpoint devices connecting to a Windows-centric infrastructure. It has some very sophisticated capabilities in accelerating, monitoring and managing network infrastructure that can be leveraged in cloud-computing scenarios.

In addition, Citrix has some very clever storage virtualization technology that's useful for remote/branch office environments. Much of the company's capabilities have been hidden behind its Windows focus, so it's not often considered in cloud or Linux-focused places, even though it could add significant value in those environments.

About the Author

Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. He has been a business unit manager at a hardware company and head of corporate marketing and strategy at a software company.

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