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Citrix Jumps into Hyperconvergence with Both Feet

In my 2015 predictions article, I predicted that Citrix would acquire FSLogix, and that it would introduce new products and enter the hyperconvergence market. Well, that didn't take long: The company announced at Citrix Summit this week the introduction of WorkspacePOD, its hyperconvergence solution, along with the acquisition of Sanbolic.

This wasn't the first time I suggested that Citrix enter the hyperconvergence market. I wrote about Citrix acquiring Nutanix  back in 2012, and more recently spelled it out in a blog post.

The Sanbolic Acquisition
I've repeatedly suggested that Citrix needs a virtual SAN capability, which would be the catalyst to any hyperconverged infrastructure offering. I didn't expect the company to go after Sanbolic, however. I thought Atlantis or Infinio would make the list before Sanbolic. That being said, Sanbolic Melio FS is a technology Citrix customers have used, because its clustered file system enables Citrix Provisioning Server high availability for its vDisk.

The introduction of SMB 3.0 and its impressive performance and resilience capabilities diminished the need for a clustered file system of the type Sanbolic provides. I honestly even stopped monitoring Sanbolic; but when I look at the company today, I realize that it made quite a transformation in solution capabilities. It now offers workload-specific acceleration, virtual SAN capabilities and much more. This acquisition puts Citrix back on the map, and while its track record of integrating solutions hasn't been great, it's been far better than most of its competitors.

WorkspacePOD Goes After EVO:RAIL
It would have been better if Citrix had acquired Nutanix back in 2012, jumping ahead of VMware, rather than being forced to respond three years later. While WorkspacePOD, introduced this week, is definitely a response to VMware, it's still a welcome step in the right direction. It's absolutely necessary for Citrix to provide a fully certified, turn-key solution for a desktop virtualization project -- a single SKU with support wrapped around it.

If you want to make WorkspacePOD awesome, treat it as a product -- not a reference architecture. What I mean by a product is that it has a single support hierarchy. If a user calls with an issue about WorkspacePOD, he should be able to get support from one team, not a collage of teams from XenApp, XenServer, XenDesktop, Provisioning Server and so on; one call, one team and a quick resolution.

Another important differentiator is to treat the product updates for WorkspacePOD differently from the individual products that make up the solution. Updates for WorkspacePOD should be validated and certified to work with the different components in the solution. This is the entire value proposition; Citrix should be offering a closed-stack, controlled environment.

WorkspacePOD comes in two iterations: A lightweight configuration for smaller environments is offered by DataON, and a more robust version geared for larger environments is supported by HP. The DataON version supports 150 XenDesktop VDI sessions, or 750 XenApp Sessions. The HP version can potentially run up to 675 XenDesktop VDI sessions and up to 2,250 XenApp sessions. That's pretty impressive.

Atlantis Also Joins the Hyperconvergence Movement
When it rains, it pours: Citrix wasn't the only company to enter the hyperconvergence market. One of its closest partners, Atlantis, announced this week -- also at the Citrix Summit -- the introduction of its new product, USX.

What's the difference between WorkspacePOD and USX? Basically, the difference is between the virtual storage capabilities. One's based on Citrix solutions, and the other on Atlantis. The latter has been building software that accelerates Citrix products for a long time.

Only time will tell if USX will be able to stand on its own, especially compared to the Citrix solution. But remember that Nutanix also differentiates itself from EVO:RAIL and others with its software. In the same way, it may be that the difference between WorkspacePOD and Atlantis USX is the same as the difference between Nutanix and EVO:RAIL.

My advice to Atlantis would be as follows:

  • Brand the product. What I mean by that is don't use generic super-micro servers, but rather brand it with a face plate, lights, an attractive look and so on. Don't rely on just having a solid product; the aesthetics of the machine can be a determining factor for customer purchases more often than not, especially if competing products are viewed equally positive.

  • Single call support is crucial. The problem with server-based computing is complexity; if you're going to enter a closed stack market and position yourself within the solution, you should be prepared to support this solution end-to-end and not hand off customers to Citrix or the hardware manufacturer.

  • Patching. Offer your customers the benefit of validated and certified patches and upgrades for their environments. This is a very important value-add. If customers buy your box and all it is is a reference architecture, it won't succeed. Support, patching and aesthetics will be the determining factor in winning customers.
Where Does Citrix Go from Here?
Now that Pandora's Box has been opened, Citrix has many options. In the past, I've written about the importance of hyperconvergence for cloud solutions. Citrix absolutely must prop up CloudPlatform and follow the lead on what companies like Nebula and others have done for OpenStack. There's no reason why WorkspacePOD can't become the CloudPOD or the XenPOD for CloudPlatform. This will help customers with Infrastructure-as-a-Service deployments, but it can also be used for customers that want advanced automation and orchestration for their on-premises Desktop-as-a-Service-type solutions.

Furthermore, Citrix has released a new version of XenServer, and that's really great news. I definitely think there's value in XenServer -- if used the right way. Don't try and position it against vSphere or Hyper-V;  rather, make it completely transparent, and make it a seamless part of a XenDesktop or XenApp implementation.

Recall I mentioned earlier treating WorkspacePOD as a product, when it comes to updates and upgrades? I was talking about upgrading XenServer and everything that goes on top of it. Heck, Citrix may be able to offer a managed service to customers of WorkspacePOD, which would allow Citrix to maintain the patching and upgrading of the core system. Let's hope someone is listening.

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 01/15/2015 at 9:29 AM


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