Citrix aims to own the cloud and desktop

It already owns the virtual desktop; now it wants to hit VMware directly

Following a rigorous January survey of customers – that confirmed priorities and product roadmaps it revealed to analysts in December – Citrix announced the megatrends it believes will shape 2011 and knows for sure will shape updates and new product it will ship this year.

The three trends – too broad and well defined to be considered new, despite Citrix' survey numbers – are:

  • That end users will continue to add devices to their arsenals and use an average of three or four regularly as a platform on which to work.
  • That mobile computing, telecommuting and loosening restrictions in the workplace will mean people can and will work anywhere, whether they should be or not.
  • That cloud software developers and service providers will continue to compete for customers using "proprietary" cloud technology (unless rescued by Citrix OpenCloud that will "let customers connect to any cloud).

First, despite the name, don't read too much into the open-source implication of Citrix OpenCloud. You can't get its source code free; it's not fully compatible with the Open Cloud Manifesto project that includes VMware, and probably not as compatible as you'd think with the competing Open Cloud Consortium that includes Citrix.

Citrix does support the OCC's OpenStack, including the open-source virtual switch called Open vSwitch.

So far, though, none of the on-premise or public-cloud providers are able to migrate workloads directly from a cloud built with one company's hypervisor to one built on a different hypervisor.

The name and the ambition to make cloud migration practical are both compatible with Citrix' plan to expand beyond its strength in virtual desktops and into the market for straight-up cloud computing platforms, complete with the ability to let users create, manage and eliminate their own virtual machines, storage and other resources on both private and public clouds.

"This is part of an ongoing conversation about where applications are going to be hosted," according to John Humphreys, senior director product marketing in data center and cloud for Citrix.

"Some will be in the data center for security or compliance or other reasons; some will be in a cloud hosted by a third party; some will run across both as a two-tier or three-tier application where you might want to keep the data on-premise but have the logic run somewhere else," he said.

Self-service is the next major step in cloud computing, but only in implementations that allow IT to set up rules describing who can create a VM, what applications can run in it, what resources it can use and who should pay for it.

That's pretty similar to VMware's take on the challenge of migrating to clouds, without the end-to-end, everything-on-VMware fairy dust it sprinkles on everything.

Citrix is a lot closer to direct cloud competition with VMware than it was before its acquisition of VMLogix in August, though.

This year Citrix will release versions of XenServer with the VMLogix self-service functions built in as well as its lifecycle management, continuity and workload-migration capabilities.

The real key to the biggest changes Citrix will deliver this year, however, are improvements in HDX, the multimedia protocol Citrix developed to make remote-access, shared-session and VDI desktop virtualization more attractive.

Without it, watching video or even many active Web graphics technologies are painful or impossible.

With it, especially with improvements that further reduce latency and jitter, eventually it will be practical for end users to buy and use desktop applications hosted on someone else's cloud, Humphreys said.

He predicts they'll be able to access those virtual desktops on a variety of devices, and go to work from whatever coffee shop they find themselves in, at speeds that make it difficult to know whether the desktops are local or remote.

He doesn't predict, though it's true, that they'll work from anywhere, using anything, at all times of the day or night, whether that's what they really want to do or not.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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