A Quest for Citrix’s Crown?

VMware coined the phrase VDI, but talk about how an organization has delivered desktop services from a centralized environment and its more likely that they’ve a Citrix based solution. Citrix is still perceived as the market leader of the application and workspace delivery environment.

Citrix and Microsoft offered a Rescue for VMWare. Yet, Citrix’s XenDesktop and XenApp are not integrated solutions; and if you want to maintain current releases the cost of Citrix’s Subscriptions Advantage is an additional cost per year based on a license cost that is one of the highest of all the desktop virtualization solutions.

VMware offer a Rescue from XenApp, but  VDI is just one way to manage your desktop service.  Citrix has XenDesktop to counter View, is developing XenClient to counter VMware’s ACE. Yet VMware has no Presentation Virtualization solution, no profile management, no protocol optimized for WAN, no way to provide access to physical desktops. As far as desktop delivery solutions are concerned is Citrix king?

If Citrix is King, what is the impact to you the customer? Citrix’s portfolio of solutions is extensive – but extensive is difficult to introduce change to. Can such a large organization respond to customer requests – your requests – effectively? Can it introduce change into its own products to meet demand in a timely fashion? If it is the only solution provider, how will you best be able to challenge the license cost?

Is there any company who could legitimately have a claim to challenge that dominance?

Citrix’s Extensive Court

VDI does not equal VMware – there are many solutions in that space: VDI encompass many vendors. VMware’s folly perhaps was creating a general term.

Citrix have had many product names for a functional ‘thing’ – to deliver your applications and access your data. All respect to the effort and ingenuity of their marketing team: we’ve had WinFrame and MetaFrame all the way through to XenApp and indeed its cousin, XenDesktop. Yet, talk to most organization’s and their remote working environment, their thin client solution, their application provision isn’t the product name whatever ever the version may be, its “Citrix”.

  • “I use Citrix to access my Outlook from home”
  • “Citrix enables us to deliver applications to our remote users”
  • “We access Citrix from our thin clients”

all great… likely to be phrases from a case study… but also…

  • “Citrix printing isn’t working”
  • “I can’t access my work from home because Citrix is down”

Search for “Citrix” twitters and not only will you get how great it is at X, but also – how user Y is having a hard time with it – but where ‘it’ is unknown, is ‘it’ XenApp, Presentation Server, XenDesktop. With every silver lining, there is a cloud.

Yet, Citrix is mentioned because it is embedded in so many organizations. Embedded is difficult to change. Obviously excellent for Citrix. But, is that good for you and your organization? With their ‘XenDesktop Trade-in’ program Citrix appears to be successfully leveraging its considerable installed base of XenApp customers and its extensive re-seller network towards the goal of providing customers a choice of getting their applications via XenApp (the traditional Remote Desktop Services/Terminal Services method) and XenDesktop (the new virtualized desktop method).

Any new challenger would not only have to provide an excellent technical solution, a cost effective solution – but make that solution attractive to re-sellers to generate the innovation in solutions based on the alternative, to evangelize the product to customers and to support and nurture that new products use. And, importantly, to make the transition from one environment as seamless as possible – assisting with administration and support training and ensuring the user experience is as-good-as if not better.

Heralding your Solution to the Far Corners of the Kingdom

If we do a little bit of history now, Citrix’s original WinFrame was a multi-user version of Windows NT 3.51 licensed from Microsoft. The core development that Citrix delivered was the MultiWin engine. This allowed *shock* multiple users to login and execute applications on a what appeared to be an NT3.51 server. VMS operators, to name one group, to this day wonder what all the fuss was about. Citrix was to later license the MultiWin technology to Microsoft, forming the basis of Microsoft’s Terminal Services.

There was also Citrix’s remoting protocol, Independent Computer Architecture (ICA). ICA’s advantage was that it designed to deliver a remote experience – offering access to applications and data across a wide area network. In time, ICA has become a subset of Citrix’s HDX technologies – which combine a number of technologies to offer a user experience such that they are not aware if their data is presented in an application running locally or remotely – be it a text document, or a full motion video.

Any new challenger needs to deliver a good user experience not only over the LAN, but over a Wide Area Network. Why? because centralizing services moves application execution from devices outside of the core network to remote locations – be they home users, remote or branch offices, partner organizations. If your remote protocol offers a poor user experience for WAN users your centralization service is unlikely to be useful to or used by users. It is of no use if management savings in administration are exceeded by lost productivity for users in the field.

Citrix’s Alliance with Microsoft
It is often touted that Microsoft will buy Citrix. Citrix’s core products help drive Microsoft revenue – for every XenApp license Microsoft sell an Remote Desktop Services CAL, XenDesktop helps drive Software Assurance take-up or Windows Virtual Desktop Access. Perhaps the most straightforward counter.  Microsoft don’t need to buy Citrix.

While Citrix and Microsoft have strong joint marketing a question to consider is that is Citrix too reliant on Microsoft to offer its solutions? Should Citrix do more to differentiate their products from Microsoft – perhaps enter into an alliance with its adversary VMware?

Conversely, will Microsoft continue with a partner that offers solutions could confuse you the customer’s choice between what Microsoft offers and what the alliance partner offers? It is an easier concept to incorporate a partner that adds value to your offering – but will Microsoft continue to jointly promote an alliance that introduces competitive solutions: XenServer for example or Citrix’s Application Streaming. Especially if those alternatives negate some of the benefits of Software Assurance.

Citrix released its WinFrame product based on NT 3.51 and there were very few competitive solutions. This is no longer the case. Citrix is now in a position where it is more difficult to innovate to meet new challenges. Windows 2008R2, for example, required a  major change in Citrix’s architecture – so much so that if you have an existing XenApp farm based on Windows 2003 or 2008 you will need a separate management environment to move to Windows 2008R2.  This is a separate environment again from XenDesktop.

For better or worse, it is unlikely that desktop solutions are going to be able to wrestle themselves away from a Microsoft based solution in the near future. Any new challenger would need to deliver desktop services that compliment Microsoft and offer straightforward integration – to compliment rather than overshadow. At the same time, alternative vendors are able to benefit from starting afresh – they could also be in a position to respond to new technology releases and customer requests more rapidly.

Challengers to the Throne?

Of the number of “Citrix Alternatives” – a number have recently, or are about to release, updated versions. 2x for instance have released an update  to Application Server, Ericom are running through a Release Candidate for PowerTerm WebConnect to 5.7. Quest have recently updated vWorkspace to 7.1.

Both Ericom (Blaze) and Quest (EOP Xtream) have developed remote protocol technologies to deliver improved user experience both on the LAN and across the WAN.

Each of the alternatives can offer a significantly reduced license cost over Citrix offerings.

Yet, while these alternatives can offer similar functionality to Citrix’s XenDesktop and XenApp, can offer a more simple management infrastructure, if you are considering migration to reduce your management and license costs consider what the cost of migration from what you have now would be. How will you transition your environment from your existing environment to another? How will you begin to validate your user experience requirements? Do you need to modify your existing thin client solution to accommodate the alternative solutions?

Citrix found that introducing XenServer was complicated because there was an existing and  stable deployment of VMware ESX solutions in the data centers. In challenging Citrix, other vendors offerings may well be technically capable and financially attractive but to mount a sustained challenge perhaps their focus on ensuring that a transition is simple and effective and how, perhaps,  savings in license costs can be used to fund that move.

VMware may argue differently, but VDI is just one way to deliver virtual desktops.  Citrix has XenDesktop to counter View, is developing XenClient to counter VMware’s ACE. Yet VMware have no Presentation Virtualization solution, no profile management, no protocol optimized for WAN, manage access to physical desktops. As far as desktop delivery solutions is concerned is Citrix king?
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