Application/Desktop Virtualization: The Big Three and … ?

When you think of application or desktop virtualization, you likely think about “The Big Three”: Citrix XenApp/XenDesktop, VMware Horizon View, and Microsoft Remote Desktop Services. Without a doubt, these three vendors comprise the majority of the mindshare and market share.

Citrix just celebrated its twentieth birthday, and it began this journey as a small company focused on virtualizing apps long before virtualization was cool. When Microsoft released Terminal Services with Windows NT 4.0, many feared that it would crush Citrix, but that didn’t happen. Instead, Citrix developed into a formidable player in the virtualization marketplace. A young company named VMware then reshaped the technical community by releasing virtual desktops as the core of its View offering. It proved to be another example of a small company with a revolutionary idea that kept growing and growing and growing.

As we look around the virtualization marketplace, we see numerous startups that are desirous of sharing the same fate as the Big Three. The reality is that some will be acquired by one of the Big Three or perhaps an ancillary market player, some will fail in this difficult market, and a few may mature as challengers or ancillary products.

Much of the fate of virtualization-related startups depends on the mindset of upper management and its investors. In most cases, the goal is to develop a unique or improved facet of a core virtualization product in order to dazzle potential acquisition suitors, fetch a high price tag, and then live in the corporate world for a year or two before starting the whole process over again.

Consider, for example, Quest. On its own, Quest was making some headway in the application/desktop virtualization arena and was considered a competitor. Dell acquired Quest in 2012, and there was immediate speculation that it was planning to make a run at the Big Three. After all, Dell certainly had the resources to challenge the Big Three, but it had also been in tight partnership with the Big Three. Rumor has it that many of the original Quest people left Dell, and the aftermath of the Quest acquisition has been rather quiet.

PowWow is another example of a small startup that compares itself to Citrix and VMware. Conceptually, the product is similar, but its angle is focused on gestures and a user interface that functions better on mobile devices, as well as collaboration built into the virtualization solution as opposed to bolted onto it. PowWow is a two-year-old company with seed funding, and its product has just been released. Will PowWow be acquired by one of the Big Three, or will it someday compete with them?

Competition in the application/desktop virtualization marketplace causes vendors to improve their products, but it also causes savvy sales and marketing organizations to sway discussions away from technical superiority. While the Big Three compete fiercely against each other and certainly have the corporate stability and resources to produce technically excellent products, any or all of them could become too large and arrogant.

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