Building the Personal Cloud

Step back to Citrix CEO Mark Templeton’s keynote at Citrix Synergy in San Francisco and you would have heard him talk of “The Three Cs – the Public Cloud, Private Cloud, and Personal Cloud.”  Hang on a moment, “Personal Cloud” what’s that?  For years Citrix used to talk about “any any any” and it did a pretty good job of delivering it provided any was restricted to meaning any Windows app. Now though, Citrix is wanting us to believe that it has moved past any app and extending that to anything digital.  

I’ll let Citrix PR take it from here:

Today at Citrix Synergy™, where virtual computing takes center stage, Citrix Systems announced its vision for enabling a more virtual workstyle for end users through the concept of a “personal cloud”. As users “go virtual” in all aspects of their life, the notion of doing all their work on a single traditional desktop in one physical location is rapidly evolving. Increasingly, people everywhere are embracing a BYO mindset where they can pick up any device, and have full access to all the apps, desktops, data, contacts, and services they need to do their jobs, without having to think about where those resources are actually located, where data was saved, or what platforms each app component was initially designed to run on. The freedom to work in this way, completely untethered by the limitations of the past, is what personal clouds are all about.

To put it simply; a personal cloud provides access to my stuff wherever it is, wherever I am, on whatever device I have to hand. 

But Citrix has always been an application delivery company; XenApp may be able to deliver a published desktop but at its heart it’s an application publishing platform, XenDesktop may be a desktop virtualization solution but the desktop is no more than a place to run applications, NetScaler is an Application Delivery Controller, and so on. Something had to change. No surprise then that a few months after Mark Templeton introduced “The Three Cs”, Citrix announced the acquisition of ShareFile.  At the time, ShareFile seemed like a sound bet. Dropbox and its ilk are great if you don’t care about security but if you care about security and you care about enterprise management features, something a little more capable is needed. Unfortunately, while the CISO might like ShareFile, the CFO might be a little harder to persuade. The price of some the cloud services can put a significant dent in your expenses once you get beyond the 5 or 10 GB of free storage offered, to tempt you to sign up. What’s needed is something a little easier on the wallet, something that can take advantage of existing storage while at the same time providing a pathway to the cloud, and I’m not alone in thinking that.

First to market was Southern California startup Polkast.  Polkast isn’t just another cloud storage provider or file syncing service, instead Polkast connects your mobile devices and computers to each other directly, allowing you to create your own secure personal cloud, just like Citrix would have you sign-up for, only without expensive pay-for-it-by-the-bit public cloud in the middle. There’s no file syncing or uploading needed with Polkast. Provided the Polkast Windows client is installed on your desktop PC(s) and authenticated against Polkast’s servers, it all just works. Any files that are shared on any of your PCs are immediately searchable and accessible on any other Polkast enabled PC mobile device. 

From the moment, the Polkast HomeBase server only runs on Windows 7.  Support for Mac OS X and other Windows versions is being worked on and should be available soon. The Polkast RoamBase mobile client is available for iOS v3.1 or later (iPhone, iPod, and iPod Touch) as well as for Android OS 2.0 or later. The minimal number of platforms supported is a good indication of the Polkast’s relative lack of maturity, the same must also be said for the limited documentation, user interface quirks,and absence of any native support for the alternative services like Dropbox, DLNA media servers and the like. However, it’s early days yet, and with only eight employees, Polkast has to focus its limited resources on its strengths, not on matching the features of its competitors. Having said that, Polkast is already showing signs of branching out. At CES in Las Vegas, Polkast demonstrated a prototype solution that connects directly to network storage appliances. Working in partnership with ZyXEL, Polkast has developed software for the ZyXEL Media Server that enables it to function as a Polkast HomeBase server. More tellingly though are Polkast CEO Hong Bui’s plans to break into the enterprise market.  Bui is not yet sharing details about Polkast’s plans for the enterprise beyond saying that he’s working on a version for the enterprise that will provide additional security and compliance features, and it is here where Polkast could find it’s niche.

But Polkast is not going to be alone; yesterday long-term Citrix partner RES Software announced RES HyperDrive an on-premise virtual appliance-based data management platform that will compete with Polkast and SugarSync, not to mention Citrix ShareFile and VMware Octopus, but with the enterprise management features that Polkast lacks and the on-site security and flexibility that ShareFile and Octopus are yet to deliver. From a feature perspective HyperDrive is a close match to Citrix ShareFile Enterprise Edition with many common features including:

  • Microsoft Outlook integration
  • Active Directory Integration
  • File Encryption
  • Desktop and Enterprise Synchronization
  • Drive Mapping

HyperDrive also provides  the remote data security services needed to support both enterprise owned and BYOD mobile device with clients for Android, iOS (iPhone, iPad), Windows and Blackberry phones, as well as supporting remote data wipe to provide protection against device loss.

RES has not yet published when HyperDrive will be released but current expectations are that will be announced either during or shortly before the Citrix Synergy conference in San Francisco in May. RES is not yet releasing product licensing details for HyperDrive either beyond indicating that it will be available through multi-device subscription licensing, although speculation is that it will under cut Citrix’s list price for ShareFile substantially.  It’s not yet clear how Citrix will react to the RES announcement, but it may find itself having to re-evaluate it’s strategy for ShareFile which is beginning inflexible, dogmatic even, in comparison to RES and Polkast’s approach.