Citrix Workspace Services: Click Next, Next, Next… ?

The new Citrix Workspace Services was the major announcement at the Citrix Synergy conference last week. Citrix Workspace Services, an all-encompassing Platform as a Service (PaaS) built on Microsoft Azure, will enable service providers and enterprises to offer Citrix virtualization and cloud services to their customers. It will be in tech preview later in 2014, and no release date has been announced.

While this offering has many interesting features, the backchatter at Synergy included significant questioning about how Workspace Services will impact consultants, architects, engineers, and administrators. Because these job titles encompassed the majority of Synergy attendees, there was much discussion in the hallways about how Workspace Services will directly affect these roles in the virtualization marketplace.

Citrix made it appear that implementation was as easy as clicking “Next” a few times. Several Twitter comments during the presentation were from consultants and partners airing fears of losing their clients and their businesses to Workspace Services. While Citrix Workspace Services appears to be extremely easy and fast, based on my past experience with new virtualization products, I contend that reality will likely dictate otherwise.

As is the case with PaaS implementations, the smaller the business, the greater the likelihood that the requirements will be simple and generic and thus fit into a “Next, Next, Next…” type of implementation. However, as businesses grow or complexities present themselves, the integration requirements expand well beyond the Next button. After all, how many Citrix customers use VDI-in-a-Box or XenApp Fundamentals compared to the number who use the full XenApp or XenDesktop?

Generic and simple requirements associated with virtualization projects are few and far between. Many businesses and industries have special requirements that demand customization. Consider a bank’s mandate to connect to a core provider in a specific manner or the tight security requirements of healthcare organizations. Customized solutions challenge virtualization professionals and the infrastructure in use. They are often necessary, yet sometimes no viable solution can be found.

Further, applications are typically the most difficult aspect of a virtualization project, and the complexities they present will still exist with Workspace Services. If an organization only needs to offer Microsoft Office to its users, that, of course, is easy. However, many poorly written or archaic applications are used within enterprises of all sizes. Transitioning these into Workspace Services won’t magically happen upon clicking “Next.”

On the plus side, Workspace Services promises to address the complex infrastructure associated with virtualization projects. Aspects such as provisioning, storage, and backups will fall into the “no worries” bucket, and for many, that will be most welcome. Nevertheless, relinquishing responsibility for the infrastructure may have a negative impact. For instance, some organizations may experience runaway storage costs when they give up handling day-to-day data center operations.

Will consultants, architects, engineers, and administrators become unnecessary in the virtualization field once Workspace Services is available? The main Synergy announcement was an instant replay of several years ago, when the keynote message, which focused on XenDesktop and the cloud, led many professionals to question whether their services would continue to be needed. Instead, the professional marketplace flourished as virtualization grew and became mainstream, and it’s likely that this will occur again.

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