Coopetition: Citrix +/- VMware Products and People

In the virtualization marketplace, when a vendor expands its core business and attempts to grab a piece of the new market from an existing incumbent, the vendors view each other as competitors. In 2007, when Citrix purchased XenSource, VMware vSphere clearly became the enemy, and Citrix envisioned that XenServer + XenApp/XenDesktop would take over the virtual world. That didn’t quite happen.

But then again, VMware’s vSphere + Horizon View, formerly known as View and VDM, wasn’t able to claim victory in the VDI market after it was released in 2007. Horizon View wasn’t the first player in this field: Citrix’s first iteration of VDI was released in 2006 with its Desktop Broker (part of Presentation Server 4.0). Over the years, both companies competed fiercely as the VDI marketplace matured.

In 2013, XenServer was turned over to open source, and it became even clearer that VMware vSphere + Citrix XenApp/XenDesktop had become the de facto virtualization standard. Even though Citrix and Microsoft tried to push Hyper-V on Windows Server 2012 as the replacement hypervisor for XenServer, that hasn’t come to fruition. VMware vSphere with Citrix XenApp/XenDesktop continues to dominate the marketplace.

Over the past few years, there have been many competitive duels between Citrix and VMware, but the two virtualization giants have largely developed a peaceful coexistence and spirit of cooperation; they seem to have expended additional effort to service their mutual customers. In this age of “coopetition” (i.e., a state in which companies both cooperate and compete with each other), Citrix and VMware typically work together to the extent that it benefits their mutual customers and themselves, yet they compete with each other outside of that scope.

It is this state of coopetition, as well as the companies’ conceptually similar base products, that has led many employees to migrate back and forth between Citrix and VMware. Although each company has thousands of employees, there is a small inner circle where everyone knows everyone. Many virtualization professionals have taken their careers on a one-way journey to the other side and liked it there, and a number of others have subsequently added a return trip to their original employer.

This week, it was announced that Bob Schultz and Sumit Dhawan left Citrix and joined VMware. This announcement and others like it aren’t foreign to the marketplace, and the internet is buzzing with excitement as to what this signifies. Both experiencing rapid growth, the companies are continuously on the lookout for top talent, and high-caliber individuals can come from only two places: they need to be either developed internally or recruited externally. If you hire individuals into strategic roles from your competition or from another vendor within the same technology circle, the receiving company acquires not only an immediate gain but also creates a temporary void at the former company.

Citrix has been focused on XenMobile and ShareFile, and its core end user computing business (XenApp/XenDesktop), which has long been the cash cow, hasn’t been receiving as much attention. Together with Bob Schultz and Sumit Dhawan’s having donned VMware logo shirts, does this mean that VMware is increasing its emphasis on Horizon View, as well as on mobility and data? Or will Citrix refocus its attention on XenDesktop 7.1 and the new App Orchestration 2.0 release to raise the virtualization bar to a new level?

With the competition increasing, Citrix and VMware will release better VDI products: products with better engineering, testing, support, and yes, even better marketing. And people will continue to exit both Citrix and VMware for one-way and round-trip career journeys.

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