With VMworld just two weeks away, some of the key differences between Citrix and VMware are coming to the fore. XenApp/XenDesktop and Horizon are clearly the market leaders in the end user computing space, and Citrix and VMware compete fiercely for superiority. While VMware may have the upper hand with regard to the hypervisor and analytics, Citrix is its prime competitor when it comes to virtualization and networking.
Hypervisor and Analytics
VMware clearly holds market share for the hypervisor, but Citrix is changing the playing field by pushing its customers to the cloud, primarily to Azure. For example, when an administrator creates a new virtual machine in Azure, there’s no choice regarding which hypervisor will be the basis for it. As such, VMware loses as part of the transition to the cloud, and it’s not coincidental. Conversely, where the virtualization environment is hosted on-site, the hypervisor selection is intentional, as is the hardware deployed for the host servers. Let’s not forget that the parent company of VMware is Dell.
On the analytics front, VMware appears to be pulling ahead. The acquisitions of Apteligent and Wavefront earlier this year will likely be championed at VMworld. While Citrix discussed data analytics lightly at Synergy in May, it was presented as research and development, not as functionality available today or near term. Analytics and automation are clearly the future.
NetScaler continues to be a competitive advantage for Citrix. In addition to the longstanding integration of gateway services for XenApp/XenDesktop, several months ago, Citrix quietly added gateway support for PCoIP. From a marketing standpoint, this was genius. For 100% VMware shops, this provides a wedge for Citrix to get in the door, whereas IT departments that run some XenApp/XenDesktop and some Horizon can now use one gateway product for both vendor products and thus strengthen the Citrix presence.
Citrix XenApp/XenDesktop and VMware Horizon are still neck to neck in market share. Citrix released XenApp/XenDesktop 7.15 just two weeks before VMworld. While this release largely contains fixes from the previous version and just a few new features, it is a long-term service release (LTSR), which is something that VMware doesn’t offer.
What is a long-term service release? Both Citrix and VMware offer new releases every few months, but only Citrix offers LTSR to its customers. Is the LTSR release just two weeks before VMworld a coincidence? Maybe. Citrix had committed to releasing a new LTSR every twelve to twenty-four months, and it’s been two years since the previous version, based on XenApp/XenDesktop 7.6, was released. As such, an updated LTSR was certainly expected from Citrix in this timeframe.
According to Citrix, LTSR provides extended support for up to ten years, the release of cumulative (not feature!) updates to fix issues, and overall stability because all components run at specific version levels. It’s as close as you can come to set-it-and-forget-it mode.
Extended support for up to ten years is a long time and is especially appealing to large organizations and those that adopt new technology slowly. Think about what has happened in technology over the last ten years. In 2007, an innovative mobile device named the iPhone was released, and a virtualization product named XenSource (released as XenServer) was acquired by Citrix in 2007 as well. The ability to implement a technology that will be supported for ten years can indeed be enticing for those that remain status quo and thus may be a competitive edge for Citrix.
The Key Difference
Clearly, Citrix is largely betting on the cloud, and VMware is more focused on the on-site environment. Especially because VMware is part of Dell, its interest lies in selling hardware in addition to its Horizon virtualization platform. Of course, VMware does have a cloud offering, but it’s clearly in its infancy.
The gap in the feature set of XenApp/XenDesktop and Horizon continues to narrow such that decision makers are finding it more difficult to differentiate between the two, especially where generic requirements exist. In most cases, a roughly equivalent feature exists within both product sets. For example, if a customer requires application layering, VMware’s App Volumes solution offers functionality similar to Citrix’s App Layering (formerly Unidesk) capability.
However, where a niche requirement exists, such as complex peripherals or mobility integration, the specific capabilities of one vendor or the other may sway the decision based on technical merits. The business aspects of the decision, e.g., pricing and training, may be the final deciding factor where all else appears to be equal.