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Citrix Revamps Product Line To Stress Virtualization

In an effort to leapfrog VMware, everything from desktop to data center gets a Xen boost.

What's in a name? apparently plenty. Citrix Systems renamed its flagship product, Presentation Server, to XenApp Server. Presentation Server has been wildly successful, running applications for an estimated 70 million end users. But the name itself means something like terminal services on steroids--it's too old school.

What Citrix wants to emphasize now is virtualization, not presentation, and nothing does that better than the open source Xen hypervisor, which came with its recent $500 million acquisition of XenSource.

The first phase of virtualization brought server consolidation and other changes, says Wes Wasson, chief strategy officer at Citrix. But Citrix anticipates that the tide of virtualization is moving past server consolidation, Wasson says, as companies have realized big gains in the data center. Now they want an "end-to-end virtualization strategy" that reaches down to the desktop, he says.

Citrix is on its way to offering such a product, aiming to be the system that scales better than VMware's Virtual Desktop Infrastructure and that outclasses the offerings of close partner Microsoft. Among other things, Citrix announced it's supporting Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor in its products as well as Xen. Provisioning Server, which builds systems on either a physical or virtual machine, will be included in a Platinum version of XenServer Enterprise, so that the same administrative interface can build to order either Xen or Hyper-V virtual machines.

Wes Wasson, chief strategy officer at Citrix

The virtualization tide is rising, Wasson says
On the desktop side, Citrix already offers XenDesktop, which includes Virtual Desktop Provisioning and Desktop Delivery Controller. That means virtualized desktops can be directed to piggyback on XenApp, where the services of a few virtualized applications are shared with many end users. Or an end user may work from an individualized VM in the data center or be linked to a blade server geared to function as if it were the user's personal desktop.

But those with experience in desktop virtualization say it's not the technology that matters. At a recent event, David Reilly, Credit Suisse's head of technology infrastructure services, told a hotel ballroom audience that his company is in the midst of virtualizing its computing resources, which he hoped will soon include desktops.

"VMware has probably been our most successful product," he said, adding: "The business doesn't really care what product you use. Retain the ability to move from product to product." Andi Mann, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates, says the desktop issue isn't necessarily a technology one: "The hypervisor is not really the problem. People are the problem." He cites the dilemma of who owns the virtualized desktop. The IT staff will tend to divide between data center administrators versus desktop services, each seeking ownership of end user VMs in the data center, he says.


Credit Suisse has virtualized half of its data center servers, the maximum it sees doing at this time, but "the untapped area is moving virtualization to the desktop," Reilly said. If Credit Suisse can follow up its data center virtualization with enterprise desktop virtualization, "it would connect the company together in ways we've never done before." Reilly foresees the ability to build up geographically dispersed virtual teams, equipping them with desktops for a task, then tearing them down. "We could deliver full functionality--e-mail, calendar, document creation, and file sharing--to any device anywhere in the world," he said.

But such changes mean "you have to be prepared to change the way the enterprise is organized. The technology you use is really an afterthought," Reilly said.

For organizations that want to accomplish that change, Citrix says it will be the supplier that scales most easily to thousands of end users. As it offers its wares, it's likely to find VMware trying to stay in step by its side.

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