Last week's Citrix Synergy Barcelona 2012 saw many cool announcements, but two in particular piqued my interest: the Cisco-Citrix alliance and the convergence of XenApp and XenDesktop.
First things first. Cisco and Citrix are expanding their partnership, and since Cisco announced that it will no longer develop ACE, it's pushing Citrix NetScaler as an alternative. This is interesting in light of speculation that Cisco would buy Citrix, or at least the networking division of Citrix. Instead, the two are expanding their partnership. At first blush this seems to squash acquisition rumors, but if you really think about it, why would Cisco choose to go with Citrix NetScaler, which owns 25% of the market, over F5, which owns more than half of the market? Even more to the point, most Cisco customers use F5 gear, so that would have been a natural and expected choice--unless something else is brewing. Keep that in mind as we look at other announcements.
Cisco and Citrix also announced an expanded partnership on the Citrix CloudPlatform. This is interesting considering Cisco's newScale acquisition and some recent Cisco blogs discussing integration of features based on OpenStack, as well as the fact that Cisco's prime partner, VMware, has a competing product in the vCloud Suite (vCloud Director and DynamicOps).
So what's going on? Cisco and VMware are going to great lengths to say everything is business as usual. However, insiders say VMware's Nicira acquisition did not sit well with Cisco (no surprise there) and that the EMC-Lenovo alliance is also an annoyance. That EMC recently appointed a CTO with a heavy networking background also leads speculators to believe that EMC may be on the lookout for a networking company to acquire. Rumors last week took Juniper's stock soaring when some analysts mentioned it as a possible acquisition. While I love Juniper products, it has a very small footprint in the data center and would do very little for EMC. The ideal choice is Brocade, but given Brocade's OEM relationships and that most of its revenue comes from OEM, an acquisition by EMC would evaporate that revenue. So what would EMC acquire if I were in charge? Arista is definitely a contender.
Now bundle all of the above with the fact that EMC in essence took over VMware this past summer with the CEO swap, and we arrive at the reason Cisco is uneasy: EMC and VMware have essentially backfilled for all the technologies they would rely on Cisco for, hence the Citrix alliance expansion.
Oh, and did I mention that Citrix recently acquired Bytemobile, a company that accelerates audio and video for service providers (and another Cisco sweet spot)? Citrix obviously did this to accelerate HDX naturally at the carrier level, a brilliant, brilliant move if you ask me, and one that has no competition and requires no action on the part of end users or enterprise IT.
Let's take this one step further. Cisco's recent announcements of integration with OpenStack meet Citrix's recent XenServer 6.1 version release, which is packed with OpenStack integration. Here is my take on it: XenServer with just Citrix has few chances of succeeding for many reasons, not least the Citrix-Microsoft relationship and the fact that Citrix pushes Hyper-V more than its own product. Let's face it, Citrix lacks market share and really doesn't know how to remedy that in the enterprise server virtualization space. For public clouds, Xen does well. However, if Cisco was behind XenServer … well, that would be a totally different game at that point. With Cisco, XenServer has teeth.
In my opinion, if Cisco does not own a hypervisor, it will always, always be at the mercy of EMC and VMware. Let's stipulate that the future is virtualized and software defined, from data centers and networks to storage. If that's the case, Cisco needs a hypervisor.
What else does Cisco get with Citrix? Only the best desktop virtualization platform out there, one that's compatible with all three major hypervisors. Plus CloudGateway, and since Cisco is all in on mobility, a product like CloudGateway would spread like crazy in its customer base.
The synergies between Cisco and Citrix are many. Of course, such an acquisition is daunting because of the sheer size and complexity of the integration challenge. But if it were to happen, it would energize the Cisco base and change the IT landscape.
Cisco needs to do something to reinvent itself, and a Citrix acquisition would do that while hitting more than two birds with one stone. Is the Citrix-Cisco alliance just that--an alliance--or something more? Time will tell, but at the very least, Cisco finally snapped back and said to EMC: "Watch it now. Don't push me too hard--I also have friends and alternatives."
Elias Khnaser is the CTO for Sigma Solutions, a vendor-agnostic, solutions-oriented systems integrator. Follow Elias on twitter: @ekhnaser.
Our InformationWeek Cisco Outlook Survey of nearly 600 IT pros offers plenty of reasons for the network equipment provider to be satisfied, but some kvetching by a vocal minority shows the company can't get complacent.