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Citrix Launches Fresh Cloud Attack on VMware

Rivals Citrix and VMware have taken their battle beyond technology development, even beyond marketing. Now they're working on the imaginations and psychology of potential customers and, to a certain extent, rewriting history.

With a series of wider-ranging-than-usual announcements from its Synergy Conference in Berlin, Citrix this week tried to replace its image as a grayish but reliable provider of systems-access software with the flashier image of an IT architect building an end-to-end virtual infrastructure built on services in a sophisticated cloud-computing environment.

"Virtualization isn't just a virtual machine; it's what has to happen for a business to transform -- virtual meetings, virtual desktops, virtual data centers, said Wes Wasson, chief strategy officer for Citrix in a teleconference Tuesday night.

[ For timely virtualization news and expert advice on strategy, see CIO.com's Virtualization Drilldown section. ]

Wasson went on to equate the addition of high-definition video and a new set of pricing and service packages for its GoToMeeting online conference and Webinar application, with streaming applications, VDI and cloud services.

"We're taking the virtues of virtualization and enabling it across the spectrum of where work happens," Wasson says.

Citrix announced a host of new features for XenDesktop 5 -- including a bare-metal hypervisor that would allow for so-called bring-your-own-computer contracting arrangements. The company has added that function to FlexCast, its distribution technology that lets IT pick from range of virtual-client delivery methods. Citrix also announced technology called XenVault that can back up and secure data on BYOC laptops.

Among Citrix's new set of cloud computing features are a virtual switch and additions to its OpenCloud platform called Access and Bridge, designed to connect cloud environments by integrating access rights, security and policies. The goal is to give end users a single sign-on to any resource from an iPad to ERP running on a public cloud.

The tone of the announcements made Citrix sound a lot like VMware, so much so that it seemed as if the tone of the press-conference presentation was taken directly from the VMware menu, according to Chris Wolf, senior infrastructure analyst at The Burton Group.

While the tone may have been different, and revelation of cloud products to be delivered several months from no are very unlike Citrix, it doesn't mean Citrix's cloud plans or products are going to be as well baked as those of its main rival, Wolf says.

Users Want Less Fighting, More Answers

When it comes to the details comparing one vendor's product to another in cloud environments, end-user customers shouldn't have to care, says Don Whittington, VP and CIO for Domino Sugar, which has steadily moved closer to cloud computing and farther from on-site ownership and management of hard IT assets for more than a decade.

"I can't afford to be an expert on cloud and virtualization and everything else we do, and I can't afford to hire a lot of experts, even though we've grown over the last decade or so into a global multibillion dollar company," Whittington says. "I ask the right questions and I have these conversations about specific platforms with my cloud provider, but as the customer I want to buy capacity; I don't want to have to worry about the specifics of one vendor or another."

During the past few weeks Domino has moved into the production stage of a wide-ranging SAP implementation hosted in a multitenant cloud platform built by VirtuStream Corp., which charges according to the number of CPU cycles and memory units Domino actually uses.

"In a cloud environment I no longer have to worry about hardware provisioning or obsolescence or capex where I have to approach the company and ask them to invest X dollars to replace an amount of hardware and it's viewed only as a cost because where's the return?" Whittington says.

VirtuStream uses both VMware and Citrix technology, but built its own method of separating one customer's bits from another and keeping them secure. "We work well with both [Citrix and VMware] and see them both as high-quality products with some varying attributes that may be more applicable to one customer than another," says Rodney Rogers, CEO of Virtustream.

It's not completely irrelevant whose platform is more effective, or how the vendors portray themselves -- but it is a distraction for customers trying to evaluate the technology itself, Wolf says.

Citrix's focus on the cloud this week is a huge change from August, when the VP in charge of marketing XenDesktop told CIO that Citrix was happy dominating the desktop niche and would take any sales on the server side as icing on cake it was taking away from VMware.

VMware's New Push: We invented VDI

VMware has a new marketing push of its own, around desktop virtualization.

"I don't know where the impression that we were behind comes from, but we actually invented desktop virtualization -- a virtual machine running on a server that happens to have a workload that is a desktop OS," says Vittorio Viarengo, vice president of desktop products at VMware.

Citrix not only arrived late to market, but also copied much of VMware's approach, says Viarengo, though he admits Citrix has done well with the resulting technology.

"What our competitor has been doing is terminal servers and application delivery," he says "We're not even in the application streaming market. In desktop virtualization, that people call VDI, the features that set us apart are how integrated [VMware View] is with vSphere and that it's much easier to deploy our solution. Our competitor says it has 15,000 features; we have the features that people actually need to deploy our solutions."

Gartner's Wolf says that VMware, credited with reinventing virtualization for x86-based computers, was the first to run a virtual desktop on a server, but that Citrix was able to port many of the capabilities it created over decades of terminal serving and application streaming.

"When you talk about desktop virtualization there is a laundry list of peripherals those devices support -- Wi-Fi, video cards, sound adapters, and the users rely on those things," Wolf says. "That's one good reason Citrix is way ahead on the client side."

Citrix's newly announced cloud features have yet to be proven, so its cloud identity is not cemented, some analysts say.

"Citrix is really kind of the opposite of a company that's really focused on marketing," Wolf says. "But if you go back a couple of years, VMware was talking about the world revolving around virtualization; Citrix was talking about delivering applications and data to users and the quality of the user experience," Wolf says.

"The goal is to get the users the application in the most convenient way for them, not for IT or the developer," Wolf says.

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