Citrix Unveils Virtual Desktop

Citrix Systems prepared for Tuesday's opening of its annual Citrix iForum application delivery conference, held this week in Las Vegas, with the introduction of its desktop virtualization strategy, the renaming of its server virtualization technology, and the introduction of new voice, compliance, and "green" features to its core NetScaler and Presentation Server applications.

The desktop and server virtualization moves come as a result of Citrix's mid-August move to acquire XenSource for $500 million. That acquisition closed Monday, said Wes Wasson, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Citrix.

Citrix plans to combine existing Citrix and XenSource technology to launch XenDesktop, a desktop virtualization software, during the first half of 2008, Wasson said.

While there is already other desktop virtualization software in the market, such as the Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) from VMware, XenDesktop is taking a different approach, Wasson said.

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XenDesktop lets solution providers build virtual desktop PCs, but without the applications, Wasson said. Instead, the applications are kept as separate products in separate locations, and delivered to the virtual desktop PCs.

"VMware will tell you to give them your desktop with the applications, and they'll put it in a virtual machine," he said. "But we scratch our heads and say, that's just moving the existing problems from the desktop to the data center."

By separating the applications and their delivery from the virtual desktops, the result is fewer software conflicts and less chance of corrupting files, Wasson said. "We deliver the desktop so it can run in a virtual machine," he said. "It's best used for delivering applications like we do with Presentation Server and NetScaler."

Citrix on Monday also rebranded its XenSource line as Citrix XenServer, Wasson said. Nothing else has changed, including the price and Citrix's relationship with XenSource channel partners, he said.

There are about 350 XenSource VARs, all of whom are automatically certified for Citrix XenServer, Wasson said. In addition, about 70 percent of Citrix's 5,000 channel partners worldwide currently sell server virtualization software from rival VMware.

Wasson said he does not want his company's channel partners to change their VMware relationship. But he does want them to try XenServer. "We'll be offering a jump start program to get them selling XenServer quickly," he said. "If they sell VMware, they'll keep selling it. But many will also be impressed with XenServer."

Peter Anderson, president of Bayshore Technologies, a Tampa, Fla.-based Citrix solution provider, said he is very excited to see Citrix embrace server and desktop virtualization.

"We carry VMware, but we think the market is huge," Anderson said. "In the next couple of years, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM all will come out with virtualization."

Anderson said he sees a big potential market for virtual desktop PCs. "Virtualization's main advantage is management," he said. "This will take a lot of the stress out of desktop management. We'll be able to send out changes easier. And control is a huge issue. We like the idea of not touching the desktop."

Donnie Downs, president of Plan B Technologies, a Bowie, Md.-based Citrix solution provider, said there are a lot of customers buying into Citrix's application delivery message who will be glad to see it married to virtualization.

"Microsoft people will say, you can do this with [Microsoft] Terminal Server, and you don't need Citrix," Downs said. "Or at VMware, they'll say, yeah, you can do without Citrix. Now with XenServer, you can say, yeah, you can do it all with Citrix."

However, Downs said, bringing XenDesktop to market is not as easy as it sounds. "We need to see how it is presented," he said. "There has been a lot of confusion with things like portals and the ASP model. But customers really need virtual desktops for rapid application deployment and ease of management.

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Mike Strohl, president of Entisys Solutions, a Concord, Calif.-based Citrix solution provider, said that companies like VMware are already virtualizing desktop PCs.

"But Citrix not only provides the OS level of virtualization, it also has the technology to stream applications to the virtual desktops," Strohl said. "And with Desktop Broker, they have the delivery aspect handled as well. Citrix has the experience to handle all the related dynamics."

In addition to unveiling its desktop and server virtualization strategy, Citrix on Monday also introduced three new add-ons to its current software lineup.

The first is EasyCall, a simple way to integrate communications into Citrix's NetScaler for web applications and Presentation Server for Windows applications.

With EasyCall, whenever the user passes the mouse cursor over a telephone number, that number is highlighted, and can be automatically dialed from within the application, Wasson said.

EasyCall can be integrated into any application, including Office applications and Web-based applications, Wasson said. It works with any phone system, including POTS (Plain Old Telephone System), PBX, and Voice over IP, making it ideal for telephone call centers, he said.

Users can not only set it to automatically dial out a highlighted number, it can also be programmed to dial from a specific phone, Wasson said. "This is great for mobile users," he said. "In a hotel, if you click on a phone number, it will make the call using the hotel phone number, but the call is actually originated from the corporate phone system. So the company is charged, not the hotel."

Downs said EasyCall could have big implications for large call centers. And for other customers, it offers a chance to talk to departments that solution providers may have not had access to before. "With EasyCall, I can go to a completely different part of the customer with this communications ability," he said.

On the compliance side, Citrix on Monday is introducing SmartAuditor to its Presentation Server.

SmartAuditor automatically records a user's session based on company policies which can specify users, applications, and time of day. The session recordings are then time-stamped and stored for later playback for compliance audits, Wasson said.

For instance, SmartAuditor can be set to record the sessions of certain users working with sensitive data, or contractors with a lower level of trust in an organization, he said. It can also be used in a targeted way, he said.

Strohl said it is a about time someone came out with an application like SmartAuditor. "This is important for security and compliance," he said. "If you have a scenario with regulated data, like security brokers, all e-mails now need to be archived. This is similar, but for other applications and data."

Any customer with HIPAA or Sarbanes-Oxley or other regulatory concerns will like SmartAuditor with its ability to look at data, log-ins, log-outs, and what users do, Anderson said.

And it is a technology that will work its way into the small and midsize business space, he said. "Once you have an IT person, they have the keys to the kingdom," he said. "They can see all the passwords and documents. A lot of small businesses don't see the ramifications of that. Tools like SmartAuditor to allow us to see who is where are extremely important."

Citrix is also trying to do its part to address data center power use with PowerSmart, an add-on to Presentation Server that will let customers set policies to automatically reduce server power based on application traffic levels.

Data centers today can set servers to power up and down at certain times, but it is much harder to time the changes to how users use their applications, Wasson said. PowerSmart times those changes according to application usage, he said.

For example, as Lotus Notes users start dropping off at the end of the day, PowerSmart can send a signal to start shutting down some of the servers. Then, as users sign back in, a signal can be sent to power up the servers again.

Anderson said his enterprise customers are telling him they are running out data center power. "Anything that can reduce power will be a great feature," he said.

Downs said he has already approached a hospital that works with Plan B Technologies and has been having major power issues with IT to talk about PowerSmart. "We told them, this is something we will introduce on a blade server system we sold them, and they said, yeah, we need that immediately," he said.

Things like PowerSmart can help a customer look very good in the eyes of the public, Downs said. "With all the buzz around Al Gore and global warning, you can sign a customer up with a pre-canned press release about reducing power they can take to their Board of Directors," he said.

EasyCall and SmartAuditor have been added to the platinum editions of NetScaler and/or Presentation Server free of charge. EasyCall licenses are activated by a Citrix Communication Gateway appliance that is retail priced at $3,500. PowerSmart works with iLO-enabled HP servers, and will be available for download in December.