Citrix Plans Virtualization From Data Center To Apps

After spending $1.8 billion over the last five years on R&D and acquisitions, Citrix Software has brought together the parts needed to virtualize IT data centers from the desktop and server all the way through application delivery.

That's the message from Mark Templeton, president and CEO of Citrix, to over 4,000 attendees of the company's iForum App Delivery Expo, held this week in Las Vegas.

"We're doing this to deliver solutions," Templeton said. "To help you deliver in what we believe is a very, very dynamic world, especially as we look out over the next five to ten years."

Those investments range from on-line services to on-line virtualization platforms for application sharing to on-line virtualization access to application networking, Templeton said. "We've reached a world where anyone can work together from anywhere with a great user experience."

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Templeton said all Citrix's recent moves, including the acquisition of server virtualization software vendor XenSource, which closed on Monday, springs from a core Citrix tenant: that the most important thing in the world is the application, and everything revolves around making it easier to deliver it.

"Without an application, all computing power is useless," he said. "If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If an application exists, and it can't be delivered and used for business purposes, is it relevant? Is it meaningful? I think not."

Unfortunately, today's IT infrastructure tends to drive a wider gap between the application and the user, Templeton said. For instance, he said, it is common to think that a solution to improving the delivery of applications is to add more powerful servers, more bandwidth, increased security, and so on. But instead of solving issues, these solutions are really more silos that Templeton termed "incrementalism."

"It's when you make all these really rational decisions, one after another after another," he said. "But when you take them as a whole, you don't have a solution. So I make decisions about servers, and I make decisions about networks, and I make decisions about security, etc. But they don't all work together. And I optimize every one of those, but I haven't optimized for a solution."

Citrix has established three quests for itself in order to improve the integration of the data center.

The first, which Templeton called the Holy Grail, is to make every data center dynamic. Most data centers today are static, meaning that servers and workloads, which consist of an operating system, an application engine, and the application itself, are hard coded together on a one-to-one relationship

Instead, workloads should be though of as the data center's basic unit of work, stored in a stateless mode, and then used as needed, allowing users to bring multiple workloads together as an application for a service, and enabling every workload to work on every server.

"Wouldn't that be fantastic," Templeton said. "Think about the flexibility if we could make that happen."

Citrix took its first steps in that direction with the acquisition of XenSource, which gave it access to a powerful, hardened, 64-bit hypervisor. That acquisition also gave Citrix the ability to start moving towards the ability to offer dynamic virtualization services thanks to Citrix XenServer, which until Monday was known as XenSource Xen Enterprise 4.0.

Templeton said that XenServer runs 32-bit and 64-bit applications natively, and dynamically handles resources such as server and storage pools. And it has the capability to do live migration of virtual machines.

NEXT: XenSource Roadmap

Citrix has an aggressive roadmap for XenServer, with increased automation, disaster recovery, and business intelligence all expected to be available in the near future.

Citrix's approach to dynamic virtualization services also includes technology partnerships and open APIs that will allow it to further build the Citrix ecosystem end-to-end, from data center to desktop, Templeton said.

A key part of this is Citrix's partnership with Microsoft, Templeton said. "It's really, really simple," he said. "XenSource had a strong relationship with Microsoft, working on the [Microsoft] Viridian [server virtualization] product in collaboration with them. And so, when Viridian's available, you'll be able to use the Viridian Engine or the Xen engine to deliver those capabilities up to the stack of our dynamic virtualization services. We'll plug into all the great Microsoft infrastructure to do what we do really well, that is, add value to the Windows stack."

Citrix will also partner with other companies from the processor to the server through storage to the operating system and the application, Templeton said.

For instance, NEC started embedding the XenSource hypervisor in its servers about four or five months ago, he said. Hewlett-Packard on Monday agreed to test and validate XenServer in order to offer it on a resale basis with its industry standard servers. Also on Monday, Dell said it would embed XenServer Express, an embedded version of the XenSource hypervisor, in its PowerEdge servers.

"Think of how powerful that would be," Templeton said. "Think of how great it would be if you could go to the website of your favorite server manufacturer and you could choose virtual infrastructure. And, this is an IQ test, would you choose none? I don't think so. What you'd choose is, maybe 'embedded and ship it to me.'"

John Hampton, director of enterprise sales for the Americas at Dell, at that point appeared on stage with Templeton, said that there is still a lot of untapped potential for virtualization in the market.

"By delivering the combined solution to our customers, we believe that they will have greater choice and flexibility when choosing to virtualize. Right out of the box, our customers will be able to easily install, manage, and deploy virtual machines. And then, easily and quickly upgrade to XenServer Enterprise Edition with just a license key."

On the application side, Citrix will also work with partners to help deliver virtual infrastructure in a simple manner, Templeton said.

He then introduced Todd Rove, vice president and general manager of the midmarket division of Business Object, who unveiled the first virtual appliance designed for the XenServer architecture.

That appliance, the Crystal Report Server virtual appliance, was designed in conjunction with other partners including Citrix in order to simplify the delivery of business intelligence, Rove said. It includes the business intelligence application and the operating system in a pre-configured package for downloading as a virtual machine, he said.

The appliance will be priced much more aggressively than Business Objects' enterprise software, Rove said. "This means this will not just be able to large enterprise companies, but to small and midsize companies as well," he said. "This is crucially important to Business Objects. Our belief is that business intelligence should no longer be the realm of the privileged few large companies, but that there should be business intelligence for the rest of us."

Templeton said that while running a workload is important, it is also important to be able to fetch it, manage it, and store it on a dynamic basis, which is why the company on Tuesday also unveiled Citrix Provisioning Server.

Citrix Provisioning Server offers a fast way to distribute workloads throughout the data center on both physical and virtual servers, which is important because, even with the growth of virtual servers, companies will continue to have multiple physical servers as well, Templeton said.

NEXT: Citrix Provisioning Server

Customers can build a workload ahead of time and store it in a storage catalog where it will be available to be delivered as needed using Citrix Provisioning Server, Templeton said. The technology is based in part on Citrix's acquisition early this year of Ardence.

The workload images will be able to be quickly dragged and dropped to a physical or a virtual server, Templeton said. The capability will be available soon, he said.

The second major quest of Citrix is to make every application a service, Templeton said.

Much like a satellite TV service, a data center needs a delivery controller on one end, a receiver on the other end, and then some display device, he said. The delivery controller has no knowledge of what the display device is.

In the data center, to make an application into a service requires the same type of components, including the ability to drive applications through a control point for security and access control to where users work, Templeton said.

This starts with a universal receiver that can handle any application with security and performance. Access would be controlled by the application itself, he said. "My opinion is, let the network be open, and control security where it really matters, at the application layer where the critical business information is handled," he said.

That would allow customers to have a whole end-to-end management capability, Templeton said. "That's what will make every application a service," he said.

For delivery controllers, Citrix already has NetScaler for Web-based applications and Presentation Server for Windows applications, Templeton said. Presentation Server, he said, virtualizes applications both on the server and on the client, for example. The next goal is to move this capability onto Windows Server 2008, he said.

Two new features were added to Presentation this week to help with delivering applications as a server, Templeton said.

The first is Smart Auditor, which records and plays back sessions in order to raise the level of compliance in an organization. Customers can configure Smart Auditor to record sessions under certain conditions, such as a customer-designed suspicious activity or a certain application, he said.

The second is EasyCall, which adds a communications value-add to any application delivered by Presentation Server or NetScaler, Templeton said. Users can hover their cursor over a phone number, which automatically highlights that number, even if it is in a photograph, and allows them to click the number to make a phone call, he said.

The application receiver will be built around a set of plug-ins for acceleration, security, virtualization, real-time user support, Templeton said. It will come with a full set of Citrix plug-ins, but also be open to third parties to add value, he said.

"You build it, you put the delivery controllers in place, you put the app receiver in place one time, and you can deliver any kind of application, Windows or Web, at your delight," he said. "It's a simple idea, a powerful idea, and we'll put this app receiver in every place we can so that it's easy for you to deliver applications as a service."

Applications want to be delivered to a desktop, Templeton said. But using this approach, desktops can become a lot simpler, and do not need to store data, he said.

Instead, he said to imagine a desktop that could be delivered, not deployed, one that was formless so it could be used anywhere. To do that, Citrix sees two alternatives: delivery of the app to physical desktops, and delivery to virtual desktops, he said.

NEXT: On The Physical Side

On the physical side, Dell about three weeks ago introduced its flexible computing initiative, which includes a core backend system and diskless PCs on the front end, letting Citrix and Dell deliver applications with desktop performance, Templeton said.

Under the initiative, workload images, which include the Citrix application receiver, can be dragged and dropped to the diskless PCs as needed using Citrix Provisioning Server.

"Every time this machine is started, it gets the freshest infrastructure that you can provide, the freshest desktop that you can provide," he said. "And what's beautiful is, you can minimize your images and have a simpler service to manage."

For virtual desktops, Templeton said until now the market has been hobbled because of poor return on investment, the complexity of the technology, and a user experience which is less than that of physical desktops.

Therefore, Templeton introduced Citrix's new Citrix XenDesktop, an architecture based on the XenSource technology. It has three core components, including a delivery controller to make sure the right application is delivered to the right user, a virtual infrastructure to support virtual machines, and image provisioning capabilities to allow management.

"We think that the combination of these three will deliver the kind of solution that you are looking for," he said. "It will begin to change the game, delivering the best user experience, like a PC or better. It gives a great TCO (total cost of ownership). It's great for security because it keeps the data where it's best managed, in the data center. And it's really simple to administer."

The XenDesktop will enable the delivery of applications anywhere on-demand, Templeton said. "Not only in the simple cases, but even the toughest situations where the user, let's say, brings a Macintosh to the office," he said. "You can deliver a virtual Windows desktop there, and with the app receiver and all of the enterprise apps right there. So they keep their personal world to themselves. But you don't care about the endpoint. You can deliver the desktop and the apps without caring."