Citrix Looks To 'Constellation' To Speed Ahead of Microsoft

At the Citrix annual user conference iForum Monday Citrix CEO Mark Templeton unveiled a project code-named "Constellation" designed to leapfrog the company past Microsoft's ambitious terminal service code planned for the Longhorn server.

The next-generation technologies, which will be delivered in various versions of Citrix's Access Server, also known as Presentation Server, over the next three years, will offer system health monitoring, automatic load management, hot updates and scaling, "extreme" graphics acceleration and better monitoring and management of the user experience for service level agreements, Templeton said.

Additionally, Citrix will provide on-demand system configuration for continuous operations and system state management, and improved access compliance for heightened security needs.

The company tipped its hat at an upgrade of its Access Server, code-named Ohio, planned to ship before Windows Longhorn but declined to specify which of the Constellation technologies will be in that release.

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The Constellation technologies, announced roughly a month after Microsoft unveiled aggressive plans to integrate Citrix-style application publishing and seamless Windows in its next major upgrade of Windows server, represents Citrix's offensive and defensive strategy for protecting its crown jewels.

Some observers and partners applauded Citrix's planned advancements but other sources maintain that Microsoft's next generation terminal services technology being developed for Longhorn under the code name of Rail will address most of the needs of the SMB audience.

Some think this will cut Citrix Presentation Server out of the sales equation, particularly in the cost-conscious SMB market.

Pete Busam, COO and vice president of Decisive Business Systems, Pennsauken, N.J., said his company did $35,000 to $40,000 worth of Citrix business in the second quarter of the year but he is also doing many installations of terminal services in the SMB market. He anticipates that Microsoft's Longhorn poses a real threat to Citrix because it will suffice for many SMB customers.

"The line got blurred when Windows Server 2003 came out there, but still there are a lot of feature enhancements in Citrix not in terminal services," Busam said. "We're a small to medium solution provider and we're still moving a decent amount of terminal services without Citrix because our clients don't need what Citrix has to offer. If terminal services does it, why am i going to add another Citrix layer if i don't have to?"

During their combined keynote at iForum in Las Vegas Monday, Citrix CEO Mark Templeton and Scott Herren, group vice president at Citrix, acknowledged that the Longhorn terminal server is an "unparallelled platform transition" and a "big deal" for customers and partners.

Yet they showed little concern about Microsoft's deep incursion into its coveted application publishing space, the presentation server, the crown jewel and flagship product. Rather, they pointed to the extended cross licensing and co-development pact Citrix signed with Microsoft last December that lasts until 2010.

"As we work closely with Microsoft, we laid out a set of technologies from which we will build the next generation of application virtualization for Longhorn," said Herren, referring to the Constellation services. "These technologies will begin to appear in the next three years. It's not like we've dreamed it up in the last two weeks."

Citrix said the automatic load balancing and system health monitoring capabilities being developed as part of a project code-named "Kevlar" will focus on improving the end user experience.

Policy-based session recording, another capability being developed as part of a Citrix project code named "Iris," for instance, records a users' ICA session including keystrokes, mouse clicks and the context, providing valuable forensic data that will enable administrators to do proactive maintenance, Herren added.

Additonally, the development of OpenGL and "extreme" graphics acceleration as part of a project code named "Ocelot" will enable enhanced application performance and deployment of Direct3D into vertical applications such as petroleum and medical applications that require 3-D capabilities.

While Microsoft's new technology won't appear until Longhorn, due in 2007, Citrix admitted that its Constellation road map is also sketchy. "It will come to market as products, offers and features, and some are two years out and some are three years out," Herren said.

Citrix said it has a working version of its ICA client running on the Windows Vista beta client from Microsoft. ICA competes against Microsoft's RDP protocol.

One attendee at iForum said the health care industry needs Citrix's advanced capabilities and won't dump Citrix infrastructure for Microsoft terminal services. Daniel D. Palmer, director of infrastructure services at Emory Healthcare, Atlanta, said his company will be increasing its number of Citrix servers from 200 today to 500. "I don't see it as a big problem," Palmer said of Microsoft's terminal services plans.

Chris Derksen, IS supervisor of systems integration at Vulcan Materials, Los Angeles, said it could pose a threat to Citrix in the SMB space but it could also mean for customers another Microsoft licensing expenditure that costs more than its worth.

He did say, however, Citrix's diversification into the security market is a good move as a way to buttress its revenue base.

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Citrix also unveiled "Project Tarpon," a set of technologies under development aimed to eliminate application incompatibilities and deliver streaming applications to isolated environments on the desktop for on-demand access.