Citrix In The Cloud Era: Pushing The Envelope Or Playing It Safe?

Citrix Systems was once the hottest show in town when it came to offering high-quality virtual computing environments to business customers. But the remote desktop and application delivery field has become crowded of late, and the advent of cloud computing has to a large degree changed the game.

The virtualization technologies the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based software developer helped pioneer in the 1990s are now common methods of delivering computing environments to an increasingly mobile workforce, and competitors such as VMware are pushing the pace of innovation.

As Citrix looks to the future, it is realigning its product line, and its workforce, to the new realities of the IT landscape, including layoffs announced in last week's fourth-quarter earnings call of 900 global staff to make the company leaner and more efficient while it invests in new cloud, mobility and networking technologies .

[Related: Citrix's Templeton Says Every Company Should Be Thinking And Acting Like A Startup]

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Al Monserrat, senior vice president of sales and strategy at Citrix, told CRN that Citrix still maintains its lead in product quality and technological know-how, although perhaps hasn't always done the best job of letting the world know that.

"In many cases where we fall behind is in the marketing, and where we're ahead is in the actual product," Monserrat told CRN during an interview at the company's partner summit in mid-January.

Monserrat said rivals have only helped Citrix raise its game.

"When I came in there was very little competition, and I think we're in a highly competitive segment. I think competition is actually a good thing. For many years it was hard to get the team focused and committed because there was nobody on the other side of the fence, and now it's easy to rally the team and get the team excited about going out and beating VMware and beating F5, and I think that's really helped build a better culture for us and our partners," Monserrat told CRN.

At the partner event in Las Vegas, Citrix CEO Mark Templeton revealed two new products that not only lend insight into the direction in which Citrix sees its bread-and-butter technologies evolving, but are also aligning the company's product line with two of the biggest IT trends in the enterprise market: converged infrastructure and agile hybrid cloud platforms.

Citrix WorkspacePod offers an "ultra-converged" solution to deliver applications, desktops and data in a channel-friendly package. The pre-configured server boxes built from Citrix-certified infrastructure and running the Citrix virtualization stack are easy to deploy, go easy on power consumption, and are powerful enough to deliver high-quality graphics to hundreds of mobile users.

Workspace Cloud, the platform Citrix will release later this year, will empower partners to quickly create, deploy and manage secure virtual environments that leverage public cloud resources and private data center infrastructure.

To make the most of its upcoming products, Citrix also told partners at the summit that it was revamping its sales and channel structure. The new Citrix Solution Advisor program is more standardized across geographic regions, more profitable for partners, but also more demanding, with new specialization tracks by which partners can differentiate themselves.

But in the era of cloud computing, will Citrix push the envelope when it comes to developing remote computing technologies or play it safe with the products on which it built its business over the past two decades?

"I don't think we were necessarily resting on our laurels as much as other people were doing a lot of things to catch up," Monserrat told CRN.

"So no doubt VMware has done some good things, but I think if you look at the innovation we've demonstrated here this morning, we still have a significant lead in terms of the comprehensive nature of the solutions," he said.

Monserrat, who has said he will be leaving the company in April after a 15-year run, noted the company's channel partners have been, and will continue to be, a big part of its success.

"One reason Citrix is a great company is because of its people, and when I talk about the people, they include the channel. They're part of the team. I've been working with them for so long," he told CRN.

"There's things we need to do and there's new innovation we need to bring, and it's all about getting that feedback from customers, getting that feedback from partners, who in many cases are as much a trusted adviser to us as they are to our customers. So we rely on them to help us focus in terms of the things we need to bring to market, and what we're working on now is things they've said we need to do," Monserrat said.

Templeton shared with CRN what he believed to be the trick to staying relevant for an established technology company such as Citrix.

"Any technology company that turns 25, 26 years old has to always be thinking like a startup and acting like a startup, because you do have products in market that mature while you invest and serve new markets that can either be disruptive to markets you're already in, or they're just about serving new adjacent markets," the CEO told CRN.

Templeton said over the past couple of years Citrix has been demonstrating the potential of integrating different computing platforms around the concept of a software-defined workplace. That was part of the reason he changed his mind and decided to stay on as CEO after announcing his resignation.

" I felt back when I told the board that I'd like to extend my time, I told them that I thought we were heading to the part where the synergy across products and the integration across the various SaaS-type technologies and product along with our Workspace services products, we were just getting to the exciting time where they would be delivering greater value whether through greater interoperability, greater simplicity, so that we could actually have greater reach in the marketplace."

Monserrat told CRN that Citrix will continue to plot its course with guidance from its channel.

"In the time I've been here on the sales team, I've always operated with the channel being a part of my team. I spend as much time with them as I do with my team, so the feedback they've given us around end-user computing in particular has been cost and complexity and user experience, so those three things are the ones that we're focused on," Monserrat told CRN.

This article originally appeared as an exclusive on the CRN Tech News App for iOS and Windows 8.