Citrix provides evidence that its strategy is delivering

By Roy Illsley, Principal Analyst, IT Software

At the recent Citrix Synergy conference in Barcelona, more than 4,000 delegates heard Citrix’s latest mobile and cloud-enabled-world message. The announcements in Mark Templeton’s keynote this year were based on evidence of what Citrix has, or will in the near term, deliver, and were less visionary in nature than previous announcements.

The four key announcements were: project Avalon, which will act as the cloud orchestration layer; storage zones, which will allow users to select where data is stored; MBX technology applied to Cloud Gateway, which will wrap controls and security around applications; and advances in HDX technology to support greater use of video. While project Avalon is a glimpse into the future direction of Citrix, the other three technologies are all recently released and available.

Project Avalon considers a future where Windows remains the dominant enterprise technology

The premise behind project Avalon is to enable the management of applications and data to be fit for purpose in a cloud environment. Citrix is using project Avalon to create a new enterprise infrastructure that will transform any desktop to an Amazon-style cloud by using Citrix CloudPlatform, which is powered by Apache CloudStack. Avalon will also make it easy for existing Citrix customers to adopt new features at a pace that suits them, such as, for example, allowing different versions of Windows Server, XenDesktop, and XenApp to span any mix of public and private clouds.

Citrix is releasing the capabilities in project Avalon in two sub-projects: Excalibur and Merlin. Excalibur, which will be released in November 2012, is focused on the management of applications on the desktop. To enable this, both XenDesktop and XenApp have been rewritten so they operate on one code base, with two management tools, Studio and Director. Studio is the desktop administrator’s management console, while Director is aimed at helpdesk staff.

Ovum considers this move to be consistent with how organizations are looking to manage applications and operating system images, but we feel its limitation to Windows will restrict its appeal, particularly with mid-market customers.

By contrast, project Merlin, which will not be released for 12 months, is focused on the back-end infrastructure orchestration of cloud services. Its objective is to allow user self-service and then automate the provisioning of those services on any hypervisor or cloud platform. Details about which cloud platforms it will support are not available, but Ovum expects it to be at least AWS and Azure initially.

The growth of online video has changed the approach to how desktop protocols operate

As more organizations roll out VDI-type, or cloud-based, solutions, the end user’s experience is critical to the success or failure of these new delivery approaches. One of the biggest challenges is to ensure that as the mix of media changes to video, the graphics displayed are as smooth and clear as possible. The problem with VDI or cloud solutions is that the video rendering has to be performed either on the device or at the data center and sent compressed to the device. These approaches require increased CPU performance, which in turn increases the power required to operate them. The role of the GPU has been overlooked because this requires specific hardware to be built into the devices. Citrix has enhanced its HDX communications protocol with an add-on upgrade to HDX 3D Pro that takes advantage of the GPU and the DirectX and OpenGL technologies. Ovum believes this represents another example of how Citrix is delivering on its strategy of improving the end-user experience.

Storage zones give the user control over data placement

The concept of follow-me data via ShareFile was introduced at Synergy 2011, and StorageZones is a new development that is designed to give IT administrators the ability to choose optimal locations for storing corporate data. This ability covers both on-premise data within a private cloud, and data stored in the ShareFile-managed cloud storage option. Ovum believes this approach provides a valuable tool in ensuring data can be accessed while employees are mobile, but at the same time permitting IT to store the data in a location commensurate with its degree of corporate sensitivity.

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