Citrix Strikes Surprise Blow Against VMware with Cisco Deal

Citrix just signed a deal to bundle its technology with Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS,) landing a powerful punch to rival VMware. But virtualization king VMware has some new moves for the virtual desktop, as demonstrated at last week's VMworld conference.

By Kevin Fogarty
Wed, September 08, 2010

CIO — Within the last ten days, Citrix Systems (CTXS) and VMware (VMW) have each landed surprise blows in a fight that has heated up from an us-vs.-them platform debate to a real sparring match in the cloud and virtual desktop arenas.

The most recent is a surprising partnership announced today between Citrix and Cisco Systems (CSCO) to bundle Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) with Citrix' XenDesktop virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) product.

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The bundle, called the Cisco Desktop Virtualization Solution with Citrix XenDesktop, includes hardware, software and licenses to support 300 virtual desktop users, according to Citrix vice president Sumit Dhawan and Cisco VP Jackie Ross, who conducted a teleconference announcing the deal. It's available now.

The UCS package includes a chassis with 10GB/sec interconnect fabric linking five blade servers—two B200 models designed to support virtual applications and three B250 M1 models whose extended memory doubles to 100 the capacity of each blade to support virtual-desktop users, Ross says.

Expansion Packs include four more B250 expanded-memory blades with which customers can add 400 VDI users at a time up to a total of "tens of thousands"—as many as 320 blades in a series of UCS chassis connected by lossless 10GB/sec Ethernet, linked to the rest of the network via Cisco Nexus 5000 top-of-rack Nexus Ethernet switches and native support for Fibre Channel, Ethernet and Fibre Channel Over Ethernet (FCOE), Ross says.

A Surprise Cisco Alliance

The announcement is surprising to some because Cisco has been a close ally and part ownerof VMware long before VMware's virtualization platform became a lead attraction on UCS when it was launched in March, 2009.

The alliance with Citrix makes sense for both Citrix and Cisco in the fast-growing virtual desktop market, however, according to Chris Wolf, senior analyst at Burton Group.

"Cisco is offering UCS as a backend platform for server-hosted virtual desktops, and there's interest in Citrix among their customer base, so it would be a poor business decision to only show allegiance to VMware," Wolf says. "Cisco has made abundantly clear they do not discriminate against a particular hypervisor; they support XenServer today."

In the teleconference announcing the partnership, Citrix also made abundantly clear that its version of the UCS virtualization platform would support either XenServer or VMware's vSphere virtual servers on the backend, though only Citrix' VDI package on the front.

"VMware's probably not going to like that, but it probably won't be that big a deal," according to Ian Song, enterprise virtualization analyst at IDC. "Citrix is focused on converting its user base to XenDesktop and there's not that big an overlap with VMware server users."

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