Citrix vs. VMware: Virtualization Battle Plan Changes

Citrix is backing off the server virtualization front to focus on desktop -- where it retains the technology lead. Will VMware catch up on the desktop side with improvements rumored to debut at VMworld?

In the wake of an analyst report certifying Citrix's XenDesktop 4.1 as the only product that fully satisfies all the criteria for enterprise-class desktop virtualization, Citrix Systems has come very close to conceding it will remain an also-ran in the market for virtual servers.

Burton Group analyst Chris Wolf blogged last week that Citrix had met all of the 52 criteria that the analyst company considers to be absolutely necessary in products designed to allow large companies to host end-user desktops on data-center servers rather than physical PCs.

The list includes functions such as the ability to create several levels of administrator, each with a different set of privileges to make managing large-scale VDI networks more efficient; the ability to record and audit administrative changes to satisfy regulatory compliance reporting requirements; and at least three years of support for all the products involved in a VDI rollout, Wolf says.

"In a small company that might only have two or three administrators, role-based access isn't a problem," Wolf says. "Enterprises that might have hundreds have to be able to delegate some of those functions."

One analyst company's criteria don't make or break a product or market, but any detailed comparison can help customers frame and answer their own questions about technology with which they might have little experience. For now, Citrix has the edge.

Citrix Meets Key Desktop Virtualization Criteria

"VDI is basically a two-horse race between Citrix and VMware, and Citrix has been on top with its offerings and [installed] base," says Ian Song, analyst for IDC. "In a cursory kind of comparison, VMware can match almost everything Citrix offers; it's in the nitty gritty that [VMware] kind of falls flat [by comparison]."

The "nitty gritty" includes the ability to include critical features as part of a vendor's own feature set, rather than using technology from partners, as VMware does by relying on PC-over-IP remote-display technology from Teradici rather than its own technology, for example. It has also not fully integrated the profile-management software it bought along with RTO Software earlier this year, Song says.

When Burton Group first published the desktop virtualization requirements list in May, neither Citrix nor rival VMware could satisfy all 52 requirements or the list of dozens of other features listed either as Preferred or Optional, though neither was far off, Wolf says.

"VMware has or is close to having all those features as well, though they're still lagging Citrix," Wolf told CIO. "If the [VMware View] 4.5 beta holds it will also satisfy all the Required criteria."

Rumors predict VMware will release VMware View 4.5 at its VMworld conference in August. Company COO Todd Nielsen told analysts in a July 20 earnings call that VMware View 4.5 would be released in September.

Partners Will Fight Server Battles

Though sales of virtual desktops still lag far behind the expectations most analysts and vendors had for 2010, Citrix' lead in virtual desktops has peristed because VMware lagged in both technology and marketing in the past, though it is coming up to speed now, Wolf says.

VMware concentrates so much of its sales and marketing on long-term strategic pitches it misses many of the relatively quick sales Citrix snaps up by also approaching mid-level corporate IT people "trying to solve specific pain points and finding tactical ways virtual desktops can address that," Song says.

Citrix hasn't quite given up its efforts to use its XenServer as a direct competitor to VMware's ESX and vSphere, but it is focusing far more on the desktop, leaving direct competition in the server market to its partners, according to Sumit Dhawan, vice president of product marketing for Citrix XenDesktop.

"The server market is dominated by VMware, with Microsoft being the second franchise trying to break that leadership," Dhawan says. "Anything we do in the server space will be in disrupting that competition to take some share back from VMware."

Though Dhawan says revenue for XenDesktop is split about evenly between upgraders and new installations, Citrix' second-quarter earnings announcement showed 1,000 new customers for XenDesktop compared to 2,500 upgrading to it from XenApp or other products. The report also showed Citrix had doubled the percentage of customers upgrading to XenDesktop as their XenApp licenses expired, however, from 10 percent in Q1 2010 to 20 percent in Q2.

VMware doesn't break out VMware View sales figures. Nielsen and CEO Paul Maritz told analysts during a July 21 earnings call that the company wasn't sure when VDI sales would hit the tipping point at which revenue would become critical to VMware.

"Our eyes are certainly on the ball and we are going to make sure that when it does tip, we are there to take advantage of it," Nielsen said. A May 20 report from Goldman Sachs predicts revenue from virtual desktop products will rise to $1.5 billion by 2014, that 13 percent of corporate PCs may be virtualized and that Citrix will hold 48 percent of the market compared to 36 percent for VMware.

Citrix will continue to support Microsoft's efforts to unseat VMware as the leader in server virtualization products, and will snap up any sales it finds there, if only to "disrupt the efforts of our competitors," Dhawan says.

Its strategic focus will be on virtual desktops, however, primarily because it believes VDI will transform corporate IT so completely as to make virtual desktops the most critical part of the data-center infrastructure, Dhawan says.

"We believe desktop virtualization is the next big wave of growth, so our strategy is to serve customers there first," Dhawan says.

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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