by Kevin Fogarty

Citrix Unveils Dazzle and Other Desktop Virtualization Advances at Synergy Show

May 05, 20097 mins

nCitrix will roll out a wave of new desktop virtualization products this week, including a pretty new face for the desktop client of XenApp application virtualization server and time-savers for IT groups. Analysts say the Citrix desktop technology just gets stronger, but fighting VMware on server virtualization will be tough.

The string of new desktop-related products Citrix Systems is announcing at its user show in Las Vegas this week may elate some customers. But its rhetoric about continuing to compete with VMware in server virtualization and cloud computing could confuse others, and even overshadow the real, mostly free client software that should be the focus of attention, analysts say.

Citrix, the leading player in desktop and application virtualization, will announce three major new applications this week at its Synergy conference.

The first is Dazzle, an iTunes-like front end for the desktop client of Citrix’ XenApp application virtualization server.

Dazzle is designed to be as attractive and easy to use as iTunes or any other Web-based consumer application, according to Wes Wasson, chief marketing officer of Citrix Systems, who briefed the press and analysts by phone Monday.

With Dazzle, end users browse to a URL and can pick the applications they need from a list of names or icons, as easily as they would download songs from the Internet, he says.

They could do the same thing on a home PC or Mac, Wasson says, loading the applications they need while still following the security and access policies IT set for that particular user.

Behind the Scenes: Meet Receiver

Dazzle provides the interface to Citrix applications, including the new Citrix Merchandising Server, designed to help IT not only distribute but also market internal applications to end users. The real technology underneath, however, is Receiver, a desktop-virtualization client designed to link a client device (PC, Mac, iPhone or Android OS phone) to the Citrix Delivery Center—a collective name for Citrix application-delivery servers including XenApp and XenDesktop.

Receiver runs in the background, running sessions on the client to let the end user run particular applications, and enforcing security, performance and interface requirements set out for the application by IT, according to Citrix.

Wasson compared the combination of Receiver and Dazzle to a TV receiving a digital signal from DirecTV. “They don’t care what [kind of television] you’re watching it on, or where you’re watching it, the consumer gets the same experience,” Wasson says.

Because the applications are running on a back-end server, IT maintains full control over the data and servers; Dazzle and Receiver become the session-manager interface, an experience that has always been more wonky than friendly.

“I don’t even have to get IT’s permission to put it on my home PC,” Wasson says. “IT doesn’t even care anymore; everything is taken care of behind the scenes in the XenApp environment. All users see is a simple storefront that gives them a broad choice in a fun and familiar way.”

Sizing Citrix Up Against Rivals

Dazzle and Receiver are both sharp applications that show Citrix knows to take advantage of its strength in desktop and application virtualization to build toward a comprehensive Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), says Chris Wolf, analyst at The Burton Group.

“Citrix has the right vision for the desktop,” Wolf says. “VDI is still very use-case driven, not really a mainstream technology. A few of the parts of the ecosystem have to mature before it can get there.”

Among those parts are limitations on Citrix’ own servers, including the lack of memory overcommit. Memory overcommit is a feature that allows a server to allocate more memory to the applications running on it than it actually has. It relies on the tendency of applications to demand more memory than they currently use like overbooking an airliner on the assumption that a certain number of passengers won’t show up.

Without memory overcommit, one server can support fewer virtual desktops than it could with the feature. In a company with 2,000 or more desktops, that could mean doubling or tripling the number of servers required, Wolf says.

Citrix is working on memory overcommit, but still hasn’t been able to deliver it, making its VDI servers potentially more expensive than those of VMware, which does have the feature, Wolf says.

Wasson says the company will also announce Citrix Xenclient , a bare-metal hypervisor designed to run on a desktop machine, allowing end users to run more than one ‘PC’ on their own computers. It will also allow them to store a locally cached version of a virtual desktop normally run from a data-center and, for the first time for Citrix, work offline while using VDI, without breaking the security or policy controls built into the virtual desktop.

“Even with the lack of memory overcommit, Citrix is moving in the right direction,” Wolf says. “A number of our clients are using XenApp or ESX server on the desktop, and from their priorities and experience, for being able to access your applications from a number of devices securely, Citrix is hitting the nail right on the head.”

It doesn’t hurt that both Receiver and Dazzle are free, either.

“VMware added another two tiers to its infrastructure with the Vsphere 4 launch, with additive prices,” Wolf says. “Free, by comparison, is pretty good.”

Citrix is also improving its story in networking, by introducing a virtual-server version of NetScaler MPX, a hardware appliance designed to increase the capacity of Web servers by offloading compression, caching and application security from them and onto a specially designed appliance.

Citrix claims as many as 75 percent of Web users touch a site enabled with NetScaler MPX today.

The virtualized version is designed for companies that don’t want the cost of additional hardware, Wasson says. But more importantly it gives them the ability to spawn new instances of VPX, the software-only version of the appliance—to compensate for spikes in traffic or to accommodate video and other high-demand content.

“While others recognize the intersection between virtualization and networking, and address it with big, expensive, proprietary ASIC-based chassis and hardware systems, we think the world is going in the opposite direction,” Wasson says.

Citrix is also releasing a free version 5.5 of XenServer, with the ability to move VMs from one machine to another without shutting them down, tools to convert VMware infrastructures to XenServer, support for Active Directory and other enhancements.

Releasing it free is a way to push Citrix into the “75 percent of servers out there that are not yet virtualized” and give the company an edge over VMware in the virtualization market, Wasson says.

And that’s where the confusion might come in, analysts say.

Despite the list of desktop-heavy products and enhancements, Wasson spent much of the hour-long press briefing talking about Citrix’s potential to expand its holdings in the virtual-server market, the cloud-computing market, and in connections with virtual storage infrastructures.

Wasson focused on what he called a set of consumer-oriented metaphors such as DirecTV and iTunes on the assumption IT would want to dazzle end users with easy to use virtualization technology.

The vision is good, but the focus on displacing VMware doesn’t have much relevance to it, according to Frank Gillett, analyst at Forrester Research.

“They’re talking about competing in virtualization, but it’s hard to talk about virtualization generically,” Gillett says. “Citrix is very strong in client virtualization, but what goes on in client virtualization isn’t very related to server virtualization or storage virtualization or network virtualization.”

VMware has a lot of catching up to do on the client side, Wolf agrees. “It’s fair to say the opposite with servers; VMware is very strong and Citrix has a long way to go.”

“They’re not interdependent,” Gillett says. “If a company uses Citrix technology for their client virtualization implementations, they might use XenServer for their server virtualization. More likely they’ll use VMware or Hyper-V, but that’s just an implementation detail. Just because you’re using Citrix to enable your ambitions in desktop virtualization has no bearing on what decision you make when you decide to virtualize your servers.”

Innovative products such as Dazzle and Receiver are a big step forward for Citrix, and are likely to be a hit among its existing customers, Gillett says.

“But it will have very little impact on how they will go on to compete in server virtualization,” he says. “Outside of the packaging of VDI, customers will make their own informed sources and use whatever makes sense to them. It won’t have any bearing on what they decide when they virtualize their servers.”

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