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Open source virtualization changes roles for Citrix, VMware

Even with an open source virtualization offering that competes directly with VMware, Citrix partners see different roles for each vendor, and a primary advisory role for integrators and resellers.

Now that Citrix Systems Inc. has laid out its open source virtualization roadmap, its channel partners are sorting through Citrix's recent product announcements and OEM agreements to see which they'll incorporate into a new sales strategy.

"Right now Citrix is laying the groundwork for the virtual world, and there's more interest, more buzz because of the announcements regarding XenSource," said Donnie Downs, president of Bowie, Md.-based Plan B Technologies Inc., a Citrix platinum partner.

Downs holds a mini conference every year for Citrix users who couldn't attend the Citrix iForum, and he said registration has doubled since last year for the Washington, D.C., follow-up show because Citrix users want to know more about Citrix virtualization strategies, including Citrix XenServer, the server previously known as XenSource Xen Enterprise 4.0.

With XenServer, Citrix extends its virtualization capabilities -- which had been focused on delivering applications to desktops that were actually running on back-end servers -- to include operating systems as well.

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Citrix recently announced agreements to embed a version of its XenServer hypervisor in Dell Inc.'s PowerEdge servers, and another under which Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) will sell Citrix XenServer Enterprise Edition on HP ProLiant and BladeSystem servers.

"What we are looking to do now is recruit HP partners that have more of a specialization in data center or storage, which is where the majority of the pure-play server virtualization opportunity exists," said Al Monserrat, vice president of worldwide channels and emerging product sales for Citrix.

"It definitely creates momentum and an ease of having the conversation with somebody to say, 'Well, it's there -- do you want to purchase the [the XenServer] components that allow you to manage this more effectively?'" said Kevin Kelly, president of Irvine, Calif.-based Agile360.

Other products or improvements that will affect the virtualization conversation include:

  • Versions of Business Objects' Crystal Report Server that can be downloaded with a Citrix Virtual Machine and other preconfigured business intelligence applications.
  • The new Citrix Provisioning Server, designed to manage workloads across physical and virtual servers.
  • Citrix Presentation Server 4.5 , designed to improve the delivery of server-based applications to other machines.
  • The new Smart Auditor, which lets users record and play back events in their applications.
  • EasyCall, which integrates telephone call control with both Citrix's Presentation Server for Windows applications and NetScaler for Web-based applications.

    But with all the new features, some analysts say Citrix has a two-pronged approach to virtualization, which may give resellers pause as they think through their open source virtualization selling strategies.

    "The consensus among Forrester analysts is that Citrix has a compelling offering on the client side. On the server side, we think they have a solidly technically capable product," said Forrester Research Inc. analyst Frank Gillett.

    According to Gillett, resellers will have to think about Citrix's virtualization technology as suitable for two different marketplaces with different offerings and different buyers.

    "For the channel, the important thing will be that they've got to learn a new customer and a new product and a new value proposition," Gillett said.

    "The entry point of Citrix used to be very focused on application deployment, application delivery, remote access," Downs said. "That's what their legacy was. Now they are expanding the depth and breadth of product capabilities and have the ability to go farther and wider than any company in any enterprise."

    "For the near term, I expect Citrix to remain more focused on the "desktop" (or more accurately application delivery), while VMware remains most focused on server infrastructure," said Gordon Haff, analyst with Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc. "That said, Citrix, by all appearances, plans to be a player in dynamic server infrastructures as well. Citrix has an interesting play relative to VMware. They bring a focus on delivering applications that is different from what we've seen to date," Haff said.

    Citrix desktop virtualization

    The main Citrix desktop offering is XenDesktop, which has three fundamental elements: a delivery controller that delivers applications to the user, a virtual infrastructure to support virtual machines, and image provisioning for management capabilities.

    Still, with the virtual desktop market in a nascent stage, Citrix resellers seem to be taking a wait-and-see attitude.

    Agile360's Kelly said he's watching to see how Citrix's desktop technology will evolve, and in the meantime will continue implementing virtualization at the server level.

    "I actually think a combination of traditional presentation server and virtual desktop technologies combined make sense for different solutions. The technology is there but the management component is not there yet," Kelly said.

    Most users seem to be looking for ways to centralize application support and deployment, which is Citrix's strength with Presentation Server, Kelly said. Those looking for desktops that are secure, but also make allowances for end users who want to add applications and surf as they please within a protected sandbox, are more appropriate candidates for virtual desktops rather than simple remote application serving, he said. That's where the channel will continue to play the primary role.

    Downs said his company is concentrating on the areas it knows best -- virtualizing servers, which is where VMware has created the skills for resellers to build on, and where engineers will be working to use Citrix XenServer open source virtualization technology in much the same way he uses VMware's Infrastructure 3.

    "VMware has created a path for the rest of us to follow in virtualization, disaster recovery and the total cost of ownership aspects of minimizing your hardware footprint at the data center," Downs said. "That's something that the market is used to and a lot of VARs have already done, us included," he added.

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