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Citrix automates DaaS to make VDI more accessible

Citrix says its Service Provider Automation Pack will make VDI more feasible for SMBs, but partners see bigger opportunities in health care and education.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Desktop virtualization isn’t the easiest sell in the world, and the channel’s role in cloud computing is still evolving. But a new Citrix Systems Inc. service that combines desktop virtualization and cloud computing just might work, partners say.

The Citrix Service Provider Automation Pack for XenApp 6 is a series of PowerShell scripts that lets partners host and deploy Windows 7-like virtual desktops using XenApp and Windows Server 2008 R2. Citrix executives and partners said these Desktop as a Service (DaaS) offerings will make desktop virtualization more accessible to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that don’t have the money or management expertise for on-premises deployments.

Part of the problem is churn in the reseller channel.

With a traditional virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), “there’s a large upfront cost for SMBs,” said Michael Letschin, an integration architect with Convergence Technology Consulting, a Citrix partner in Glen Burnie, Md. “If you have a seven-year [return on investment], a lot of SMBs aren’t going to be around in seven years. It’s hard to argue for.”

How Service Provider Automation Pack works
With the Service Provider Automation Pack, partners deliver what are called hosted shared desktops to end users, said Craig Stilwell, Citrix’s channel vice president for the Americas. The model uses a Windows Server operating system in the data center, and the automation pack’s scripts modify the OS to make it look and feel like Windows 7.

Citrix chose this approach -- instead of using actual Windows 7 desktops -- for performance and licensing reasons, Stilwell said.

“It’s just much more scalable, and … the licensing is just more tried and true,” he said. “We’ve got that hammered out fairly well with Microsoft.”

The scripts in the Service Provider Automation Pack allow for desktop personalization and add applications such as Windows Media Player that are missing from traditional Windows Server desktops. In addition, they configure and automate Active Directory policies based on Microsoft best practices for security and access control.

“We have built everything around the Windows platform,” said Calvin Hsu, a senior product marketing director with Citrix.

Vertical opportunities for DaaS
Some Citrix partners said the real potential of the Service Provider Automation Pack lies in vertical markets that rely on mobile workforces or require specialized applications. There’s not a lot of value to add -- or money to make -- by delivering virtual desktops and standard business applications to SMBs, said Paul Kunze, director at IntraSystems Inc., a Citrix partner in Braintree, Mass.

“If you’re just in it to build a data center and serve up desktops, you’re going to fail miserably,” he said.

IntraSystems has done well providing Desktop as a Service to health care organizations, because “they know their applications well, but they may not know how to deliver them,” Kunze added.

Andy Jones, group president for Advanced Technology Group, a Citrix partner in Cleveland, also sees an opportunity for the Service Provider Automation Pack in the higher education market. Its automation features, for example, could help colleges and universities spin up and spin down desktops based on enrollment changes.

“We’ve got to get to that point, to make [the process] more streamlined,” he said. “The IT administrator needs that flexibility.”

OS vs. apps
The Service Provider Automation Pack will let service providers deploy virtual desktops to Windows, Mac OS, Apple iOS, Android and BlackBerry devices, said Bill Burley, a Citrix group vice president and general manager.

“Every relevant tablet gets support,” he said. “You go from one device to another, and with SmoothRoaming, your desktop follows you.”

Letschin questioned why Citrix would focus on providing hosted desktops when that’s not the approach that tablet and smartphone users are used to.

“The world is so focused on apps,” he said. But Letschin’s colleague Jon Spallone, lead architect with Convergence, said the OS-first approach fits Citrix’s current strategy. And the company’s tight partnership with Microsoft is another likely factor.

Service Provider Automation Pack pricing
Citrix will charge participating service providers $5.34 per user per month for the basic Service Provider Automation Pack, which includes Citrix Receiver and HDX functionality. The advanced version with additional capabilities costs $9.63 per user per month.

Service providers can set their own prices to customers based on those charges, application licenses and other factors. They can also white-label the service to VARs that want to sell cloud services but don’t want to become service providers themselves, said Robert Bye, president of nGenx, a Citrix partner and service provider in Overland Park, Kan.

“They can get into this business very quickly,” he said. “Why try to recreate what’s already been built?”

Citrix announced the Service Provider Automation Pack this week at its Summit partner conference. Its Synergy user conference begins Wednesday.

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