Citrix overhauls virtual desktop products for 'personal cloud'

The company says that the PC-to-cloud transition is "bigger than a Windows desktop"

Citrix's annual Synergy conference is opening with a bang this week, with Citrix previewing overhauls to nearly every component of its virtual desktop product lines, reaching from the data center to the iPad.

Citrix's goal is to make all data and applications available to users on any device, without threatening IT security. The PC era, which replaced the mainframe era, is now being replaced by the cloud era, and each user will have a "personal cloud," said Wes Wasson, Citrix senior vice president of marketing.

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"A personal cloud is something that is much bigger than just a Windows desktop," Wasson said. "It's the way people want to work, from any location, at any time, on any device, with everything they need to be successful."

FIRST LOOK: Citrix's big changes

The devices -- PCs, thin clients, smartphones, tablets, etc. -- are already there. What's needed is better software to deliver applications and data, and more sophisticated data centers and networking tools to connect people to their personal clouds, he said.

Among the numerous announcements at Synergy, Citrix is unveiling "Project Olympus," which combines its own XenServer virtualization product with OpenStack, a new open source cloud computing project launched by Rackspace and NASA. Olympus will help cloud providers or enterprises build scaled-out, self-service infrastructures with commodity equipment, Citrix said. An early access program for Olympus is opening now, with general availability planned for the second half of this year.

Citrix's other announcements fall into a few categories: improving the end-user and IT manager experience, boosting efficiency in the data center, and providing secure connections from the data center and client devices to cloud services.

Highlights on the end-user side include:

  • HD Faces for GoToMeeting, a high-definition video client for Citrix's Web conferencing software, is entering a public beta.
  • GoToManage for the iPad, which lets IT pros access physical and virtual desktops remotely to diagnose and fix problems, will launch for free in the Apple App Store this week.
  • Citrix Receiver, the software that delivers virtual desktops and applications to user devices, supports 149 smartphones and 37 tablets. At Synergy, Citrix will demonstrate Receiver working on Google's Chrome OS laptops, the HP webOS tablet, and Motorola's Atrix 4G smartphone/laptop combo. Multitouch support on tablets is being upgraded, Wasson said.
  • The second version of XenClient, a bare-metal hypervisor for installing virtual desktops on PCs, will be shown in a technology preview that expands the software to more types of laptops. Bare-metal desktop hypervisors are not widely used, but may offer greater security by isolating virtual machines, and a richer experience than streamed desktops by using the PC's native horsepower. Citrix is upgrading XenClient to improve the user interface, synchronization, backup and remote data wipes.
  • Citrix will also preview XenClient XT, a higher-end version with "extreme security, isolation and performance," designed for government and other organizations in need of multi-layer security, Wasson said.
  • Improving usability of virtual desktops, Citrix will preview an upgraded version of its HDX technology. With three times faster performance, Wasson said virtual desktop technology will deliver better multi-tasking, graphics support, real-time collaboration, and delivery of rich multimedia to branch offices.

With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, users often have several devices to connect to corporate networks. But unless you use only cloud-based services and trust your security to someone else, enterprises need robust technology in the data center to deliver applications and secure the network.

FUTURE OF WORK: The complicated new face of personal computing

Two new Citrix technologies target these needs:

  • NetScaler Cloud Gateway, to be available in physical and virtual appliances, sits at the "front door" of the data center, connecting Web applications and Windows apps to any device in a secure manner, while providing single sign-on to users, Wasson said. The Gateway will also monitor a customer's licenses and service-level agreements.
  • NetScaler Cloud Bridge, a companion piece, sits at the "back door" of the network to provide a secure connection between the data center and cloud services. WAN optimization improves data flow and reduces use of bandwidth, and lets you split up the components of an application between data center and cloud. For example, a customer could run most of an application in a cloud service but keep Active Directory and sensitive data in-house for security reasons.

A sale date for Cloud Gateway is not available yet, but the software will be available on NetScaler VPX, a software-based virtual appliance that starts at $2,000, or on NetScaler MPX, a hardware appliance that starts at $12,000. Cloud Gateway will also be available for a NetScaler services package that starts at $90,000.

Cloud Bridge will ship next month with pricing starting at $5,000 as a standalone appliance, or as part of the NetScaler Platinum edition.

Rounding out Citrix's Synergy announcements are a few pieces that bolster the company's virtual desktop software:

  • An acquisition of virtual desktop vendor Kaviza, which targets small and midsized businesses with VDI that doesn't require load balancers, connection brokers or attached storage. Wasson said this will move VDI "downmarket" to the masses.
  • XenDesktop 5, which was released a few months ago, is being updated with Citrix's IntelliCache to reduce the need for network-attached storage by running more processes on the server. (XenDesktop costs $95 to $350 per user or device.)
  • A free online service called "Success Accelerator" will give customers guidance in deploying Citrix virtual desktop products.

Citrix's desktop products put it in a good position against rival VMware, which has lagged behind Citrix in delivering features such as profile management, virtual desktops on the iPad and a bare-metal hypervisor.

One problem for Citrix is that many potential virtual desktop customers still use VMware to virtualize the servers that are likely to host desktop images. Although Citrix points out that the Amazon and Rackspace clouds run on the Xen hypervisor, VMware boasts a customer base that includes 96 percent of the Fortune 1000.

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This story, "Citrix overhauls virtual desktop products for 'personal cloud'" was originally published by Network World.

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