The decoupling of a users physical machine from the desktop and software

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VDI: Citrix has done an amazing job on virtualization geared towards the client. Going back to Metaframe and Presentation Server and then today with the work they’re doing with Xen on client virtualization, Citrix has always been focused on the client. Ironically, even though Microsoft is the de facto enterprise desktop client (in a sense), it hasn’t addressed the client virtualization markets too well. App-V is a step forward, but MED-V (with desktop virtualization code based on Virtual PC rather than Hyper-V) is a step back. VMware is making a huge push in this market with VMware View; if any player is going to win the VDC space completely they have to include a VDI solution, one that works locally and remotely, in their portfolio. Citrix could help Microsoft make that push by combining their respective solutions for hypervisor and application virtualization technologies. Many of the enterprise desktops and apps are Microsoft; the underlying technology running those desktops and apps in the data center and over the network are Citrix.

  • Cloud Platforms/Providers: Xen owns a good bit of real estate in cloud and service provider data centers. Although Microsoft has good presence with customers running Windows operating systems, it doesn’t have the same exposure for Hyper-V as a platform that VMware and Xen have. I think MS is looking to change this with Azure but it will still be limited to the MS-only solution (for the short term anyway). Acquiring Citrix would give Microsoft that cloud provider mindshare by name alone. They could then take that business and technology model that Xen has built and create a best of breed service provider platform between Xen and Hyper-V for customers that want to run non-Windows apps on Xen and .Net-based apps on Hyper-V. This could drastically help Microsoft’s Oslo application lifecycle plan moving forward with cloud providers while not alienating non-.Net apps.
  • Application Virtualization: As you know, I’m a huge fan of a true application virtualization model, something that I believe App-V will ultimately be able to deliver. However it will most likely be focused on .Net and Microsoft apps only and is still a few years away from full delivery and even more from adoption. In the mean time we have this bridging technology between VDI, client virtualization, and streaming apps. VMware is getting there with tools like View and ThinApp, but Citrix is staying in lockstep. Microsoft could use a Citrix acquisition to springboard App-V into a multi-focused application delivery platform, taking what’s good today with streaming apps and client virtualization and continue to work on true application virtualization for all apps.
  • Customer/Device Support: And as a roll-up benefit of the above categories, we have application delivery to devices. I don’t want to place too much emphasis on supporting remote access via the iPhone, but when you look at Microsoft’s historic relationships with Apple and Linux (as a whole), of which Citrix has obvious ties into both now, that’s an appealing way for Microsoft to jump right into those groups. That doesn’t mean they’ll keep the momentum alive, but at least it would give them more opportunity than they have today. The overlap between VDI, XenApp, secure remote access, and the iPhone is an extremely appealing proposition for mobile users; a turn-key solution for Microsoft to cover a huge gap in their overall cloud and virtualization offerings.

And let’s be honest: Microsoft has had some challenges with their virtualization solutions and their overall direction. Client virtualization based on Virtual PC and no enterprise VDI solution? Hyper-V management hiccups through SCVMM/SCOM and delaying live migration for so long? Azure wanting to change the way applications run and are written on-premise? These raise questions in my mind, a lot of “Why?” questions. Citrix, on the other hand, is heading squarely in the right directly for virtualization solutions.  Citrix continues to plow ahead against VMware at a good pace, whereas Hyper-V isn’t quite at that same pace. The virtual switch announcement from Synergy last week is an excellent example; we haven’t seen any movement or advancements on virtual switching or networking for Hyper-V at all. Sophisticated virtual networking and switching management is an absolute critical component for virtual and cloud-based platforms, IMO. Moving internal roles and tasks to VMs running on the platforms is something we’ve seen for a while with VMware, even going so far as to running the full version of ESX 4.0 in a VM on top of ESXi 4.0. Citrix is doing the same with their Dazzle product. In other words both VMware and Citrix are finding optimized ways to use their own technology for their own benefit. We’re not seeing this today from Hyper-V. Again, there’s nothing to say that Microsoft acquiring Citrix would change that, but at least it might help grease the skids a bit towards internal product unification. Citrix knows how to do it well.

To be clear, I am not being critical of Microsoft technologies or business practices (as any long-time readers of my blog will undoubtedly know). I am suggesting that when compared on a chart, Citrix is closer today to where the market and VMware are going for virtual platforms, and if the goal is to compete with VMware for both enterprise and cloud virtual platforms then Microsoft could benefit in leaps and bounds by acquiring Citrix for both Xen and their networking products. Microsoft would get virtual platform, application, and networking tools that they don’t have today.

I’ll leave you with one final thought on how compelling a Microsoft/Citrix acquisition could be: Imagine a year from now if Azure launched out of beta running on both Xen and Hyper-V. This would be the best of both worlds: Microsoft could continue to push it’s current developer-based approach to Azure, SaaS, and application cloud computing, focusing on .Net and helping to push users to re-write their current and new apps. They could also support non-.Net customers by allowing them to run their services on Xen in Microsoft’s cloud. Customers wouldn’t have to choose based on their app needs. That would be the ultimate competitor to both Google and Amazon for cloud mindshare, bridging the two cloud models together and backed by the Microsoft brand.  Awesome. Will we ever see it? I hope so for market and customer needs.

“Wish You Were Here” Image © 1975 EMI, Storm Thorgerson

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