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Xen and the Art of Mobile Worker Maintenance

Citrix's "Project Thunder" and the race to enable BYOD across multiple devices.

There’s rarely a company I talk to nowadays that doesn’t have some kind of bring-your-own-device, or BYOD, program underway. The most recent survey data from ZK Research shows that 82% of organizations now support BYOD in some form. Also, the majority of IT leaders I’ve talked to say that the pressure to implement BYOD is coming from multiple angles – C-level executives, line-of-business managers, and younger workers are among the most common.

BYOD can mean different things to different buyers and the challenges range from on-boarding concerns, network readiness, security policies and other factors. The top challenge, though? That’s creating a consistent user experience across the myriad of devices out there.

This morning, Citrix finally publicly released “Project Thunder,” now known as XenClient 5, to address many of the challenges associated with BYOD, including maintaining a consistent user experience across multiple devices. I think this is an important release for Citrix as it looks to increase its footprint within companies. Historically, Citrix has had broad penetration across large enterprises, but often has only single-digit penetration within the company. The reason for this is that desktop virtualization, or thin client or whatever you want to call previous versions of the Citrix desktop client, was great at creating a secure desktop environment but limited what the worker could do. Citrix has slowly moved its model to one where desktop virtualization doesn’t limit workers, but instead enables BYOD.

One of the more important features of the latest version of XenClient is that it allows users to install their own applications. Older versions of XenClient had two modes – neither of which really appealed to both IT and workers. Shared image mode allowed for centralized desktop image management, but workers couldn’t install and maintain their own applications. Custom image mode, as the name suggests, allowed for custom desktops, but IT administrators had to manage each image independently, which clearly couldn’t scale in large environments.

XenClient 5 uses a technology called vDisk (from the RingCube acquisition) that enables IT to deliver a standardized image on bare metal and then users or departmental administrators can install persistent applications at a layer above that. This is a critical step in the adoption of desktop virtualization. Historically, virtualization technology has been about creating standardized images, and this was ideal for server management. However, desktop computing should be centered on the concept of customization, because each worker wants a unique environment. XenClient 5 gives IT the centralized administration it desires while giving workers the custom experience.

Another important feature of the newest release of XenClient is something called unified profile management, which better integrates XenClient with XenDesktop, allowing users to move seamlessly between desktop and mobile devices. Unified profile management gives workers a much better integrated experience across multiple computing platforms.

For a company that’s historically made a living of Windows desktops, Citrix has been aggressively moving towards enabling an increasingly multi-OS world. Windows got them in the door, and now mobile should help their penetration rate within organizations.

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