Citrix embraces Apple with iPhone virtualization, app store for corporate IT

Server virtualization upgrades help close gap with VMware

Citrix is bringing virtual desktops and applications to the iPhone and has revamped its server virtualization platform with new features that make it more competitive against VMware.

A lightweight software client called Citrix Receiver lets IT deliver desktops and applications to any device, whether it be a desktop, laptop or iPhone. Available as a free add-on to the Citrix XenApp application delivery platform, Receiver acts like the satellite or cable TV receiver used in broadcast media services, the company says.

Continuing the Apple theme, Citrix announced Dazzle, another XenApp add-on which mimics the iTunes application store by providing a self-service interface letting corporate users choose and install new business applications on-demand. Dazzle will be available in the second half of this year.

"Dazzle gives corporate employees 24x7 self-service access to a broad array of applications, desktops and content, allowing them to choose exactly what they need, when they need it," Citrix says. "If you've used DirecTV or Apple iTunes, you already know how to use Dazzle."

The announcements are among several product updates to be unveiled by Citrix this week at its annual Synergy show in Las Vegas.  

Citrix also released Version 5.5 of the XenServer hypervisor and Essentials, a software platform that manages both XenServer and Microsoft's Hyper-V. The upgrades, including native support for integration with Windows Active Directory, bring Citrix closer to VMware in functionality, says Burton Group analyst Chris Wolf.

"It brings them to the point where they are part of the conversation now, where an enterprise can look at the platform and consider it," Wolf says. Role-based access control, a feature still lacking in Version 5.5 but which is expected to be added later this year, will also help Citrix make the case that its server virtualization product is enterprise-ready, he says. But he says Citrix is still lacking key features including memory overcommit, which increases the memory allocated to virtual machines (VM), letting IT shops place more VMs on a physical server.

On the Apple front, Citrix has achieved something unique by virtualizing the presentation of desktop applications on the iPhone with Citrix Receiver, Wolf says.

Citrix compares Receiver to satellite or cable TV receivers, which receive broadcast signals and respond to user requests for content in a manner that is transparent to users.

"Following an initial download and installation, Receiver sits quietly in the background and 'listens' for signals from the corporate 'delivery center,'" according to Citrix. "This allows IT to deliver any app or desktop from … Citrix XenApp and Citrix XenDesktop" to any device with a Receiver installed.

Citrix Receiver for iPhone is available as a free download from the Apple App store, and new versions for Windows Mobile, Symbian and Macintosh OSX will come out in the second half of this year. Versions for Windows-based PCs, laptops, netbooks and thin clients are already available.

Citrix this week is also announcing the following:

* NetScaler VPX, a software-based virtual appliance containing NetScaler technology that accelerates and secures Web applications.* The Citrix C3 Lab, which joins Citrix technology with Amazon Web Services to provide a Web-based platform for building prototypes of hosted applications. C3 (short for Citrix Cloud Center) includes XenServer, NetScaler, XenApp and XenDesktop.

* StorageLink, which ensures interoperability between the Citrix Essentials virtualization platform and storage technology from more than 20 vendors including Brocade, CA, Dell, HP, Hitachi Data Systems, LSI, Microsoft, NetApp and Symantec.

Regarding virtualization, Citrix offers the basic XenServer hypervisor, which is free; and Essentials, which starts at $2,500 per server and manages both XenServer and Hyper-V.

XenServer upgrades include new backup capabilities with third-party vendors; enhanced search for seeking VMs, resource pools, storage repositories and other key assets; and support for several more operating systems including SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11, Debian 5.0, and the 5.3 versions of Red Hat and CentOS. XenServer supports "virtually every version of the Windows and Linux operating systems," according to Citrix.

Upgrades to Citrix Essentials include automated stage management to simplify building and delivery of applications; and dynamic workload balancing, which automatically moves running VMs among different physical servers based on preset policies.

"By dynamically migrating virtual machines to the optimal location in the resource pool based on changing demand, performance bottlenecks can be prevented with no manual intervention," Citrix says.

The overall theme of this week's announcements is transforming data centers into "delivery centers" by joining the capabilities of virtualization, networking and application delivery, says Wes Wasso, Citrix chief marketing officer.

Citrix is banking its server virtualization future on XenServer and Hyper-V, having decided not to manage VMware deployments. "We believe XenServer and Hyper-V will be the big growth platforms," Wasson says.

While VMware has a stranglehold on the Fortune 100, Wesson says the midsize enterprise market and about two-thirds of the large enterprise market is wide open. Hyper-V is appealing to pure Windows shops, while XenServer is proving attractive to companies that need enterprise-class virtualization for a mix of Linux and Windows, he says.

By making XenServer free and not charging for some of the new add-on capabilities announced this week, Citrix is making a "show of good faith" with customers, Wolf says. VMware recently introduced a few new pricing options to lower the point of entry, but charges $3,495 per processor for its most robust software package. Citrix charges either $2,500 or $5,000 per server, regardless of how many processors.

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