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After acquiring Sanbolic to fill storage void, could Citrix target networking next?

The Sanbolic acquisition bolsters Citrix's storage resources, and raises questions about its needs in other areas.

This week, Citrix announced it was acquiring Sanbolic, a vendor that provides virtual storage technology for virtual data centers. The Waltham, Massachusetts-based company enables customers to "software define" storage to optimize the delivery of workloads between any types of media. This includes SSD, flash storage, cloud, SAN, and NAS systems, and the aim is to improve application performance and availability, and especially storage utilization.

The purchase by Citrix is an interesting one in that it fills a big void in the company’s overall virtualization portfolio. Sanbolic plugs nicely into Citrix's desktop virtualization suite, and the two have actually been technology partners for years, so the acquisition seems logical.  

Citrix currently has one of broadest virtualization portfolios with desktop, server, and application virtualization technologies. The addition of Sanbolic now adds the storage arrow to Citrix’s virtualization quiver. The company had been filling the storage hole through a number of partnerships, including Sanbolic, but also EMC and NetApp.

I also think the acquisition is well-timed, as storage managers are finally willing to accept third-party solutions to virtualize storage. I've long felt that no group within IT is more conservative than storage managers. Because of this, storage managers typically turned to their storage vendors for virtualization solutions, instead of looking for products that could enable heterogeneous storage environments. The storage market is evolving very fast today, and businesses are looking for a better way to manage all of their storage assets, making products like Sanbolic’s much more desirable than they may have been even just a few years ago. This appears to be a good deal for both companies. Citrix gets a way to enter a hot market quickly, while the Sanbolic team gets access to a much bigger customer base and orders of magnitude more engineering resources.  

Citrix's desire to be an end-to-end virtualization solution provider may lead to another acquisition, one that brings network virtualization/software defined networking (SDN) into the fold. The company can currently virtualize everything that runs on top of the network, but not the network itself. The NetScaler application delivery controller can act as a network virtualization gateway, but it operates at layers 4-7, leaving Citrix somewhat blind to layers 2/3.

If Citrix chooses to move this way, there are a number of vendors that would make sense. Rumors coming out of Silicon Valley are that Big Switch Networks is struggling to gain any kind of meaningful traction and that its future is in doubt. Big Switch's Big Cloud Fabric offers a way to scale out OpenStack networks quickly, along with VDI policy control. That would be ideal for Citrix, which is arguably the king of VDI.

Another option could be Midokura, a vendor that has a well-seasoned, end-to-end network virtualization solution. The company’s product is on par with VMware's NSX, but it has a very low consideration rate, primarily due to a lack of name recognition. An acquisition by Citrix would obviously solve that problem, but could also open the door to many of Citrix's technology partners, broadening Midokura's reach.

A move into the SDN/network virtualization space would level the playing field with rival VMware as well. Right now, it's fair to say that Citrix has the edge in desktop virtualization, while VMware is the leader in server virtualization. However, VMware can bring network arms to bear if need be, whereas Citrix cannot. Bolstering its portfolio here would make sense.

As I said earlier, I do like the Sanbolic acquisition for Citrix, as it adds another piece to the virtualization puzzle. However, based on that, I also believe there's another move coming for Citrix, and that's a stronger network play.

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