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Citrix Receiver brings full-fledged desktop apps to smartphones and tablets

IT Best Practices Alert By Linda Musthaler, Network World
December 02, 2011 09:36 AM ET
Linda Musthaler
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Citrix Systems Inc. is best known for its applications that virtualize the PC experience by centrally hosting traditional PC applications on servers and delivering them from a data center. The typical user device is a PC or thin client workstation. Now the device could just as easily be a smartphone or tablet PC. With an application called Citrix Receiver, practically any kind of mobile device can gain access to corporate-enabled applications that are hosted on the central servers.

Citrix Receiver takes the "bring your own device" (BYOD) phenomenon to a whole new level.

Corporate road warriors aren't the only people who have gone mobile. Now it seems that every worker who carries a smartphone wants access to company applications and data. Historically these workers have been able to access email, but there are many more applications that companies use that could be delivered to mobile employees so they can get their work done. More powerful smartphones and tablet computers have made this a viable option.

TECH ARGUMENT: Corporate-owned vs. employee-owned mobile devices

Citrix Receiver is a client-side application that either gets installed or comes preloaded on mobile devices. Receiver allows the user to connect to either XenDesktop or XenApp on the central host. Through XenDesktop, the user gains access to a full Windows 7 virtual desktop environment. Through XenApp, the user can access an individual application that the IT administrator has made available. For example, a field sales representative could access the corporate customer relationship management (CRM) application, or a healthcare worker could access patient records.

What's that you say? You don't want to try to edit a Microsoft Word document on your 4-inch smartphone screen? Why not plug your device into a full-size display and keyboard and turn it into a "Nirvana phone"?

Chris Fleck, vice president of mobility solutions at Citrix, says a Nirvana phone is a concept in which the smartphone acts as an alternative PC or laptop. "It's more than just a smartphone," says Fleck. "This device does everything. It gives you the freedom to leave your laptop at home and travel with just your smartphone." Fleck says some companies use the Nirvana phone concept in office hotel spaces, where the company provides a keyboard and display and the employee brings his own phone to plug in. Using the Citrix applications, the worker can get his full desktop or authorized applications on the local device.

Citrix Receiver has become a popular application for smartphone and tablet users. I'm told it's one of the leading applications in the Apple App Store, and companies like Motorola and Lenovo preload Receiver on some of their mobile devices.

As far as "phoning home" to connect to the central application server, the mobile device can use regular 3G or 4G cellular service or local Wi-Fi hotspots.

After installing Citrix Receiver on the smartphone, the user still needs to define some parameters to connect to the central server. Citrix has a tool that IT administrators can use to set these parameters. With a single click, the user can configure his phone with the proper settings for how to get through the corporate firewall, two-factor authentication to log in to the application server, and so on. This "one click provisioning" tool makes it easy for IT to get users set up and working properly.

Linda Musthaler is a principal analyst with Essential Solutions Corporation.

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