Citrix is building your workspace of the future

CEO Tatarinov’s strategy centers on secure access to apps, data from any device anywhere on prem or in the cloud.

Citrix is a bit like the pachyderm in the proverb about the blind men and the elephant. How customers describe the company depends a lot on which of Citrix’s diverse products they touch. It’s a desktop and app virtualization company. It’s a networking company. A secure file sharing company, a mobility management firm.

Yes, Citrix is all of those and more, and CEO Kirill Tatarinov – one year after taking over from long-time leader Mark Templeton – is working to show how all those pieces play together in making Citrix the focal point of the ‘workspace of the future’ for nimble enterprises.

In this installment of the IDG CEO Interview Series, Tatarinov explained to IDG Chief Content Officer John Gallant what that workspace of the future looks like and how he’s reshaping Citrix to get customers there. He also explored Citrix’s opportunities in the cloud and how the company is advancing the SD-WAN market. Tatarinov also talked about Citrix’s changing competitive landscape and made it clear he’s raring to take on big guns like VMware in a market being reshaped by virtualization.

You spoke with Network World’s Editor in Chief John Dix in April to explore your plans after taking over as CEO in January. I want to follow up on that. What are the key things you’ve accomplished since January?

There’s been a tremendous amount of learning and rediscovering a great company. We’ve focused our energy around three major vectors. One, of course, is strategy and vision, really being clear on who we are, where we’re heading and what’s our purpose. We’re establishing a very clear vision that we will power a world where people, organizations and things are securely connected and easily accessible. We will do it by executing our strategy of being the world’s best provider of integrated technology services with secure delivery of apps and data. Being clear on our purpose, our strategy, how we execute and how we deliver was very important, a dominant part of the first few months. Then, in May, we shared [our vision] with the world at our annual Synergy event. That’s one.

The second very important part was culture. As Peter Drucker famously said, culture eats strategy for breakfast. Citrix had an amazing culture, a phenomenal culture, built over many years, a culture of trust, a culture of integrity. Citrix was known in the industry as the nice player, which was great. But there were certain elements missing that we needed to add to augment the great culture. Most importantly it’s the culture for learning, the aspect of curiosity, being more data driven. It’s the aspect of unity. We need to be one company.

Since Citrix grew through acquisitions for a number of years, more unity and more of a common set of processes and common ways to approach things was absolutely necessary and required. But beyond all that, what was somewhat missing is the edginess, adding the edge. We make our claims in the places where we’re the leader and we project ourselves the leader and we’re not afraid to compete and be more aggressive in places where we need to be aggressive. From the way we articulate our story, from the way we engage with customers and partners, all of that had to come into play. That was very important.

+ BACKGROUND: What’s going on at Citrix? +

Then, of course, it’s people. It’s meeting the company and engaging with employees around the world and a fairly significant percentage of my time has been spent on that. I’ve been to, I think, 11 Citrix offices around the world, all the major points of presence that we have I’ve been to in person, many of them more than once. I think it’s been across 10 different countries. It’s been quite a process of meeting people, learning and making sure people feel connected. There was a certain amount of vacuum that existed that we needed to fill and we needed to fill very quickly.

These are the three main vectors and I think we’ve made huge progress in all three. From the culture perspective and from the people engagement, we’ve just completed analysis of our global employee survey. The results are through the roof positive, also a clear sign of employee engagement that I frankly have not seen in any other organizations where I worked. More than 90% of our employees participated and provided feedback. You don’t see that. It’s usually in the 50s or 60s. If you get to the 70s you’re terrific.

From the business strategy point of view, we continuously hear from our customers and partners and that’s been great. But more important, a couple months ago we had our annual analyst event and that I would characterize as a group of people who are paid to criticize. There wasn’t a whole lot of critique in that meeting. There was pretty broad support as to what we’re articulating, how we’re positioning ourselves, how we’re projecting our strategy, our vision, our approach to the cloud, our approach to helping customers solve the major pain points that they have whether in cybersecurity or productivity gaps. It’s been great to see the resounding support for our renewed messaging and focus.

One thing that always struck me about Citrix is that it’s an East and West Coast company with corporate offices in Florida and in Silicon Valley. Is that going to change in order to unify the culture or the vision?

We’re a global company.

I understand that. But you actually cite both Santa Clara and Fort Lauderdale as your corporate HQ.

We’re a global company and getting access to talent and access to environments where great work and innovation happen is important. We’re headquartered in South Florida. We’re staying headquartered in South Florida. Lots of people asked me that question in my first six months. There are strong advantages of being there. It’s a great place to be and we’re staying there. At the same time, we have a very strong presence in Northern California and we’re absolutely staying there. We need to be connected with our partners. Lots of our partners are in Northern California and it’s a great place for innovative talent. We’re bicoastal. That’s absolutely correct.

But we’re much more than that. We have significant presence in Raleigh, N.C. That office is about 800 people. We have good presence in Redmond {Wash.}. Our work with Microsoft is very important to us and we continue to invest there. We have a fairly sizeable presence in China. We have about 350 people in Nanjing and it’s a great workplace for us and we have about 1,500 people in Bangalore {India}. We have a pretty sizeable operation in Cambridge, U.K. It’s really a global presence. Yes, it calls for a different approach and it calls for discipline and managing and being aware of multiple cultures but at the same time we get huge benefit by being present globally.

I want to go back to that mission statement. Citrix customers tend to know you based on what they buy from you – whether that’s desktop virtualization, mobility management, networking. I’m interested in terms of how you get people to understand the entirety of that mission statement and deepen your inroads with them.

Essentially, what we’re enabling our customers to do is help them work better and give them flexible, adaptable tools to get their work done. Think of it as a workspace of the future that we give them. We give them the ability to access their work from anywhere around the world. Depending on which device and which network they come from they get conditional access. They can provision an app or they get a virtual image of an app, their device is being managed, the connection they use to get to their work is being managed and all of that comes together. It’s workspace essentially. Workspace as a service you can call it. That’s the category that we want to lead and the category that we want to establish.

Explain workspace as a service because it’s a critical one and I want to make sure that the readers understand exactly what you mean.

Basically think of it as all of the tools and all of the mechanisms for you to access your work environment delivered in the cloud as a service. We’re offering Citrix Cloud that gives people the ability to access all the applications they need, all the tools they need, all the files they need and all of that in a secure, reliable, scalable fashion.

All about virtualization

I want to look at some of the key markets that you’re in today and drill down into them. For example, the desktop and application virtualization market. How do these change when you look at the larger trend of people shifting more of their applications into the cloud?

The actual network access, network gateway - whether it’s wide area network through software-defined optimization or whether it’s just your traditional gateway - becomes more important. Security is a key. Interestingly, there are many cases where whether an app is run in the cloud or run on-prem, the only way to secure a device is through virtualization. There are some extreme cases where there’s a regulated industry or just simply an environment where you don’t want anything placed on your device. The VDI, virtual client computing, becomes the only answer no matter where the app originates. There is no signature, there is no footprint. There is nothing physical on the endpoint. That plays a very important, very significant role.

For most customers, in the past, it was all in-house applications and the desktop view that you were encapsulating in that virtualized environment. Today, it’s a mix of your own and third-party apps and I want to be sure I understand how you create that virtual workspace in that kind of environment.

When you access your workspace, some of the applications that are published for you in that workspace may, in fact, be running in somebody else’s cloud. Citrix’s portal, StoreFront we call it, becomes a way for employees to access all the apps. Some of those apps may be running on premises, some may be virtualized, some may be running in another cloud. There are multiple clouds and Citrix StoreFront gives people a way to access it [all].

There’s another very interesting element of the SaaS apps that we see IT grappling with and that is the actual browser itself. In many cases we find that supporting different browsers and different versions of browsers is one of the most significant cost items and the cause for the majority of the helpdesk calls for internal IT. As part of Citrix XenApp, we enable browser virtualization, which means the browser itself is run in Citrix Cloud or in a private cloud of those companies.

Through that, the browser gets standardized so there is only one browser you support. Similarly, it goes for everything else like Skype for Business, for virtualized Skype for Business. This is one of the unique features that Citrix offers in the land of virtual client computing. Same reason; supporting different flavors of Skype for Business client is expensive. In regulated industries they are not allowed to be put on the device itself. They need to leave it on the server and we allow that.

+ MORE ON NETWORK WORLD: Citrix wins virtual desktop interface shootout +

With concerns about security and compliance, is all this more relevant today than it was in the past?

The relevance of virtualization is growing quite significantly because of the security concerns. There has been a recent set of studies and reports published where clearly people realize that virtualizing an environment and not putting anything on the device itself in many cases is the only way to protect the device.

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