Monday, April 29, 2013

How I look at Citrix...

I am closing in on my first year with Citrix working in the community team of Apache CloudStack, it's about time to describe how I look at Citrix and why I decided to leave a +10 year career in academia behind to work on Open Citrix. Disclaimer: if you don't want to read about Citrix products, stop right there.

Prior to joining Citrix I only knew it as the company that "brings windows to unix" delivering applications through an equivalent of remote desktop. It's a very unsavory and unfair summary at best and the XenDesktop folks will hate me for it :). What I quickly discovered is that Citrix has embraced the Cloud trying to deliver applications "anywhere, to anyone on any device", it is more than talk as I realized by going through the product list. This was especially intriguing to me because I did not understand why Citrix was getting into the Cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) layer area by acquiring IaaS software is more the purview of data centers vendors and Citrix struck me as a "top of the stack" company.

To understand why I think Citrix is a true Cloud company you need to get back to the Cloud definition that most of us refer to these days. The NIST definition, it defines Cloud as "...a model for enabling ubiquitous on-demand network access to a shared pool of network resources...that can rapidly be provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction " it is the coming of age of utility computing where anyone can access any computing service at anytime from anywhere. Virtualization has been a key enabler of Cloud in the data center and the IaaS layer (or Fabric layer) has become the most mature of the Cloud layers. With Citrix acquiring and donating CloudStack to the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) it told me that Citrix was catching up and complementing its portfolio of products. What I did not expect is to realize that Citrix already had the other pieces of the Cloud puzzle building a suite of products that would enable on-demand/scalable network access to applications autonomically, in short: an app-focused cloud middleware.

At the fabric layer, resource sharing deals with computer, network and storage services. Server virtualization is a key component of IaaS and with XenServer Citrix has the leading hypervisor of the Cloud. To share compute resources, and manage farms of XenServer an orchestrator is needed. That's where CloudPlatform (commercial offering of Apache CloudStack) fits in. CloudPlatform orchestrates compute services and leverages existing storage and networking solutions. But here comes NetScaler, the networking piece, load-balancer, application firewall, branch repeater and cloud connector (via GRE tunnels, IPsec and so on). In storage, Sharefile is there. Unfortunately it is not an enterprise data center storage solution like today's large scale object store or traditional NAS solution but more of a DropBox equivalent (again not doing it justice) which includes corporate data governance.

At the Platform layer or PaaS, Citrix deals more with brokering and management of applications than a PaaS like Microsoft Azure or Google App Engine. CloudPortal is set to become a true Cloud broker offering a marketplace of applications, usage metering and billing making use of enterprise IaaS solutions to provision the applications in the datacenter. XenDesktop, XenApp and VDI-in-a-box are some of the solutions that CloudPlatform can broker. This will bring the traditional Citrix business to the Cloud (i.e Avalon project), providing on-demand, scalable, metered IT services.

At the SaaS layer, Citrix provides true collaboration services with it's GoTo* suite and Podio a social/collaborative platform. Surely these will soon be bundled in CloudPlatform for on-demand access. The nature of these apps speak to Citrix commitment to Clouds and a new way of working "anywhere, with anyone on any device" as they empower remote workers. And despite Yahoo's recent announcement about remote working I am very thankful for these apps and for Citrix walking the talk. To keep enabling mobility Citrix also offers additional middleware which I place in this SaaS layer even though they are not end-user application. XenMobileMDM and CloudGateway solve the problem of access management to application and data from the many devices that are now part of an enterprise IT.

Missing Pieces: This short mapping of Citrix products to the three basic layers of the Cloud highlights couple missing pieces. I am listing them here but I have no visibility and Citrix acquisition strategy so don't read anything else into it :). While Citrix has now a strong offering at the IaaS layer with XenServer, CloudPlatform (based on Apache CloudStack) and NetScaler. It does lack a true Cloud data center storage solution that would open the door to the Big Data market. Sharefile is more tailored for the individual end-user within the enterprise. Maybe packaging Apache Hadoop could fill this gap. In any case Citrix has strategic partnerships with NetApp and EMC as well as an innovative partner InkTank which is behind Ceph. At the PaaS layer, CloudPlatform is really a broker between app consumers and the cloud backends. A PaaS for application developers would be an interesting addition, even though these markets are still in the "trigger". A partnership with EMC on CloudFoundry and RedHat on OpenShift focused on integration with CloudStack/CloudPlatform would be interesting. I might also complement the middleware systems with a Data Analytics solution to mine one's data center and optimize application delivery, but that's my research hat thinking. The SaaS is a huge market and the goal is not to cover it all. I don't see any glaring gaps there, what strikes me the most at this layer is that the type of device we use will evolve quickly (e.g Google Glass), if one day people show up to work with "Glasses" what will Citrix Receiver be on Glass ?

Open Source: With this strong vision of Clouds, Citrix seemed perfect for me. What really made me accept the challenge of a new job was that Citrix open sourced CloudPlatform, donating it to the Apache Software Foundation. I had been an Open Source consumer (mostly) for a long time and it seemed right to get on the producer side. This was a true departure from its Microsoft ties, first by acquiring a data center software but second by reaching out to the Linux community. After the Xen Project this move spoke volume to me and was at the same time intriguing. Citrix has now stepped its Open Source efforts even more, putting the Xen Project under the stewardship of the Linux Foundation and being part of the OpenDayLight Software Defined Networking (SDN) consortium. There again IaaS is leading the way. I don't know yet what's in store for the other layers of the Cloud at Citrix, but if the recent Open Source activities are any signs, we can expect to see some Open Sourcing (in various forms: full software, API, community edition etc) at the other layers. This will further improve Citrix's reputation in the OSS community and help create an ecosystem around the terrific portfolio that we already have. Open Sourcing is key to innovation and we want Citrix to be a leading innovator of the Cloud.

In short, there is more to Clouds than virtual machine management and Citrix tackles the end-to-end cloud spectrum reaching out to the dream of computing as a utility in a mobile world.

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