Virtually in Dallas, A chat with Ovum's Tim Stammers on Citrix
Tim, I understand there was considerable discussion it seemed coming out of the event about how relevant Citrix is in the virtual infrastructure, what’s your take?
It’s difficult to credit Citrix with much influence over virtual infrastructure, aka public and private cloud building. Citrix’ XenServer is technically very credible, low priced and is at last starting to sell quickly. But XenServer still does not have a strong enterprise position, or a technology x-factor.
XenServer still does not even come close to the enterprise market clout of VMware vSphere. 45,000 organizations currently use XenServer, but only 10,000 of them actually pay for the privilege. Even some of those may only be using XenServer as a second-tier platform. vSphere meanwhile has 190,000 paying customers. And when you’re talking about VMware, the word certainly is paying. That’s not me (just) being snarky about VMware pricing (about which it has to be said that VMware argues that like for other things, in software you get what you pay for). It’s a reminder that VMware has plenty of revenue and big customers, which means momentum.
Citrix could get more relevant by persuading more public cloud providers to use XenServer. So far, the biggest provider to have done this is RackSpace, which is a nice win for Citrix. But after that the list of public cloud providers running on XenServer tails off into smaller players. Meanwhile VMware is winning large global providers over to its side, courtesy of its massive enterprise presence.
Citrix does have one technology edge – its software is based on open source Xen code, and Citrix has increased this edge by donating extra, up-stack software to the open source cause. For cloud providers, access to that free, customizable code is important. This could see Citrix win some more high-profile cloud provider friends. But Citrix has not yet said how or when it will match the vCloud Director that VMware launched this summer, and which is an important bridge between public and private clouds. And what about PaaS, which both VMware and Microsoft want the world to adopt? VMware’s got a Spring-vSphere integration in the works Microsoft has got Azure. What’s Citrix got?
In terms of the battle of the hypervisors, while there has been an uptick it seems in XenServer adoption, do you foresee that over a prolonged period of time? Does the future look good?
Okay, I’ve said that Citrix does not have much chance of being influential in the clouds. But at Ovum we do think that XenServer’s future is beginning to look pretty good. It took Citrix too long to get there, but XenServer market adoption is now happening, and the technical gap between XenServer and vSphere has got pretty narrow and will get smaller.
The question is whether Citrix can afford to keep developing XenServer, which is not a small job. But Citrix’ status as the clear front-runner in desktop virtualization is factor here. To keep up that position, Citrix needs XenServer as a base for desktop virtualization. XenServer’s got a future.
Was there anything that surprised you by what you heard at the event? Anything that you wouldn’t have thought was happening before you attended?
Citrix’s declaration that the fat client will be with us for a long while yet, despite desktop virtualization, and the proliferation of end-user devices. We will still need local processing for performance and to allow offline working. Coming from the acknowledged desktop virtualization leader, this is a surprise. Thin clients (and more lately zero clients) have been a part of the overall desktop virtualization pitch for a long while because of the cost of supporting PCs. Think back to Sun and Oracle’s attacks on the PC in the 90s, which were based on the promise that we could do away with PCs by just plugging a self-managing thin client into the wall. At a very basic level, Citrix needs to make it clear that even if corporate PCs are not going away, Citrix is still going to make them cheaper to own.
And since we can’t steer clear of storage in our conversations, StorageLink by Citrix is getting some attention for being able to connect storage systems and virtual machine storage together, which may in turn lead to better storage alignment, have you heard any of that come up in conversation with end users as well?
Nothing yet, but it's something to keep an eye on. And, now that I'll be focusing more on storage in the near term again, it will be something I'll be looking at for a new reason.
Disclaimer: Ovum is not a client of Lois Paul & Partners. Tim and I have shared many interesting conversations in the past around storage, virtualization and green technologies and continue to do so. At one point in time, Tim may have bought me a drink and I may have bought him one.