Citrix offers free desktop virtualization tools

LAS VEGAS—Citrix Systems Inc. made a play on Tuesday for the lead in the desktop virtualization race with its announcement of Citrix Receiver and Citrix Dazzle, two new—and free—products designed to take desktop virtualization more ubiquitous.

“We want to deliver on-demand, wherever you want to deliver it,” said president Mark Templeton in a keynote speech to the firm’s annual Synergy user conference. “You have to think of it differently, as desktop and apps as a service…Users will feel a lot better about IT, and will allow you to focus on things that are a lot more important.”

Receiver is a universal software client for IT service delivery that will run virtual applications and desktops from wherever, on-demand. (Templeton, for example, showed how the product worked on the One Laptop Per Child machine to audible “oooh!”s from the audience.)

The local virtual desktop will be transparent to users and mobile workers, while allowing IT to manage it centrally and remotely. (Real-time monitoring, voice communications, and auto update functionality is also there, along with secure access control and password management.) Users can download it from the Web to whatever device or platform they choose, including PCs, laptops, and mobile devices.

The free application runs on Citrix’s XenApp and XenDesktop; the Windows version is available now, with a Mac version scheduled to hit later this year.

This is a smart move, according to John Sloan, senior research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group. “What Citrix is moving to on the desktop side is to make it as cheap and easy as possible to deliver an application,” he said. “And it will be the software that will make that process easier—to be able to manage centrally but also stream locally.”

Switching to Templeton’s service delivery model could be an attractive option for cash-strapped, busy IT managers.

“IT has been seen as making acquisitions and deploying them, and that extends to the desktop. But we’re moving toward a different way of doing things—the idea is to get IT out of the desktop asset management business,” Sloan said. “They should instead be in the service delivery business, not worrying about what’s on the desktop but just delivering the best service possible.”

One device users might want to access Receiver on is Apple Inc.’s iPhone, so Citrix is also releasing the free application Citrix Receiver for iPhone (which will also work with the iTouch iPod). Citrix Doc Finder will be part of the application, allowing for easier navigability. Windows Mobile and Symbian mobile devices will soon be supported as well, in addition to the Android platform through a partnership with Open Kernel Labs.

Another Apple product—iTunes—was the inspiration for Dazzle, the new self-service “app store” for enterprise IT workers. “It’s all about choice. Choice is the next era of computing,” Templeton said. “We’ve seen that happen everywhere on the Web, and we want to bring that to enterprise computing.”

Different applications are grouped under task type (collaboration, management) and vertical (financial, health care), and a live help option gives users immediate support. It will run with XenApp as a free service. It is scheduled for release in the second half of 2009.

As enterprise workers use more consumer technology in their own lives, making enterprise IT interfaces just as pleasant is becoming increasingly important. This applies to the virtualization space as well, according to Sloan, who said that, as cloud-based and virtualization-like applications become more popular at home, workers will feel more inclined to use them at work. “Those psychological barriers will come down more easily,” he said.

At this point, any differentiators are important: Citrix and virtualization giant VMWare Inc. are almost neck-and-neck right now when it comes to desktop virtualization market share, Sloan said, and ease of use is an important factor in making the product more popular—especially at such a critical stage.

Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Mark Bowker thinks that even more is on the line. “Citrix is ahead in application virtualization, but behind in desktop and server virtualization. They need to really make people aware that they have a virtual desktop solution—a lot of existing and potential customers don’t even know,” he said. “They need to step outside their customer base more as they tend to promote within their customer base rather than externally.”

And there is business for the taking—enterprise implementations of desktop virtualization sit at around five per cent, according to Sloan, but about a third of enterprises are actively exploring desktop virtualization. “It is growing steadily through 2010. It’s sort-of where server virtualization was three years ago,” Sloan said.

IT managers are looking at applications that reduce operational costs and increase operational efficiency, and these tie right into that trend—even if it will most likely take a while. “They way people are actually deploying desktops is very different than what they’re saying,” according to Bowker. “It’s a giant step from where we are now to this self-service model. But they will take smaller steps.”