Microsoft-Citrix bolster partnership against VMware

Microsoft Corp. has made a clear competitive move against its virtualization rival VMware Inc. by announcing licensing improvements for virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) users, and collaborations on adoption programs and technology with Citrix Systems Inc., said one analyst.


“Clearly Microsoft is taking direct aim at VMware. They see VMware is their key competitor,” said John Sloan, lead research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Ltd.


The Redmond, Wash.-based company announced Thursday a slew of updates regarding its desktop virtualization offerings. It has simplified its VDI licensing to allow customers to flexibly transition PCs between VDI and distributed environments. Often, customers have no idea at the outset where their PCs are going to get allocated, said Gavriella Schuster, general manager of Windows product group at Microsoft.


There were licensing changes to secondary device access like home PCs, hotels and airport kiosks such that users could roam outside of the corporate walls and still get a “full desktop experience,” said Schuster. “(Customers) told us that our VDI licensing is a little complex and confusing,” she said.


Sloan agrees that customers implementing VDI were unhappy with the licensing model and repeatedly named Microsoft licensing a major pain point in the process. “The sense was almost that Microsoft was engineering their license to discourage VDI,” said Sloan.


The confusing and costly licensing structure also fueled skepticism among customers and partners about how serious Microsoft really was about desktop virtualization, said Sloan. Microsoft has seen the light and knows it must make changes, he said.


Microsoft has also upgraded two technologies that are part of its desktop virtualization offerings – RemoteFX and Dynamic Memory – that will be part of the Windows Server 2008 RC 2 SP1. RemoteFX will enable “very rich experiences around 3D graphics, access to rich multimedia content, all from the VDI experience,” said Garth Fort, general manager of system center and virtualization with Microsoft.


This move by Microsoft and Citrix reflects the effort that VDI vendors have been making toward better user experience in late 2009 and early 2010, said Sloan. Regardless of VDI vendor, a limitation has always been the quality of rich media remote accessing, said Sloan. Like Microsoft’s RemoteFX, Citrix and VMware each have their own protocols. “The fact that Microsoft is embracing Citrix’s value-add like HDX indicates it is more closely throwing in its lot with Citrix,” said Sloan.


Microsoft also made improvements to its Dynamic Memory technology, which lets IT administrators better dynamically adjust memory for each virtual machine depending on user load. “That is going to allow a big improvement in cost savings from a server perspective,” said Fort.


Building on an existing partnership with Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Citrix, both companies are collaborating on two customer programs. The VDI Kick Start Program is designed to lower the barrier to entry by giving customers a deal on both company offerings. The VMware View Rescue program targets customers unhappy with VMware’s View technology by letting them trade up to 500 unused licenses for ones with VDI Suite and XenDesktop.


“(It’s for) all customers who had a great experience with VMware in the server and then rushed right out to do the same thing with the desktop and ran into a brick wall,” said Wes Wasson, chief marketing officer at Citrix.


But while there are indeed challenges when going from server to desktop virtualization, said Sloan, the issue is not specific to VMware, as Microsoft and Citrix suggest. “It is really an issue of who your customers are, who is trying to do it,” said Sloan.


Overall, the announcements by Microsoft and Citrix are a “major challenge” to VMware, said Sloan, but the question remains whether both companies will continue to co-operate or compete.


Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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