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Citrix antes up with application virtualization platform refresh

The former thin-client king is positioned to rule the application and desktop virtualization market, study says.

Only weeks before Microsoft and rival VMware Inc. host events to showcase their virtualization prowess, Citrix Systems Inc. has beat the rush by introducing a refreshed version of its own application virtualization software.

Citrix is itching to be the markets top purveyor of virtual applications and desktops, and to that end this week will usher in XenApp 5.0, formerly code-named Project Delaware. XenApp 5.0, which was also once known as Presentation Server, among other names, is the company's flagship product.

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Some highlights of the new version include improved performance of applications running virtually on a PC, added support for Windows Server 2008 in addition to Windows Server 2003, a redesigned user interface, and integration with XenDesktop, the Citrix desktop virtualization technology.

In terms of the performance improvements, Sumit Dhawan, vice president of product marketing at Citrix, said the application start-up time has been increased nine-fold over performance offered in the previous version, XenApp 4.5.

From a management perspective, XenApp 5.0 has a new configuration console to offer IT shops better control over how or which applications communicate with each other and in what capacity. There is improved ability to prioritize traffic as well as active performance monitoring capabilities, he said.

The feature that strikes one expert as most significant is one of the least flashy. Andi Mann, research director at Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), a Boulder, Colo.-based consulting firm, said he likes the fact that XenApp 5.0 has a common and simplified user interface.

The interface "brings together a lot of things [Citrix] has acquired over time with a common look and feel," Mann said.

One of the biggest barriers to virtualization technology -- from the server to the desktop -- is that it can be difficult to learn. A study of 633 enterprise customers, released in April 2008 by EMA called "Virtualization and Management: Trends, forecasts and recommendations," shows that 35% of enterprises don't adopt this technology because employees lack the skill to use it. If there is a common feel to a suite that will make it easier to learn, it can help to overcome a lot of resistance to adoption, Mann said.

The market for virtualization across the board will clock a 20% growth rate on average over the next 24 months, Mann said. The strongest segment is desktop virtualization and application virtualization, which are both growing at 26%, he said. Further, Mann said that of all the enterprises surveyed, Citrix is being used by 60% of customers to virtualize desktops and by 45% to virtualize applications.

XenApp 5.0 will be available on Sept. 9. Citrix's Dhawan said there are no changes to the product's pricing. The three editions and their prices are as follows: The Advanced edition costs $350 per concurrent user, the Enterprise edition is $450 per concurrent user and the Platinum edition is $600 per concurrent user.

XenApp now part of XenDesktop

Although IT shops can continue to use XenApp as a standalone product when provisioning physical desktops, version 5.0 will be offered as a feature within XenDesktop. IT shops can store a virtual application on the desktop or in the data center using the same system. This way IT administrators can package the application once and store it in an application hub, installing it on the user's desktop either way depending on the user's requirement.

Dhawan believes that IT managers will begin to rethink their desktop strategies as virtualization technology matures, although a mix of desktop needs will remain. Workers that perform repetitive tasks will do well with a shared desktop system, for example. Mainstream office workers can use desktop virtualization, and for some workers that need PCs with powerful CPUs and have a need to go offline, IT can leverage application virtualization, he said.

Sizing up the competition

Separately, Microsoft will showcase its own server, application and desktop virtualization technology on Sept. 8. VMware's annual event is Sept. 15.

One partner that sells products from Microsoft, VMware and Citrix said he sees Citrix as having complementary tools to what Microsoft offers for the desktop, and superior desktop technology to VMware.

"[The desktop] is where I see VMware struggling, said Jim Steinlage, president of Choice Solutions, an Overland Park, Kansas-based integrator. "They are competing against two companies with a lot of synergy."

Steinlage said he sees a lot of IT shops giving strong consideration to desktop delivery alternatives given the weak economy, security concerns and high management costs.


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