Can Citrix Make Any Windows App or Desktop a Cloud Service?

Citrix is focused on helping enterprises deal with the challenge of running desktops and applications in a new mobile-centric world where tablets and smartphones proliferate.

"The technologies that we have, including application and desktop virtualization, allow companies to deliver applications to any type of device with control and security," says CTO Martin Duursma.

The Company: Citrix Systems

Headquarters: Santa Clara, Calif.

Employees: 6,936

2011 Revenue: $2.21 billion

CEO: Mark Templeton

What They Do: Citrix offers products for virtualizing desktops, servers and applications, along with products for building private or public clouds. The lineup includes XenDesktop for desktop virtualization, NetScaler for cloud networking, and CloudPlatform for cloud computing. Its portfolio also includes GoTo collaboration services.

In addition, Citrix will be rolling out Project Avalon, which aims to transform any Windows application or desktop into a cloud service that's delivered across any network, to any device. It will also offer integrated management.

"Just like cloud platforms allow enterprises to industrialize the way that enterprises do compute and storage workloads, Avalon is bringing some of that technology to Windows applications and desktops," says Duursma.

The Catch: Complexity

Citrix's biggest strength is that it offers multiple delivery models for applications and desktops. But that flexibility comes at a cost, since enterprises have to use multiple consoles to manage those technologies. That is Citrix's biggest weakness, according to Brett Waldman, an analyst at IDC (a unit of CIO's parent company).

Nathan Hill, an analyst at Gartner, agrees: "The feedback we are getting is that it can still be quite complex to configure and deploy a Citrix architecture."

Project Avalon aims to fix this. A recent IDC report said that the cloud offering "will finally bring a unified interface to managing the different client virtualization products Citrix has created or acquired." But it remains to be seen how well Citrix can execute that vision.

While there is a lot of customer interest in running desktops in the cloud, software licensing has to change. "One of the big barriers to any service provider trying to offer a virtualized desktop service is how Microsoft licenses access to a Windows OS," Hill says.

Project Avalon Gets Personal

Citrix claims that Project Avalon will allow CIOs to rapidly deploy personalized Windows applications and desktops in a private cloud across multiple sites, and to use public clouds in a capacity-on-demand fashion to support business initiatives such as business continuity, offshoring projects, or integrating mergers and acquisitions.

And unlike vanilla desktop-as-a-service offerings, Citrix says, Project Avalon will deliver a personalized workspace to end users by ensuring that user profiles, settings and application data are securely delivered to every user.

"I saw a demo of Project Avalon and thought it was pretty cool," says Chris Moses, CTO at independent broker-dealer E.K. Riley Investments.

Running cloud-based desktops is an attractive proposition. Desktops require a lot of IT infrastructure, and being able to leverage cloud vendors' IT capacity and robustness would be a huge benefit, according to Moses.

However, security requirements will make it hard for a firm like E.K. Riley to move its desktops to the cloud, he cautions. "So while I like the Project Avalon concept, it's going to be hard for us to fully embrace something like that," Moses says.

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