IT Pro Connections Perspectives Part one: Citrix speaks out.

Last month, I attended the excellent IT Pro Connections conference that was held by the Windows IT Pro EMEA team in association with Microsoft in Amsterdam. During my visit, I took the opportunity to sit down with some of the major players at the accompanying expo to get a feel for where they were at now and where they would be heading in the future. First up, I spoke to Andreas van Wingerden, regional manager, systems engineering, for Citrix Systems.

Seamus Quinn (SQ): What are the parts of your product range that you are particularly interested in getting the message across about at an event like this?

Andreas van Wingerden (AW): What we’ve tried to do is show our value-add on top of Terminal Server \[now Citrix Presentation Server\]. And to introduce some of the new concepts and newer technologies we have added to our product portfolio. We are an add-on product, but we come from different perspective, which fits in nicely with what Microsoft is trying to do in the market space as well. We not only look at traditional Windows applications, we’re also looking at web-based applications, making them more secure, optimising their connections, optimising application usage and securing those. Nowadays, we are basically split in-between, on the one hand, pure software sales and, on the other hand, appliances sales. Our appliances offerings are as of yet relatively unknown to the general public. We’ve been working at them over the last two years, starting off with a SSL VPN appliance and moving up to high-end network optimisation technologies and appliances.

Our focus has been to show what Presentation Server can bring to a customer’s site, but also introduce the idea that we are not only about server-based computing. If you look at our latest offering, we’re also looking at integrating technologies to service the traditional FTP client or client/server deployment. Not because client/server is the future, but we believe that it will be around, like everything else prior to traditional client/server is still around. I mean, the mainframe is still there. Client/server will be there, traditional desktop computing will be there, although we might all want to move to a web-based environment. I believe personally that it will not happen overnight; it will take a long time before we finally get there. And that’s all got to do with cost. It is too costly for organisations to transform their applications from what they are today into a fully web-based environment.

SQ: Well, not all enterprise applications are suitable for web-enablement

AW: What we see is that basically you have two different types of application, one which requires a network connection to actually work and be of value, and one which actually you can do without. Like the traditional Microsoft Office environment; except for the Outlook Client, why would I want and need a network connection to use a word processing? I can safely use this without any form of network connection, and what you see in our technologies now is that we separate it. Okay, if you need a network connection that’s when you can look at server-based computing solutions like what we do with Presentation Server. If not, you still might offer them from a centralised environment, but you might also look at a traditional deployment scenario. And what we then do is that we don’t look at the deployment, what we look at is the delivery mechanism in which basically what we can do is update the applications centrally and when the user needs them, deliver them to them.

We have identified three different platforms. On the one hand you’ll see the web-based applications, which are solutions from our portfolio. Then we look at the Windows-based applications; that’s where we service with Presentation Server and all of its features. And in a separate division within Citrix nowadays, we look at the desktop deployment. Why do we take desktops separately? It’s because that is basically what we see today technology-wise are three different solutions. You have the traditional shared desktop in which we look at a Terminal Server deployment, for instance. But we’ve seen new technologies arising like virtualising with virtual machines.

Each solution has their own specific user group within an organisation. So what we’ve built is a new product called Desktop Server. The user does not want to know what he needs, the user just wants a desktop. So we’ll let him connect to the environment and we’ll look, based upon his profile and his role within the organisation, and perhaps even time of day, at whether we give him a shared desktop, or go all the way back down to a full-blown blade PC-based concept and anything in-between just to say: “Okay, this is what he’ll be needing today to do his work properly”. What Citrix has always thought around the shared desktop is that we can service 70% to 80% of the user population with a shared desktop environment using Terminal Server kind of technologies.

But there’s a specific route that either needs more personalisation or just more processing capacity which does not like to be shared. I mean a developer, he costs a lot of money, and you want his productivity to be as high as possible. So we’ll give him, for instance, a blade PC. Whereas with the CEO of an organisation you might want to give him a virtualised environment and say “Yes, we’ll serve you the applications, we’ll deliver those to you, but you can still change your desktop background and you can still add applications yourself if you need.” And you don’t want to have the hassle of that on the centralised environment. Give him that shared environment, let him enter his own applications. If it all breaks, we’ll just revert back into the shared desktop which we had previously.

SQ: Do you think IT managers gets this concept, or is it a bit too sophisticated for them at this moment in time?

AW: What we see is that virtualisation is a perceptual thing, at least within the IT pro community. A lot of the IT managers are still focused at their network. Basically, the network admin, he’s like God within the organisation. If he says: “There’s no issue with his network”, he’s automatically believed and the issue probably resides somewhere else. What we tend to find is that most of the time it’s not just the network, or not just the application, it’s a combination of things. So virtualisation is on the one hand hot, but the IT manager says: “Well, I don’t care, I’m looking from a business perspective and I need to make sure that the business can do what it wants.”

That’s why we are now trying to building what we call an application delivery infrastructure to constantly be serviceable to a dynamic organisation. What we tend to believe is that it is a dynamic world. I mean, everything’s constantly changing and traditional thinking is not helping. The traditional way of thinking is: “We’ll buy the fastest computers possible; we’ll buy the fastest network we can afford and the fastest servers”. The problem is that in the end you get locked down, because we cannot keep on spending money on new PCs. Although the industry might like that, that’s not what’s going on. Within the company, they’ll have a three year time period for any form of investment, but the business is changing faster than a three year time period.

Provided we get the IT manager to move up a step, that’s our biggest challenge, but that’s also the most rewarding, because a lot of times they’ll get it and then they’ll say: “Okay, so how about virtualisation?” And I say: “Well, virtualisation is only looking at centralising servers and virtualising those. That’s nothing to do with applications at all.” And they will say: “Yeah, but what about my network guy?”.

Well, the network guy’s just looking at that piece of the puzzle; he’s not looking at the big picture, and that is what I see – what we’re trying to do, but also what I see that Microsoft is trying to do – is getting them more focused on applications and offering value to the organisation with a good return on investment and a good cost of ownership, because in the end that’s still what’s going on. Microsoft’s whole message has been, do more with less and basically that’s what’s going on in the market and that’s what we’re trying to say as well. “Look, yes, virtualisation is good, but do you want to invest money in a potential hype?” I mean, it might well be over in a couple of years. I don’t think so, because I think the technology is very good and it definitely has a place, but it should be put into its place and not the Holy Grail for IT.

SQ: Security is something that you guys know a fair bit about. Where do you think IT pros sit with security at the moment as an issue?

AW: We have introduced what we call smart access which looks further than just user ID and password, but at location, picking up which device are you using and changing. And what we get from the IT manager is: “Whoa that’s really fantastic.” On the other hand, if we’ve not spoken to them what are we getting back is: “Can you do this when I’m in a hotel with a kiosk PC; can you still deliver application?” And my question back is always: “Do you want us to?”

Yes, of course we can give you a full blown application, because that’s always been our mission, access to information wherever you are, any time, any place. But from a security perspective, do you want to? And they all go: “How do you mean?” And I say: “Well, the concept of having access to the application no matter where you are, no matter what device is great, but from a security perspective, that’s very risky.” And then they go: “Yeah, you’re right.”

What we see is that nowadays is that IT pros are getting pressured by governance to, well, look at what they’re doing. And maybe that personal information about my employees should not be accessible from outside of our building. So they say: “Well, how do you do it? Because I’ve got this great Terminal Server Citrix solution, so basically I can access it from anywhere”. And then we say: “Yeah, but that’s why we’ve added on top and looked at the challenges from the market and given you those opportunities and possibilities. But you have to decide from a senior level what you’ll be rolling out within your organisation.”

That means basically sitting in a room for a couple of hours with some IT professionals to discuss what is technically possible, but also what we want from an organisational point of view. And so, within Citrix that’s why we spend a lot of our time building products, listening to our customers about what perhaps needs to be improved, but also educating each other and our customers is important.

I’ll say to the Citrix team: “Okay, look, we have run across this, could we solve it? Is it solvable with what we have today?” And even as systems engineers, we have to educate ourselves on the latest legislation, and what is going on and what is effectively being done in the market. Because now and again you’ll see legislation coming up in six to 12 months and until that six or 12 months is up, companies won’t start to move. And that’s now and again frightening.

SQ: There certainly does seem to be both complacency and also ignorance of compliance issues.

AW: Because I do a lot of presenting for Citrix, I’ve gone up on stage and I’ve talked about legislation which we know is affecting local organisations. And the audience say: “Well, where did you find that? We’re not even aware of that.” And that’s probably because high up in the management chain they do know, or they should know, but that message is not going down to the guy on the work floor and the developers. The only thing what I’ve seen within our government is that whole PKI infrastructure they’re building. That’s very hot to them because that’s been government-driven. Other organisations, unless it’s what they see as perceived to be of benefit to their organisations, they’ll not invest heavily in it in the short term.

SQ: Are there any other issues you think that are hot topics for you at the moment?

AW: Really what we are trying to get across is to make people aware of what we stand for today. I gave a presentation yesterday at an event to around a 150 people and most of them were thinking that they were getting a new Terminal Server add on pitch, and then I introduced them to what we are offering today, our application delivery strategy, and it was much broader. I think that people should understand that Citrix is no longer a one trick pony and that we stand for simplifying business with new technologies but not doing technology for technology’s sake.

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