Citrix's new desktop GM reveals DaaS, XenDesktop and XenApp plans

Citrix's new VP and GM of desktops and apps discusses the road ahead for DaaS and how Citrix will evolve XenDesktop and XenApp to meet IT needs.

The desktop virtualization technologies that IT shops have invested heavily in are quickly changing shape, and what these tools will look like in years to come depends largely on the vision of top brass at Citrix and VMware.

Both companies underwent leadership shakeups recently. VMware Inc. poached two of competitor Citrix's executives, including Vice President and General Manager (GM) of Citrix's desktop and apps, Bob Schultz, to run its end-user computing strategy -- appointments viewed as a nod to Citrix's desktop and applications technologies.

Schultz's replacement at Citrix is Rakesh Narasimhan, an entrepreneurial systems engineer with a long history at Microsoft. He spent 15 years as GM in Microsoft's Server and Tools division, working on technologies including Microsoft Azure, Windows Server and Client, virtualization, and security. Most recently, he served as president and CEO at InstallFree Inc., which delivered Microsoft apps as a subscription-based cloud service to any device. That company was acquired by WatchDox Inc. in December 2012.

Here, he discusses the gravitational forces influencing virtual desktop and application tools, competing against Amazon in Desktop as a Service (DaaS), and how Citrix will evolve XenDesktop and XenApp in the years ahead.

You went from being a Microsoft GM to CEO of a company that allowed users to run Microsoft applications from any browser on any device. I am going to guess that Microsoft didn't like that very much.

Rakesh NarasimhanRakesh Narasimhan

Rakesh Narasimhan: (Laughs) I wouldn't say they didn't like it. …

When you run a large business, you can [lose] a direct line of site to users. I was personally going through different ideas about the software experience and asking, 'Is it compelling for the user?' [Companies] do things in their development cycle that lose track of that.

I knew some venture capitalists, and they had this thing that they wanted to make compelling. After consulting with them and making a recommendation, they offered me a chance to deliver it. It was a small company [called InstallFree] that could make a big impact on user experience.

Microsoft tried to make sure the licensing model made sense. … And we were legitimate in terms of SPLA [Services Provider License Agreement] licensing, but our ability to scale users and our finite timeline to do it [was an issue]. ... WatchDox lacked the ability we had, and so [the acquisition] was a good marriage.

Do you see a future in which the Windows OS -- or any OS for that matter -- is extinct?

Narasimhan: Who knows -- I'm not a prognosticator. The marketplace for accessing and using desktops and apps continues to exist. There are things people write about saying 'X is dead,' but nothing happens overnight. It also presumes that companies like Microsoft aren't going to innovate.

There are two audiences: those that create content and desktops [that] are necessary for that market -- it is vibrant and growing; then there is the consumption market -- tablets from Apple and Google are exploding in demand, and that's where users face transition … but sharing and securely accessing desktops is still necessary. The need to access desktops and apps won't be less. There is a world where people need desktop, but mobile momentum will continue.

Citrix has a symbiotic relationship with Microsoft. What's your experience with the new CEO, Satya Nadella, and how will having a cloud guy leading the company affect Citrix's relationship with Microsoft?

Narasimhan: He is a great guy -- high IQ, clear decision maker, a great choice for the company. … He is cognizant of the industry shifts. We have a great relationship with [Microsoft] today and continue to collaborate with them. There is a lot of opportunity in working on things together. We have similar partners. And their hybrid cloud story holds enormous potential for us.

Microsoft is expected to deliver its own Windows as a Service. What will Citrix do with its DaaS offering if that happens?

Narasimhan: We have thought about that possibility -- we live in an industry where lots of these situations occur. … I don't know much about Mohoro, but it could be a combined opportunity, and I will have conversations with Brad [Anderson, Microsoft's Windows Server and System Center Group VP] about that.

Citrix offers Windows as a Service through partners, but it is known to be an expensive option. In fact, AWS uses Citrix XenDesktop in its VDI vs. DaaS cost model to show how much less expensive Amazon Workspaces is: 56%, they say. Does Citrix have any interest in delivering a low-cost DaaS option?

Narasimhan: We continue to offer a great service, and at a premium, because we offer better performance. However, we will respond to the market and make sure our partners are ready to deliver that capability.

But folks like Amazon and what they offer -- [Windows Server-based DaaS] -- has been done for a while. They've gotten a lot of press, but it's not new. We can offer it and so can our partners.

The philosophical difference between us and some others is we have a 100% partner-focused approach [with DaaS]. The idea that you can deliver full-service desktops from the cloud is something we are philosophically all in for. The market is not one-size-fits-all. … Diversity is important.

DaaS is easier to deploy than VDI, and there isn't an up-front infrastructure investment. With this approach to virtual desktops gaining so much attention, how do server-hosted VDI products such as XenDesktop and VMware View stand a chance?

Narasimhan: You'll continue to have different scenarios; the question is how much content will continue to be delivered from a PC and how much will be developed to run on desktops? My view is that people will need access to apps, and people want to be productive no matter whatdevice they are using, no matter where they are.

Can you give us a roadmap glimpse for XenDesktop and XenApp?

Narasimhan: We'll continue to focus on what we delivered in [XenDesktop and XenApp 7.5] -- simplicity and delivery, ensuring we can mobilize desktops and devices.

We are addressing simplifying and making things cost-effective. In terms of DaaS and partners delivering to the market, we aren't trying to be the one-size-fits-all of our competitors. We will make sure XenDesktop will be deliverable from the cloud and locally.

You'll also see us amplify the fact that we are trying to drive down application costs and complexity. People want to access their apps on mobile with a native experience. It used to be a bonus; now it is expected. That's what we are working on.

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