Hits and misses from Citrix Synergy 2014

Citrix unveiled Workspace Services at its Synergy 2014 conference in Anaheim, but no one explained how Framehawk fits into Citrix's puzzle.

At Citrix Synergy 2014 -- the sixteenth one that I've attended -- I had many expectations. Among them were a strong mobility message, something related to the Framehawk Inc. acquisition, a Type-2 client hypervisor for Windows, a DaaS angle (which the company has been oddly silent about), and something­ -- anything -- to reclaim some buzz from all the headline-grabbing things that VMware has been doing.

There were some hits and misses, and I want to touch on how the show compared to my own expectations.

What missed: Framehawk details, DesktopPlayer for Windows

For me, the biggest thing missing from the show had to do with Framehawk. Earlier this year, Citrix acquired Framehawk Inc. for its LFP protocol. LFP is a remote desktop protocol specifically designed for high-latency, low-reliability environments. The demo Framehawk has is spectacular, and those who have seen it in action couldn't help but be excited by the acquisition. Unfortunately, there was no announcement of a product featuring the Framehawk technology during the show.

What I did manage to learn is that Citrix wants to fold LFP into HDX "the right way" rather than just bolting it on to Receiver. I like this approach, and though I'm disappointed there wasn't something tangible on display (other than the same old Framehawk demo), I'm happy to hear it hasn't fallen to the wayside.

Last year, people were excited that Citrix finally released DesktopPlayer for Mac, a Type 2 client hypervisor based on Oracle VirtualBox that enables IT to deploy Windows virtual machines to Macs. It's a feature that enterprises and especially education have been waiting on for many years.

This year, I expected to see a version for Windows to address those use cases where IT can't replace the OS on a laptop with a bare-metal hypervisor. Oracle also makes VirtualBox for Windows, so that seemed like an easy step, but Citrix has something else in mind (or something else that development cycles are being spent on). Despite the lack of talk about it at the show, I still expect to see DesktopPlayer for Windows someday.

What hit: XenMobile, Citrix Workspace Services

From a mobility perspective, Citrix Synergy 2014 was a great show. WorxMail looks great, and the introduction of WorxNotes, an Evernote-like app that can be delivered alongside the other apps in the Worx suite looks like a nice value-add. I particularly liked WorxDesktop, which provides a mobile interface to files that reside on a user's desktop, complete with a file viewer. If users need to do more with a file than the native mobile app can provide, they have the option to establish a GoToMyPC session back to their desktop to use a Windows application.

Citrix also took a bit of the sizzle off of all the recent VMware news by announcing a migration kit to help customers move from XenApp 6.5 to XenApp 7.5. It's a challenging process to accomplish manually, so even if the feature gap between the products isn't a big deal, the forklift migration is. Given the fact that you can install VMware Horizon 6 directly on a XenApp server, anything Citrix can do to ease the migration process is beneficial. Unfortunately, the migration kit isn't out yet.

On the desktop as a service (DaaS) front, Citrix made a huge announcement about a product called Citrix Workspace Services. Yes, this means there are now four desktop virtualization tools with "workspace" in the title: VMware Horizon Workspace, Dell vWorkspace, Amazon WorkSpaces and now Citrix's product.

Apart from the confusion around the name (perhaps it was intentional to make people say "Citrix" first?), the hard-to-breathe-it's-so-high-level outline of Workspace Services presented at the show appears to be just what Citrix needed to do to break free from the confines of the data center and offer a legitimate cloud product. Citrix Workspace Services, in one sentence, is supposed to move the management plane up from the data center to Windows Azure, giving organizations the ability to manage mobile, application and desktop services that reside on a variety of providers, both in the cloud and on-premises.

More from Citrix Synergy 2014

Citrix Synergy 2014 conference coverage

Why IT pros are worried about XenMobile deployment

Desktops and apps meet in Workspace Suite

The real deal on DaaS

Citrix partnered with Microsoft in the ultimate power play to smite VMware. Running on Azure means that any company that's already embraced Office 365, SharePoint or any other Azure service has already "certified" the platform for enterprise use. It also affirms the relationship between Citrix and Microsoft, which can appear dicey at times -- pretty much any time Microsoft adds a feature that Citrix already had.

The biggest problem with Workspace Services is that from outside the Citrix bubble, it's just a concept. In fact, the announcement was only that a tech preview of Citrix Workspace Services would be available sometime in the second half of 2014, which could be upwards of seven months away. So while it's easy to get all worked up about a product that alters the trajectory of a company, I wouldn't hold my breath until something more tangible comes out. Complicated tools like this can find themselves in developmental hell, either released prematurely or long after they were first anticipated.

Overall, Citrix Synergy 2014 was lacking in seismic announcements. In a way, that's good, because there was no talk of fanciful products or bombastic claims against the competition. Of course I'd like to come away more excited than I am from a show that I've been attending for most of my career, but what I lack in excitement I make up for in hope. If Citrix pulls off this new vision with Workspace Services, it means that retiring CEO Mark Templeton has pointed the company in the right direction before handing the reins to someone else.

This was first published in May 2014

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