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Citrix's Harry Labana talks about apps as services and vendor lock-in

Can you decide which desktop applications should be delivered as services? What about job roles in IT? Citrix CTO Harry Labana discusses the changing needs of enterprise IT.

Harry Labana, chief technology officer, Citrix SystemsHarry Labana

As a former technology strategist at Goldman Sachs, Harry Labana has advised clients, bankers and analysts on trends and research opportunities in IT. As chief technology officer of Citrix's desktop and application virtualization division, he is one of the people charged with directing the course of the company. At Interop in New York recently, Labana spoke about how IT shops can identify opportunities and prepare for software services.

Most enterprise IT managers run multivendor shops with legacy gear. They have lots of Windows desktops, mobile devices, etc. Perhaps they want to start planning for a world where applications are delivered as services. Where would you start? And how do you decide which technologies or vendors get left behind?

Harry Labana: First, I'd step back and look at my application inventory. Is it shrink-wrapped, bought off the shelf? Is it in house? Am I using large enterprise applications, SAP, Siebel? What are the strategies I can use to make them more service-oriented? Instead of implementing a large ERP system or CRM, can I buy it from a Salesforce.com? What will my ongoing maintenance cost be? SAP touches all of your processes. Moving forward, do you want to sink more cost into it?

Then I'd look at the services I host internally. Is my collaboration service something that should be hosted by IT? How much should I do myself?

What's in-house becomes more interesting. For the shrink-wrapped applications that carry legacy baggage, I would first ask, How are we licensing them? Is it by device? Is it by process or by user? My desire is to move toward a user model, and I would ask, Which vendor is willing to do it? How much leverage do I have? I would at least abstract the application from the OS so the lifecycle is easy to manage. Then I would start thinking if I can get self-service. If I can get to a user consumption model, then at least I can bill on usage.

And developers have to rethink what they do. They make assumptions about the application. Take an application that sends a lot of bits on a wire. If you use a fat PC, you may be using stored procedures instead of bits on a wire. If your PC is near the data center, you have a huge pipe. You can take advantage of the pipe and process things there. If the horsepower is on the desktop, then throw it on the desktop.

Do you reduce your list of vendors?

Labana: The reality is stuff doesn't go away. You just get more stuff. But anytime you have a platform upgrade, you have to ask, Where is there overlap? People define an application as how they package it for distribution. It may be different from how it was sold to them from a licensing perspective. You have to clean house. As you migrate you survey users. What do you need? That may uncover the value of self-service.

So do you build your world around one vendor?

Labana: I think vendor lock-in is a mistake. You always want choice. You want price leverage. You want to be able to switch things in or out. Smart IT shops try to create as much choice as they can. If they lock into a layer or stack, it's very conscious. People standardize on Cisco or Microsoft. They think it's a bet worth making. But it doesn't mean they don't look at others.

How do you decide the best way to deliver an application?

Labana: First, who are your users? Where are they? What are they going to use, and what are their expectations? That's a key area that people miss. Do users want to consume the application from multiple devices? Will they work from home or travel? Also, does that application have a back end or a middle tier? Where is it [located] physically, and how does that effect the performance of an application?

How does virtualization technology change data center and departmental IT job roles? And what effect does cloud computing have on the traditional IT infrastructure?

Labana: [The job of IT] changes to one of providing service and governance. Typically, IT -- especially on the desktop and server side -- is very functional. There is specialized scaling and storage. Tomorrow's IT people will have to understand they will be providing a service to the business, and they have to know the moving parts. The specialized skills will be outsourced to something cheaper.

Will they need the skills to run something like, say, Microsoft's System Center?

Labana: I don't think so. I think that stuff becomes commoditized. But how far out are we talking? That's also a generational shift.


Continue to part two of this Q&A >>

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