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Reporter's notebook -- Citrix Synergy 2010

One intrepid editor blended in with the crowd at Citrix Synergy. He found IT folks are ready move pilots to production, though hurdles remain.

Associate site editor Eugene Demaitre hit the floor of Citrix's Synergy 2010 in San Francisco last week to check out the sessions and meet with virtual desktop pioneers. Here are some of his initial observations for those of you who couldn't attend.

  • For the most part, the show was packed. Dan Kusnetsky, research director at The 451 Group, said the exhibit area was smaller than in recent years. About 4,600 attended, compared with about 2,700 people in the past few years, according to one Citrix product manager.
  • At an introductory panel of Citrix execs and a few other experts on the future of desktops, the first question tackled was "What do you think was the most important innovation of the past 10 years?"

    Consultant Shawn Bass said streaming. Martin Duursma, vice president of Citrix Labs, nominated application publishing. Harry Labana, CTO of XenApp and the desktop product group at Citrix, said MSI and remote display. Brad Peterson, Citrix chief architect, offered up modern protocols such as RDP.

    Brian Madden, blogger, consultant and a TechTarget colleague, exclaimed "Windows, which has made our lives hell and given us all lots of work!" But one audience member noted that no one had mentioned the hypervisor, despite all of Citrix's promotion around XenClient.

  • When asked, "What will have the greatest impact in the next 10 years?" the panelists agreed that it will be separating the user interface from applications and the operating system. "Crappy management will be here for a while," quipped Labana, and Bass said that mobile and content-delivery networks are important.

    Not so many people are using Google Apps, according to a show of hands from the audience. But there are still a lot of 16-bit apps out there and lots of users.

    Personalization and non-PC users will be important, Labana said. Improving the end-user experience is key to gaining acceptance. "If you can't show them something that's at least equal to what they're using now, they'll see no reason for change," Labana said.

    Alex Johnson, a senior solution architect at Arrow ECS in Norway, predicted that within two years, Microsoft will charge fees for Windows services rather than for a desktop operating system.
  • At a crowded session on "Gathering intelligence for your virtual desktop initiative," Michael Keen, strategist at VisionApp, said he hopes that the term VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) "dies a quick death" because it's too broad.

  • Though most present had heard of local VM-based virtualization, only one person had been a beta user of XenClient, and a few people knew of PXE booting. Keen and others said a blend of technologies is most likely, with XenApp helping. He recommended first creating a "matrix of use scenarios." Although many attendees are still at the pilot phase or earlier, Citrix and its partners are trying hard to get them to start virtualizing production desktops soon.

  • Environmental and infrastructure challenges include bandwidth and latency, the user experience, and load balancing, according to Keen. The audience added offline laptops and antivirus protection to the list of hurdles to overcome.

  • Don't believe the hype
  • IT must assess several environmental and infrastructure factors, Keen said, reminding his note-taking audience to avoid the "hype cycle." For example, Gartner had predicted that "the majority of desktops would be virtualized by 2010," he said, but in fact, only 9% are in production, with about 16% in the pilot phase. About 28% of enterprises are not even interested.

    Over at rival number cruncher IDG, a survey of IT managers had found that 54% were considering desktop virtualization to reduce costs, but only one person found this to be true, Keen said. An attendee from Amerisure Insurance piped up, saying he had reduced help desk calls 80% by skipping a PC refresh to move to thin clients.

  • Virtual desktops require reorgs
  • In addition to making a business case for virtual desktops, a common buzz heard around the event was that enterprises need to be ready for an organizational shift. Keen pointed out that virtualization has traditionally been the domain of the server team, which squabbles with the data center and desktop support teams.

    Collaboration will take time, Keen said. He showed a slide applying the ISO v3 lifecycle to services -- including the phases of strategy, design, transition, operation and continual improvement.
  • An overflowing session titled "Desktop virtualization for the real world" analyzed two case studies: American Express and a college. Dustin Fennell, CIO at Scottsdale Community College, described the range of virtualization options, from local PCs to hosted applications, with VDI as just one part of the spectrum.

    The school provisions virtual desktops to the transient student population and adjunct professors. Fennell uses Citrix's NetScaler for secure VPN travel and unified management and said that Microsoft's changes to its VECD license were helpful.

  • In an aside, Donat Forrest, associate dean of engineering technology and computer science at Broward College in Coconut Creek, Fla., said the discussion was relevant to the labs and nonacademic side of business at his school, if not to every organization. "I would initially work with XenApp -- without virtual desktops -- although an end-to-end solution could save hardware costs," he said. "But it will take time. IT management needs to market to end users."

  • We're like the pioneers, facing bows and arrows, but then the settlers arrive, and they're the heroes.
    Bill Wood
    EngineerSagewood Systems
  • Stephen Greenberg, president of integrator Thin Client Computing, recounted how he had helped Fortune 100 company American Express manage payment services after it acquired GE's corporate credit division. He had to work fast -- only 90 days -- and had to comply with strict financial regulations including some that required keeping Amex and GE data separate. While the integration was expensive and complex, Greenberg hopes it'll eventually facilitate virtual payment systems.

  • Enterprises should adopt virtualization in phases with existing licenses, staffers and budgets, Fennell recommended. CFOs will be easier to convince if IT tries a free hypervisor and justifies the expenses as a substitute for a desktop refresh, he said.
  • "IT loves virtualization, except for the PC techs," said Mike Meyer, president of network consultancy Aspen Systems, after a breakout on achieving business agility and cost control through desktop virtualization.

    Meyer and Bill Wood, an engineer at Sagewood Systems, have been working on a virtual desktop project at Cottage Health Systems in Santa Barbara, Calif. Meyer and Wood agreed with Keen that centralized management requires different skills and mixed environment call for cultural change.

    "We're like the pioneers, facing bows and arrows, but then the settlers arrive, and they're the heroes," Wood said.

    The CIO at Cottage Health Systems has committed to moving to VDI "in the next month," and Meyer and Wood were at the show to quickly move past the proof-of-concept phase of the past six to eight months to licensing, scaling and installation. Cottage Health Systems hopes to repurpose PCs but not rely on local or group policies.

    Instead of weighing virtual machines vs. streaming, the consultants said they prefer Wyse, Devon IT or Storage Solutions because they "need to know now" how to scale up the health system's infrastructure, in spite of questions about startup expenses and total cost of operation.

Coming soon: Part 2 of this reporter's notebook!

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