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VMware and Citrix extend virtualization to cloud apps

Web-based and Software as a Service applications are gaining traction in the enterprise. See how VMware and Citrix are moving in that direction.

For the past 20 years or so, corporate applications have been based on Windows. This means that when we talk about desktop and application virtualization, we're really talking about Windows desktops and Windows applications.

In 2010, the vast majority of corporate applications are still Windows apps, however, there's no denying that Web-based and Software as a Service (SaaS) apps delivered by external companies are starting to gain traction as legitimate for business use. Sure, not everyone is using Salesforce.com, but what about corporate expense apps, travel-booking systems and team collaboration?

This has led to a separation between Windows and Web apps within companies. Most IT shops have gotten pretty good at delivering Windows apps -- whether it's with Citrix, Microsoft System Center or just installing the software on users' desktops the old-fashioned way. All of the internal Windows apps are based on the user's network security account, so adding, removing, resetting and changing access is pretty straightforward.

But what about the Web and SaaS apps? In most cases, each user has his or her own logon and user account provided by the app hosting company. This is bad for many reasons, including the following:

  • Adding or removing users requires someone in the IT department to log on to each Web app provider to make the change (in addition to making the change to the internal IT directory).
  • Often, the Web app providers have different security requirements for passwords, so internal passwords might expire every 90 days while the Web app provider's passwords may expire every 120 days. Making matters worse is the fact that different app providers typically have different password complexity requirements.
  • Users have to self-administer all their accounts. They need to manually type in the URL of the Web apps, enter their passwords, etc.

There are some consumer-quality applications for managing passwords that users can run on their laptops to alleviate some of these problems, but the real challenge for IT departments is figuring out how to manage external SaaS apps in the same way they manage internal Windows apps. Since both VMware and Citrix play in the world of desktop and application delivery, they've both announced product strategies that will let them do just this.

At VMworld in San Francisco this past August, VMware announced Project Horizon, a service -- hosted by VMware -- that allows customers to aggregate Windows desktops, Windows apps and SaaS apps into a single location for end users. This mixed collection of apps can be delivered to users via a Web portal, integration with the local Windows desktop (such as icons and shortcuts in the Start Menu) or a new client for "iOS" devices (like the iPad or iPhone).

To make this happen, VMware bought TriCipher, and it plans to use that technology to allow IT departments to connect to the SaaS app providers via open Web standards -- OAuth, SOAP, etc. -- for single sign-on and app provisioning and deprovisioning. VMware is also planning to integrate its Zimbra Web-based collaboration suite to bring everything together into a single offering. VMware says the first versions of Project Horizon should be available in the first half of 2011.

Not to be outdone, Citrix announced OpenCloud Access at Synergy in Berlin this past week. OpenCloud Access will integrate technology that Citrix got from Apere with its NetScaler devices to provide single sign-on to Web and SaaS apps. This single sign-on can be integrated with Citrix Receiver clients and the forthcoming XenDesktop 5 to provide users with seamless and integrated access to Windows desktop, Windows apps and SaaS apps. All of these Citrix offerings will be available by the end of the year.

We're just getting started with the management and integration of SaaS applications, and it will be interesting to watch how these offerings evolve because, like it or not, SaaS apps are becoming a bigger part of our lives every year. So we might as well figure out how to manage them.

Brian Madden is an independent industry analyst and blogger, known throughout the world as an opinionated, supertechnical desktop virtualization expert. He has written several books and more than 1,000 articles about desktop and application virtualization. Madden's blog, BrianMadden.com, receives millions of visitors per year and is a leading source for conversation, debate and discourse about the application and desktop virtualization industry. He is also the creator of BriForum, the premier independent application delivery technical conference.

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