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Can Citrix, VMware app virtualization stack up against Microsoft?

Citrix is so enthusiastic in its support for Microsoft App-V that some customers wonder if it might pull the plug on its own application streaming. And whither VMware ThinApp?

With Microsoft's App-V software running a strong lead in the application virtualization market, there is reason to question whether competing software from Citrix or VMware has a fighting chance of gaining customer share.

The fact that Citrix added support for Microsoft App-V in XenApp 6 and encouraged customers to use it as an alternative to the company's own built-in app streaming was also seen by some as a sign that Citrix may not have a long-term interest in continuing to advance its own application-streaming technology.

People keep asking if we will be de-emphasizing our own native technologies, and the answer is absolutely not.


Alicia Rey
Director of XenApp productsCitrix

Eugene Alfaro, an IT manager at a construction materials company in California, is among those who have heard talk that Citrix will ditch its streaming technology because it's rarely necessary in XenApp environments.

"Where it does make sense is when an app is not supported in a multitenant system, such as terminal servers," Alfaro said. "However, because those [instances] are rare, app streaming just does not show up as a necessary option."

Others say that Citrix streaming technology simply falls short of App-V, which is based on technology that Microsoft acquired from Softricity in 2006.

Jim Sanzone, a desktop and application virtualization consultant at a major IT services firm in New York, said some of his clients use VMware ThinApp, but most use Microsoft App-V -- which is why Citrix support for App-V is a good move, he said. Though the two companies are extremely close partners, "in the end, Microsoft just has a better product," he said.

Microsoft continues to enrich App-V with capabilities such as support server applications. The software has gained traction in shops moving to Windows 7, especially since it includes capabilities that support Microsoft desktop offerings. For example, the Office 2010 Deployment Kit for App-V lets users open and edit virtualized Office 2010 applications and save them as Office files hosted with Windows SharePoint.

App-V is included as part of Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) 2010, which is sold only to Software Assurance customers and to Remote Desktop Services customers.

What Citrix says about its application streaming plans
While Citrix has taken heat for supporting App-V by integrating it into XenApp 6 (via plug-ins), the company has gained access to more Windows IT shops. That's why it encourages customers to use App-V. Citrix insists that it has no plans to divest or de-emphasize its own streaming technology.

"People keep asking if we will be de-emphasizing our own native technologies, and the answer is absolutely not," said Alicia Rey, director of XenApp products. "We endorse App-v because it is becoming an industry-standard technology."

Rey added that Citrix plans to update XenApp and XenDesktop in 2011 and make some enhancements to its application streaming.

But why would an IT shop use Citrix's application-streaming technology over App-V? On this, the company is not so clear. Tim Graf, director of Citrix application streaming, said the situation would depend on the application. He noted that many customers run both products because Citrix app streaming and App-V can run simultaneously.

"It used to be that people would use Citrix streaming, have a problem and move to App-V, or apps with services attached to it would be better for App-V," Graf said. "But that is no longer an issue because in XenApp 6, we now support services [isolation]."

The technology comes at no cost to customers, so Citrix doesn't care which product they use. "The overall objective is to get people to use the [XenApp] stack," Graf said.

VMware lays out ThinApp strategy
VMware has to compete against Microsoft and Citrix with ThinApp, which is either part of the VMware View Premiere package or a standalone product.

Today, it is typically used in VMware shops that need to run legacy apps on Windows 7 or multiple versions of applications, such as Java, simultaneously, said Raj Mallempati, VMware's desktop marketing manager.

ThinApp has its limitations. It doesn't support 64-bit applications or apps that run services such as antivirus software. By comparison, Microsoft App-V 4.6 supports 32-bit and 64-bit apps and services, and Citrix XenApp 6 supports 64-bit apps.

But VMware considers ThinApp an important part of its desktop virtualization strategy and said it will continue to develop the technology. The company may include 64-bit support in future editions, though support for server applications and for apps that run services is not on the roadmap, Mallempati said.

When application streaming makes sense
Pacer Hibler, a network engineer at New Hanover Regional Medical Center in North Carolina, said he uses Citrix application streaming because it is included with XenApp at no extra cost, and it's useful for isolating incompatible applications.

For example, he said, you can't install Microsoft Office 2007 on the same server as Office 2010 or have two versions of Adobe or multiple SAP Crystal Runtimes.

"In an environment where you have over 300 applications from multiple vendors, you have to be able to run conflicting applications on the same servers," Hibler said. Without application virtualization, each application needs to run on its own server.

Application streaming is also useful for upgrading apps that are physically installed, he said.

"You generally have to migrate users off those servers, which in a 24/7 shop, that's not always easy," Hibler said. "If you are using application streaming, you can just update the isolated application and then roll it in. Nobody is impacted, and nobody has to be kicked off."

Also, companies that need to virtualize just a few troublesome apps can do it more economically by using application streaming, said consultant Sanzone. All an IT shop needs to make it worthwhile are just a few applications. It doesn't have to be a large-scale virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) project.

Let us know what you think about this story; email Bridget Botelho or follow @BridgetBotelho on Twitter.

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