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Citrix integrates NxTop and XenClient, introduces Project Avalon

Citrix is on a roll. The company flooded VDI shops with news of updated offerings and detailed the future of acquired competitor Virtual Computer.

Citrix's plan for Virtual Computer NxTop became clear during the Synergy 2012 conference this week. Many IT pros see the acquisition as a positive move for both companies, but Virtual Computer shops and partners wonder where this leaves them.

This could threaten ... Microsoft's desktop dominance.

Alan Rabideau,
CIO of Residential Finance Corp.

Citrix Systems, Inc. also announced at its show in San Francisco a number of updates to its desktop virtualization offerings and a glimpse of an upcoming cloud-based virtual desktop and application platform, code-named Project Avalon.

How Virtual Computer will integrate with XenClient

As previously reported, Citrix acquired Virtual Computer, Inc., effectively eliminating a XenClient competitor and gaining technology that its own client hypervisor lacked.

Some of Virtual Computer's NxTop technologies have already been integrated into a new version of Citrix's client hypervisor -- XenClient Enterprise Edition -- which will include backup and recovery, added security, synchronization and more when it becomes available this quarter.

Many industry insiders expected Citrix to buy the technology to integrate it into XenClient, since Virtual Computer's NxTop has outshined XenClient in some ways.

Three XenClient editions

XenClient Enterprise: A standalone product that includes Virtual Computer NxTop management technologies. It will cost $175 per user. It is considered part of XenDesktop Enterprise and Platinum, so those customers already have the license for it.

XenClient XT: Deliver the highest level of client device security available.

XenClient Express: For test and dev, it is a free version for running multiple virtual machines locally.

Citrix was also an early investor in Virtual Computer, so now it will get a return on its investment in terms of intellectual property and be able to accelerate its XenClient roadmap, said Chris Wolf, an analyst with Gartner Inc., an IT analysis firm based in Stamford, Conn.

There are also a number of similarities between the two client hypervisors, said Dan McCall, CEO of Virtual Computer, in a phone call following the official announcement.

"We are both working on solving the same problems," McCall said. "Our management stack, we were ahead in that area … going forward, we will combine the best of both."

Existing NxTop customers will have access to XenClient Enterprise, and for the time being, NxTop can still be downloaded from Virtual Computer's website with "a push button upgrade to XenClient Enterprise," McCall said.

Where this leaves Virtual Computer customers, partners

One Virtual Computer customer that invested in NxTop and the client virtualization model about six months ago with good results said he expected this acquisition, though not so soon. But, the customer remains cautiously optimistic.  

"That being said, I just went all in on a desktop delivery model that goes against traditional thinking on desktop virtualization delivery models and the current marketing hype about the death of the PC," said Alan Rabideau, CIO of Residential Finance Corp., a mortgage loan company based in Columbus, Ohio.

"Citrix has been one of the largest voices for data center-driven delivery models and hasn't demonstrated publicly that they believe in a client-side execution model," he said.

The upside, he said, is that Citrix has the resources to get NxTop technologies into more hardware manufacturers and devices. Rabideau foresees an endpoint that is "mobile, versatile, and with none of the performance sacrifices that usually have to be made in a VDI or thin client world.

More on Virtual Computer

Virtual Computer CEO dishes on virtual clients, Microsoft and Intel support

Client hypervisor executes desktops locally, uses centralized storage

"If they position it right, I believe this could threaten both Microsoft's desktop dominance but also thin client use cases in the enterprise," Rabideau said.

"Citrix can obviously bring plenty to the table if they are committed to the product and don't simply use it to round out the pain points associated with mobility in the data center model," he added.

First, Citrix has to make client hypervisors more attractive to potential customers, Gartner's Wolf said.

"Many of our clients see the client hypervisor as added complexity that many users don't want or need," he said. "Citrix needs to build a case that users can have a native experience and IT can see reduced TCO from a management perspective. So far, our clients aren't hearing that message."

Meanwhile, Virtual Computer partners wonder how this acquisition affects them. Those details haven't been determined, McCall said.

"This is a fast-moving train, and we don't have it all together just yet," he said. "Right now, there are no changes. In the long run, since there is a lot of overlap between our partners and Citrix, my hope is that [our partners] will have the opportunity to sell XenClient Enterprise."

Virtual Computer had planned to deliver NxTop 4.1 this week, but the new version will be delayed as Citrix and Virtual Computer integrate, McCall said.

The Westford, Mass.-based company has about 150 customers and a team of 35 employees, all of whom will now work for Citrix, McCall said.

He could not offer details on how much Citrix paid for the company.

Project Avalon brings Microsoft licensing concerns

In addition to the acquisition, Citrix introduced Project Avalon, a new way to deliver Windows apps and desktops as a cloud service. Avalon will use a Citrix CloudPlatform based on Apache CloudStack along with a cloud-style service orchestration layer.

"Avalon is all about multi-site, multi-tenancy," meaning customers can mix multiple versions of Windows Server, XenApp and XenDesktop across a private or public cloud and manage it all through application programming interfaces, said Mark Templeton, president and CEO of Citrix, during the Synergy keynote.

On-premises versions of XenApp and XenDesktop will reach out to Avalon, and IT can "light up" Windows apps and desktops in the public cloud when they need to, he said.

Questions about Citrix's ability to deliver Windows desktops and apps from the cloud, with multi-tenancy, remain, as this scenario has been a problem from a licensing standpoint -- and a point of contention for Desktop as a Service providers.

A Citrix representative said that Avalon "works with the constraints" of Microsoft's licensing rules. This could mean Citrix will use Windows Server 2008 R2 images instead of Windows 7.

That substitution would make Avalon's multi-tenancy legal in the Microsoft program, but it is also more expensive than a hosted shared desktop, because providers must have a Service Provider Level Agreement for Windows Server and a Remote Desktop Services Subscriber Access License for each user, Citrix said in a blog post.

More details of Project Avalon will be available later this week. It will hit beta during the second half of 2012, the company said.

More virtual desktop updates

Citrix also updated other virtual desktop offerings. The company added a new FlexCast delivery option to XenDesktop, which allows IT to turn any desktop PC into a mini virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) hub that end users can access from any device anywhere.

The company also detailed HDX improvements that lower GPU and CPU hardware costs and lowers bandwidth requirements to improve performance of 3-D graphics in virtual desktops.

The first Citrix HDX System-on-Chip systems for high-definition virtual desktops and apps are now available in Hewlett-Packard's new All-in-One Smart Zero Client and devices from ATrust Corp., Centerm, NComputing and ThinLinX. These are built for Citrix XenDesktop and VDI-in-a-Box.

App-DNA 6.1 is also available now, and the new version has a simpler installation process, improved user experience and deeper analytics. This tool lets you move apps to different operating system versions and browser versions.

Read our complete Citrix Synergy 2012 conference coverage here.

Archana Venkatraman, Site Editor,, contributed to this report.

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

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