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New CTO pins desktop future on Citrix Workspace Services

In his first interview as Citrix’s new CTO of desktop and apps, Gunnar Berger discusses the company’s roadmap and the importance of Citrix Workspace Services and mobility. Will these initiatives keep customers from moving to VMware?

XenApp continues to be Citrix's flagship technology, but as competitive pressure mounts, the company needs to aggressively innovate in other end-user computing areas. With new leadership in that division and a platform industry insiders say holds considerable promise, Citrix may give fans reason for optimism.

In June, Citrix hired Gunnar Berger as CTO of its desktops and applications group, following the addition of Rakesh Narasimhan as general manager of desktops and apps in February. Berger is known in the industry from his work as an analyst with Gartner, Inc. over the past two years, where he focused on end-user computing, server and client virtualization. He also served as an IT manager for organizations including the University of Georgia and holds a number of certifications including VMware vExpert, Microsoft MVP and Citrix Certified Administrator. 

Here, he discusses Citrix's roadmap strategy, the importance of Citrix Workspace Services (CWS) in the company's future, and how it will keep customers from moving to VMware.

In your first blog post as CTO, you said Citrix got overzealous with VDI and wrongly made XenApp a second-class citizen. The company has made XenApp the star again. However, the timing of this realization falls in line with the release of VMware RDSH in Horizon 6. Is Citrix simply following its competitor by emphasizing server-based computing once again?

Gunnar BergerGunnar Berger

Berger: Workspace Services says, whatever works for you works for us. It is the enablement of whatever: any device over any network, anywhere, from any cloud -- including Azure. DaaS' premise is to give you a desktop from the cloud, end of story.

We have the DaaS market play through App Orchestration ... [but] DaaS is a Windows-in-the-cloud approach that doesn’t tie in the reality that all of your stuff is on-prem. Customers have this anchor of the data center, and all of this stuff on-prem, and all the apps they’ve built on top of their vendor platform of choice. All of that stuff will be around for a long time.

DaaS ignores the things that are highly valuable to your organization sitting in the data center. There needs to be a bridge to the cloud from the reality of what people are doing today. CWS is an abstraction layer that enables whatever is best for you. It supports the idea that I can have DaaS for a subset of users, another subset of users that stay on-prem, others that use cloud apps.  It solves the problems people have today without introducing a whole new set of problems.

VDI certainly introduces complexities into organizations, so CWS seems to be the counterbalance to that. With CWS in the picture, is XenDesktop still relevant?

Our focus is to make VMware fight tooth and nail to get our customers.

Berger: With CWS, you still can have XenApp and XenDesktop running on-prem, or on the cloud provider of your choice. You can maintain management in-house, and CWS provides steps into a cloud scenario for the entire enterprise.

It’s a lot of work to manage applications like Microsoft Office. … The goal with what we are doing is to get away from that management cycle. When you use Gmail, all you need to know is that you are using Gmail, and you'll see a bubble telling you about feature updates. … That's the model going forward, where updates with new features are provided almost every week. And that's the way we will compete.

Speaking of competition, the pressure from VMware has intensified with inclusion of RDSH support in Horizon 6. What will Citrix do to convince XenApp users they shouldn't leave?

Berger: If you look at Project Virtual Reality Check's survey, there was a question that asked, are you happy with your provider, and would you be willing to move? The number of customers willing to move one way or another [between Citrix and VMware] was in the single digits. So a lot of the noise VMware creates is not reality. There is a small percentage that may go to VMware, and that percentage exists the other way around as well. …Their recent project is good marketing. They are creating fodder, but the reality is customers don't move that way.

But that doesn't answer my question regarding what Citrix is going to offer their customers, who may be loyal but want some reasons to be excited about future technologies.

Berger: There is no doubt in my mind that we have a stronger product. As a Gartner analyst, I saw clients running VMware View with RDS.  Customers wanted one person to deal with, and [VMware] has addressed that. Our focus is to make VMware fight tooth and nail to get our customers, and we'll continue to improve our products.

Citrix customers have complained in recent years about quality issues -- products released before they were fully baked -- probably due to competitive pressure. What is the plan to ensure that these issues don't continue?

Berger: When I walked in I was aware of the market, Citrix's strengths and its weaknesses. …I met with Rakesh [Narasimhan] and he understood it as well, and he is making moves to strengthen the weaknesses we've had in the past. We are investing heavily in that. ….

If you look at the leadership of when the issues occurred, it is leadership that is not here anymore. That leadership is now at VMware. That could be an advantage for us. We have a new leadership structure that I believe in, or I wouldn't be here. People like [former Virtual Computer CEO] Dan McCall are active in the product groups, cleaning up problems from the past, and other leaders in an active role are working to improve our products.

What are you working to improve, over the short term and long term?

Berger: Short term, there are various products we should invest in further, and the leaders here are in agreement. We are shoring up our engineering resources. And we don’t want to give away our coach's playbook, but we are in the heavy investment phase now in places we may not have invested in before -- in strategies that we see as the future -- and de-investing in strategies that don't.

Is XenDesktop a product you'll de-invest in?

Berger: Absolutely not. XenApp and XenDesktop are the same platform with two different names. Any investment in XenApp is an investment in XenDesktop and vice versa. … When we brought them together as one architecture, we created confusion, so we are back to referring to them as two separate brands.

There are products we own, technologies we have that we haven’t made a significant investment in in the past, and we need to. So we need to start investing in those areas. I really wish I could tell you what those are.

I really want to hear what those are.

Berger: I know, but I can't say. I can address the second part of your question. The long-term strategy is mobility, especially with XenMobile and making sure we kick ass on the mobile front. … And CWS ties into that. It is the future of [desktops]. It is a big change that some people will resist and others will come along with.

The cloud is going to be our customers' long-term strategy, and how do we help enterprises with that strategy? That's our job: to show them how to bridge the two worlds in a way that works, that is trustworthy and that people will want to use.

Editor's note

The March 2014 Project Virtual Reality Check survey of over 1,000 respondents from IT service providers PQR and Consultants, both in the Netherlands, asked "Will you introduce or change to new VDI/SBC broker vendor within 2-3 years?" Over 71% said no, about 13% said maybe, 3.7% said they are seriously considering Citrix, 2.6% were seriously considering Microsoft and 1.6% were seriously considering VMware.


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