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What went wrong for Citrix VDI-in-a-Box

VDI-in-a-Box is on its way out, but killing the product wasn't always Citrix's intention. Technical problems, development time and a poor sales strategy are all to blame for the product's death.

The end of Citrix VDI-in-a-Box is coming soon, and though official word about its end-of-sale has yet to come down, it was confirmed in Citrix's Q4 2014 quarterly earnings call.

I speculated about this last year, and, frankly, it shouldn't be much of a surprise to anyone, given the fact that Citrix did virtually nothing with the product after acquiring Kaviza in 2011.

When Citrix bought Kaviza, there were two groups of people following it. One group -- of which I was a member -- thought it was a great move by Citrix, possibly to use some of VDI-in-a-Box's grid-like architecture based on virtual appliances in an effort to streamline a cumbersome XenDesktop product. Others set aside their rose-colored glasses and thought perhaps Citrix simply bought Kaviza to squash the competition before it got too large.

It's not uncommon for one competitor to buy another just to kill it off -- Riverbed did this with Expand Networks a few years ago -- but it usually happens instantly, not three years after the acquisition. I believe that Citrix really did have good intentions of using VDI-in-a-Box in the beginning, but three forces were working against it that ultimately led to its demise.

Technical challenges

In the NFL, there's a saying that goes, "If you have two quarterbacks, you have none," meaning you need one person to lead the team. If you have more than one leader, you're not going to get anywhere. Citrix found itself with two quarterbacks in VDI. Sure, they shared the same remote protocol, but in every other way they were polar opposites.

Installing Citrix VDI-in-a-Box requires a single host computer and a VDI-in-a-Box virtual appliance. Start the appliance, enter in some client-specific information such as networking, and you're off to the races in an afternoon. On the other hand, XenDesktop requires several moving parts, different servers and a complex build-out process. That's not bad, but it requires a different skill set.

The ability to "upgrade" from VDI-in-a-Box to XenDesktop was nearly non-existent. The only upgrade path between them was a "license upgrade," which is where a Citrix representative checks a box next to your name that says you have XenDesktop now instead of VDI-in-a-Box. The two platforms are so technically separate that few things beyond the VMs themselves are portable, and even that takes some work.


Citrix found itself with two completely separate VDI platforms, and because you can only pick one to focus on, XenDesktop got the lion's share of the development time. Development cycles for large companies with lots of products are surprisingly short, numbered in weeks instead of months. For example, a product is in development for 12 weeks and then goes out for testing and various alpha and beta programs before finally being certified and released. As you can imagine, with such a small amount of time, only the highest priority features are added. "Highest priority feature" is vendor-speak for "the customer with the most licenses wants this feature," so you can start to connect the dots.

Customers were paying for XenDesktop -- a lot. While VDI-in-a-Box had customers, it wasn't anywhere near enough to carve out a large amount of developer time. Because of this, the product languished in development purgatory.

Not sure how to sell it

By the time the sales team got its hands on VDI-in-a-Box, it had to decide how to sell it, or if it should be sold at all. Originally they were told that Citrix VDI-in-a-Box was for small and midsize businesses, good for 500 of fewer users. This was merely a way of categorizing VDI-in-a-Box for the sales team, because even then there were environments set up to run 5,000 users.

Then it became about environment complexity: The thought process was that VDI-in-a-Box is appropriate for simple environments, but if you have big dreams, you'll need to use XenDesktop. The problem is that if a company was an appropriate VDI-in-a-Box candidate but had aspirations of growing beyond what VDI-in-a-Box could support (a threshold which nobody on the sales team knew), there was no upgrade path. Customers bought XenDesktop instead.

Above all else, though, above never finding a proper message or niche for the product, there was one other reason. The sales team was never incentivized to sell VDI-in-a-Box. A good friend of mine once told me that "sales reps are coin-operated," meaning they'll sell what they can make the most money on. Want to increase sales on a product? Increase the commission on it.

So long, VDI-in-a-Box

And so we say goodbye to Citrix VDI-in-a-Box, a promising product that was never put to use in the way we wanted it to be. I'm sure that Citrix had good intentions -- otherwise why keep it around this long? -- but the writing has been on the wall for a long time, even going back to June of 2013 when Kaviza Co-Founder Kumar Goswami left Citrix. Citrix intends to replace VDI-in-a-Box with a new edition of XenDesktop, though further details are hard to find. I'm sure there will be more information at Synergy in May 2015.

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