So off we went to the Agile Enterprise Seminar late last month, organised by Citrix-specialist consultancy Centralis, to catch-up on the Citrix roadmap and some new, related, technologies.
Citrix started as a simple terminal server for Windows, doing what Microsoft couldn't quite manage - even now, Microsoft's terminal server capabilities contain Citrix technology. This is a risky place to play in: we remember Citrix executives once describing it as riding on the back of a tiger, waking up every morning wondering if they'd got the contracts watertight, got the IP protection nailed down.
So, Citrix needs to be more than just a terminal server company. Its second focus was on load balancing and its current focus is on providing a holistic access platform– its unique selling point is probably that it really does recognise the trade-offs between access and security. Oh, and there's no more MetaFrame – it's now Presentation Server and Access Gateway and the integrated offering is called Access Suite.
Citrix has also been on the acquisition trail. The purchase of NetScaler, used in environments such as Google and eBay, brings accelerated application delivery (it was originally developed in Sun Micrososystems, which, unsurprisingly, wasn't too interested in a technology that could reduce server sales).
This complements Presentation Server for particularly critical business applications by prioritising application performance even ahead of cost of ownership. If the last decade was about building the network, the next decade will be about delivering applications on it and Citrix plans to win in this space. Although, having built the network, Cisco may offer strong competition again with its AON, Application Oriented Network.
Citrix has also quietly acquired a Canadian company called Motivus last year. This brings it a useful ability to dynamically configure access rights for mobile browser access to documents (from phones and PDAs for example), a useful feature of its Access Suite along with its Access Gateway hardware appliance, single sign-on Password Manager and integration with the HP OpenView Identity Management Suite.
Steve Atkinson of Citrix talked about very large systems (70,000 concurrent users) being built on this platform and the importance of the virtualisation of the underlying hardware (Softricity is now a competing company) – think of the possibility running a software phone system (VoIP) on Presentation Server. According to Atkinson, however, this is all considered part of the Access Suite vision, which will remain Citrix's focus for the foreseeable future.
Access Suite technologies address the business issues facing all businesses and provide a robust and resilient platform with security built in rather than bolted on. Presentation Server continues to be the foundation of Access Suite and its components can be used independently if necessary.
The Agile Enterprise focus of this seminar enabled Centralis to bring in Panasonic with its Toughbook laptop. Apparently, a combination of rugged hardware, secure software and good support allows Centrica to claim that over a five-year project lifecycle, the total cost of ownership of an engineer’s rugged laptop will be only an estimated 20 per cent of that of a standard desktop device in the office.
Macrovision also presented, to remind us that it is a more than just a purveyor of annoying digital rights protection solutions for DVDs, important though that no doubt is. Since its acquisition of InstallShield, it has a strong application-packaging story to tell. Developers sometimes overlook this aspect of development, but they won't be developers for ling unless their applications are packaged so that they install effectively, without annoying their owners.
Finally, Centralis introduced ScriptLogic (which isn't about scripting although, hopefully, it's logical enough). This is a network and desktop configuration management and control software vendor that is new to the UK. It competes with Altiris, Landesk, Microsoft's SMS and Novell's Zenworks but claims to offer much better value for money. ScriptLogic's mission is to remove complexity in a Microsoft environment by automating time consuming and costly manual processes and it is probably worth a look.
This rather eclectic mix of products does rather explain why companies employ companies like Centralis.
Centralis doesn't try to sell you hardware and its customers are looking for long-term partnerships rather than quick-fix technologies - and it is proud to use its own employees on contracts rather than shipping in bodies, according to MD Ewen Anderson.
It's a Citrix thin-client computing specialist, which currently implies the Windows platform (Citrix could move onto Linux easily), but it also has expertise on the Novell platform with eDirectory and Zenworks and in providing Citrix access from Novell environments. This gives us some confidence in its advice, as it hasn't sold itself entirely to Microsoft's vision yet: Novell's eDirectory and identity solutions are still probably better than Microsoft's offerings and Netware still has customers that appreciate its security and manageability in, for example, large educational establishments.
As well as integration consultancy, Centralis also offers design and deployment consultancy and a dedicated service desk for Citrix Access. Anderson points out that Citrix is powerful but it isn't really a plug and play environment – you will need experienced help. And Centralis can quote some notable success stories such as Centrica (it helped design and build and now manages a 135 server, 3,000 concurrent user Citrix farm) and Tesco (a similar project with 20 or 30 server farms and a web interface supporting over 2,000 concurrent users). We're not talking small departmental servers here.
We meet people who think that you should do everything in-house, in case you lose control. However, if you are a mature company than can manage external relationships (perhaps that does exclude a lot of companies), a good partner can enrich your company knowledgebase with experience from a wide range of environments, experience you simply don't have internally. As a business, your job is to concentrate on your business, not on gathering experience for its own sake just in case it proves helpful. ®