You might be thinking that Citrix is bummed out by the Meltdown. Little more than a year ago, it shelled out a whopping $500m for open source hypervisor startup XenSource. But Citrix sees virtualization as just thing a slumping economy needs. As 2009 gets going, however slowly, Citrix is planning on using virtualization as a lever to try to help companies cut costs - while lining its own pockets.
"It is really tough to come up with new ways to save money," explained David Roussain, group vice president of the application virtualization group at Citrix, in an interview. "And typically, IT departments make the wrong move by cutting innovation because this is where they can cut costs quickly and easily. But what they really need to do in 2009 is zero in on infrastructure costs. And with end user expectations on the rise as well, if there was ever a time to accelerate virtualization plans, it is now."
As you might expect, the foundation of the Citrix sales and marketing strategy this year is the XenServer virtual machine hypervisor that is based on the open source Xen project controlled by Citrix. (As much as you can say a vendor controls an open source project, that is). "Xen is free, and virtualizing servers will free up existing capacity to support new workloads," says Roussain.
While many companies are doing a planned upgrade to new hardware to move to virtualized operating systems, not everyone is going to be able to afford that this year. And many companies will be looking to virtualize the servers they have to gain the benefits that virtual environments bring, such as higher server utilization, more flexible infrastructure, and resilience for applications thanks to features such as live migration.
Of course, the latest Xen hypervisor needs a fairly modern chip from Intel or Advanced Micro Devices, with their respective VT or AMD-V hardware-assisted virtualization electronics; VMware's entry VMware Server (which is not a bare-metal hypervisor, but a hypervisor that runs atop Windows or Linux and then hosts these and other operating systems) does not require these features, and neither does its ESX Server bare-metal hypervisor. (However, VMware Server and ESX Server can make use of these features).
While Xen needs these features, the commercially supported and more fully featured versions of XenServer are generally less expensive than the Virtual Infrastructure 3 alternatives from VMware. Either way, companies with slightly old servers (Xeon and Opteron machines that predate VT and AMD-V technology) are facing either a hardware upgrade or a software fee if they want to virtualize, unless they get smart and use virtual private server (VPS) virtualization (which has a single operating system kernel and file system supporting multiple operating system images on a single machine) such as Parallels' Virtuozzo or Sun Microsystems' Solaris containers.
Because this is 2009, Roussain can't help but toss in a reference to cloud computing. He says that Citrix will do the cloud thing through its Citrix Cloud Center (C3) software stack (which includes a tweaked version of XenServer), its Workflow Studio management tools (for orchestrating XenServer VMs on the network), its NetScaler load balancing and caching software, its WANScaler network traffic shaping software, and a bridge to server infrastructure.
As far as Citrix is concerned, cloud computing is just another twist on the kind of host-based computing that the company has made lots of money on since the days of MetaFrame and still makes with Presentation Server (known as XenApp for the past year).
Citrix is, as you might expect, talking to the current commercial cloud computing providers and pitching C3 as an integrated, supported stack that does what they need to do, and what in most cases cloud providers have built by hand. For instance, while Amazon's EC2 cloud is based on a Xen hypervisor, it is the open source version and Amazon has done a lot of work to make it cloud-friendly and easier to manage. But the real money with C3 might not be with the relatively few commercial cloud providers like Amazon, but with internal IT departments who want to do their own clouds.
"We see very high interest in internal clouds," says Roussain. "A lot of people want to build their own cloud-like infrastructure. Customers will want to build their own clouds first and then have a bridge to public clouds. Once these bridges are easy and secure, then the economics is going to make this happen."
No one seems to know for sure how many clouds, whether internal or public, that have been built, but Roussain estimates that there are fewer than 100 real clouds, meaning infrastructure that has utility-style pricing and an easy-on-and-off access.
Citrix' plans for using virtualization as a lever to open the corporate checkbooks is not just limited to traditional server workloads. The company has its eyes on all of those corporate desktops out there, hundreds of millions of PCs and laptops that are generally in a three-year replacement cycle and are generally running Windows. A chunk of those machines are coming up for replacement at exactly the time when companies want to lower management costs and not spend any more dough on new hardware if they don't have to.
For a long time, a virtual desktop was using Citrix' Presentation Server or Microsoft's Remote Data Protocol to run applications on a server instead of on the desktop. But Citrix, VMware, ClearCube, Novell, and a bunch of other companies are delivering a new kind of virtual desktop, where a whole system image is hosted back on a server with end users accessing it from a thin client or even an old PC that ends up acting like a thin client. (This is different from using a hypervisor to run multiple operating systems on your PC, which is also a virtual desktop).
Roussain says that there are many thousands of companies using Presentation Server, but only several hundred using XenDesktop, the Xen-derived virtual desktop infrastructure. As best as Citrix can figure, if you lump all of these different techniques together, there are maybe 10 million virtualized desktops (and this is a loose definition of virtualized, to be sure). The vast majority of these desktops are using Xen App, Presentation Server, or one of their predecessors or offshoots. Which is good news for Citrix, since it has access to a large number of customer accounts.
Roussain estimates that there are probably only 500,000 true virtual PCs (meaning PC images running from servers over the network) at the corporations of the world, and he hedges and says perhaps the number is as high as 1 million. This is a fraction of a per cent of the installed corporate PC base.
But Citrix is optimistic that, despite years of other vendors taking a run at this idea. "I think you will see this take off in 2009 and into 2010," says Roussain.
To that end, Citrix is putting together an update for its App Receiver application virtualization software, which allows end users to access applications streamed from corporate servers in a secure way. This security is important because of another growing trend on PCs: letting end users support their own gear or run corporate applications on their own machines. Citrix has a program called Bring Your Own Computer that gives employees a $2,200 stipend to buy a new PC or laptop if they agree to do the tech support on it.
Citrix says that it is about 20 per cent cheaper to have an end user maintain their own laptop than have the IT department do it. And let's face it: You end up supporting yourself these days most of the time anyway. Citrix wants a fifth of its laptop users under the BYOC program by the end of 2009 to help cut its own IT costs.
"2009 is not going to be just about virtualizing servers, but also virtualizing desktops and applications," says Roussain. "This technology will be pervasive, and for Citrix, the key is coming up with an end-to-end virtualization strategy." That means one copy of each application and its underlying software stack, deployed to a desktop or server, run in a virtual mode. It means one user name and password for everything and once instance of the data driving it all.
Hence Citrix paid a 50-to-1 multiple on revenues back in August 2007 to get its hands on XenSource - not for the open source hypervisor, but for the smarts behind it. Still, it is hard to imagine that the Xen products have come even close to paying for themselves yet. Citrix took the long view when it acquired XenSource and will have to continue to do that to get its bait back in this economic downturn. It really doesn't have a choice. ®