VDI Market Constellation 2.0
For so many years we took it for granted that when it comes to End User Computing and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, Microsoft and Citrix are close friends and VMware is their enemy. This rather simple view of the world allowed IT consultants and IT architects to make equally simple statements about hypervisors and desktop brokers. Depending on their preference, they recommended either a Microsoft/Citrix-only or a VMware-only solution. In the second half of October and in early November I had the opportunity to attend VMware VMworld in Barcelona, Citrix Technology Exchange in Munich, Microsoft Partner Conference in Kassel and Microsoft TechNet Conference in Berlin. At these events I came to the conclusion that nothing’s like it used to be, and here is why.
Let’s start with VMware. Their mantra was software-defined datacenter/infrastructure and automation. During the day 1 keynote, Sanjay Poonen, VMware’s new Executive VP & GM End-User Computing, joined CEO Pat Gelsinger on stage. He shared with the audience what he thinks the most important aspects of EUC are: performance, management, cost reduction and OpEx predictability. Not a big surprise, but VMware went beyond the pure marketing message. They announced the acquisition of Desktone which may replace View as their desktop broker one day. Desktone has its advantages when it comes to scalability and support of multi-tenancy, which is important for attractive and cost effective DaaS offerings.
In addition, VMware officially introduced vDGA, which allows the assignment of individual virtual machines to physical NVIDIA GPUs available on ESX servers to accelerate 3D graphics performance substantially. The most surprising vDGA detail VMware disclosed during VMworld was that it is compatible to Citrix XenDesktop running on top of ESX.
And finally, the VMworld keynote session included a demo where they launched a seamless instance of OneNote2013 in the Horizon portal which in fact connected to a Citrix XenApp published app. The entire VMware keynote audience was holding their breath when the Citrix logo showed up on the big screen! Believe it or not, VMware made it look like using features provided by their “partner” Citrix to fill some gaps they have in their own VDI product line was the most natural thing to do, which I thought was a smart move. On the other side, they never mentioned Microsoft or showed a single Windows management console even though the primary “runtime” environment they virtualized was Windows. Amazing!
Citrix had a very different approach at their Technology Exchange event in Munich. They did not present an overall product strategy, but walked the audience through the technical aspects of their individual product lines. This allowed them to separately cover the topics Social Collaboration & Data Sharing, Virtual Desktops, Mobile Platforms, Cloud Networking and Cloud Platforms. They kind of left it to their customers and partners in the audience to figure out how to assemble building blocks to fulfill individual needs.
This is not a big surprise as the sheer spectrum of Citrix products and tools is simply mind blowing. It took them more than two hours to just introduce most of them briefly. There is no doubt that Citrix is not a one-trick-pony anymore. With such a product portfolio they can afford to avoid any reference to Microsoft and VMware technology – their implicit message was that their own stuff is complete enough, allowing them not to mention anything else. I don’t know why, but Citrix reminded me of Quest before they were acquired by Dell. They are standing very strong, but there is not a clear direction where this massive swarm of individual products wants to move in the future.
Now, let’s take a look at Microsoft. At their German partner conference, some of the Microsoft sales and marketing folks seemed to be very disconnected from the market. In one of the sessions, the Microsoft speaker tried to convince the audience that a Surface with Windows RT is so much better than an iPad. This would have been an interesting session at a consumer show, but not when speaking in front of hundreds of business customers and channel partners. The feedback was loud and clear. “Show us your own strengths and not the weaknesses of others”, was one of the statements from the audience. And sure enough, the session did not highlight the advantages of a domain-joined Windows tablet that can not only run so-called modern apps but can also run conventional line-of-business Windows apps in a centrally managed way. In addition, the speaker missed to show how Microsoft embraces the iPad these days, using System Center management capabilities and a brand new RDP/RemoteFX client for iPad. And by the way, Citrix was not a sponsor at this partner conference. So if Citrix and Microsoft are still close friends, they don’t really show it in public. More importantly, Microsoft channel management tried to play the old-fashioned FUD game to keep their partners loyal. I thought that they can do better than that.
A very different situation at the Microsoft TechNet conference in Berlin only two weeks later. There were only technical sessions delivered by Microsoft technical experts and MVPs, no marketing BS. The Microsoft speakers presented and demoed (!) individual components or new product features. In Germany it’s many years ago that we have seen a technical event with so many great live demonstrations of the newest products and building blocks delivered by internal Microsoft experts. On top, the MVPs provided use cases and scenarios which orchestrated these building blocks into complete solution blueprints. Both speakers and audience were very relaxed about mentioning Apple, Citrix and VMware products as elements of real-life enterprise IT architectures. This was the right spirit, building new confidence!
And here is exactly where a version 2.0 of the VDI market constellation kicks in: Enterprise customers want real-life solution blueprints and stable products and components. Since Microsoft, Citrix and VMware started adopting much faster product cycles, they are all struggling with code quality and compatibility – this must change as soon as possible if they don’t want to become the irrelevant dinosaurs. The old suite model doesn’t really work anymore. Enterprise customers and partners demand stable and consistent building blocks that allow them to fulfill business requirements. They may want to combine VMware Horizon View with Microsoft RemoteApp programs or combine VMware vSphere with Citrix XenDesktop 7 including remoting acceleration using physical GPUs or combine Citrix NetScaler with Microsoft Azure. But there seems not to be real partnership between any of the three big vendors to make this happen, no matter if they pretend to be friends or enemies. Even the components of each individual vendor cannot be combined easily due to compat issues. Now add Amazon, Google and Apple to this picture, and you see the dilemma – and I’m not even looking at the licensing nightmare at this point. So many great products, but too many only run properly in isolation. I truly believe that this must change in the near future, providing at least compatibility between all necessary components to build great enterprise infrastructures in a fast and stable manner. If this doesn’t happen, all these ideas about cloud and mobile working styles will only be incomplete patchwork.