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Citrix: How the great survivor challenges the tech giants

In spite of Microsoft and VMware encroaching on its core product areas, Citrix is a company which seems to have “staying power”

Traditionally associated with thin client technology, in which desktop applications can be streamed to devices, Citrix has remained surprisingly resilient as major players such as Microsoft and VMware chip away at its core technologies.

It survived as Microsoft introduced a free thin client technology, Terminal Services, into Windows Server, and carried on adapting its product mix when VMware began pushing its virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) product, Horizon.

Going head-to-head with such companies could be seen as a challenge. But Citrix CEO Kirill Tatarinov is ready to take them on.

“It is about scalability, performance and the total cost of ownership,” says Tatarinov, when asked how Citrix competes with VMware.

As for Microsoft, being a long-term Microsoft partner has helped Citrix differentiate its products. “We are the only solution that can virtualise Skype for Business,” he says.

He says Citrix worked closely with Microsoft to create the necessary application programing interfaces to support virtualised Skype for Business.

Secure cloud

In its financial results for the third quarter of 2016, Citrix reported net revenue of $841m, up 30% on the same period in 2015.

Cloud is a growing part of the business, accounting for $35m in revenue. The company launched its cloud platform as a service this year, but Tatarinov says it is growing rapidly.

“We will be the world’s best provider of integrated technology services with secure delivery of apps and data across any device, any network and at any time from the Citrix cloud,” he says.

Read more about thin clients

The company has turned its development team around to support cloud-based software delivery. “We have shifted engineering entirely as we transition to the cloud with agile development,” says Tatarinov. “Being always-on and continually introducing something new is a fact of life, and since the start of this year we have refreshed our core products three times.”

Rather than run its own cloud, the company uses Microsoft Azure to host the Citrix cloud. “But if some of our customers want to use other cloud providers, we can support them,” says Tatarinov.

Citrix service providers are also able to host the Citrix cloud platform on their own cloud infrastructure to deliver applications predominantly to small and mid-sized businesses.

“This opens up a new market for us, which historically, we have not been able to serve,” he says.

One example is the enterprise resource planning (ERP) provider Unit4, which uses the Citrix platform to deliver its application.

“Customers can get the Citrix platform delivered to them as a service,” says Tatarinov. ShareFile, the company’s enterprise file synchronisation product, is a cloud application. But XenApp and XenMobile can also be run in the Citrix cloud and NetScaler, the company’s software-defined networking product, can be deployed in the cloud.

Zero client means better security

When asked about the company’s core strengths, Tatarinov emphasises the phrase “integrated technology services”. This is the pillar of Citrix’s strategy that aims to ensure everything the company does comes together to enable the secure delivery of apps and data.

Security here means the use of a secure gateway with multifactor authentication.

But according to Tatarinov, Citrix goes further. “The true way to secure an endpoint is, in fact, by not installing any software on it. Virtual and thin client computing is starting to be viewed as a core element of the overall cyber security effort. In many of the conversations we have with customers, Citrix is viewed as a security vendor,” he says.

If there is no software on the client device, the attack surface is greatly reduced.

While other companies haver similar views of how to deliver desktop applications to users, Tatarinov says: “Our main differentiator is completeness of this vision. We enable access to whatever app you want from your device, whatever that device might be.”

“Virtual and thin client computing is starting to be viewed as a core element of the overall cyber security effort”
Kirill Tatarinov, Citrix

The app could be a mobile app which can be managed on the device, a virtualised app which is imaged on the device, or it could be a full virtual desktop.

Citrix relies on ubiquitous connectivity. XenMobile manages the mobile device, which offers a family of secure apps. Tatarinov says these can work offline, but he is a strong believer in connectivity to get the most from enterprise apps. “Most people who want to run something truly mission critical need to be in a connected mode.”

These applications are not only secured by means of authentication. “Depending on the device and the part of the world you come from, you will have different levels of access,” says Tatarinov.

Consistent user experience

Another big differentiator for Citrix is the ability to deliver applications in a consistent manner. “Every device has a different flavour of browser so there is no consistency,” he says.

Compatibility across different platforms can be a big issue for businesses trying to deliver browser-based or software as a service (SaaS) applications in a consistent manner.

“When we talk to many large IT organisations, the most helpdesk calls they receive are about browser incompatibility,” says Tatarinov. “Some apps work while some will not display properly. But through Citrix you can virtualise the browser and make sure people can access that SaaS application, and this is how many financial institutions use our product.”

He describes this approach as a Citrix front door, giving users a full view of what apps they can access, “It provides a consistent entry point into the enterprise. The user could go through Citrix cloud to Concur or Salesforce, with a consistent user experience.” Significantly, IT can control this access.

“Originally, thin client computing was about simplicity of management and cost reduction. But over the years, the cost savings didn’t quite play out as devices were still relatively expensive.”

Now the economics have changed. “Now, for the first time in history, you can get a thin client device for under $100 through a Raspberry Pi,” says Tatarinov.

In fact, monitor maker Viewsonic has integrated a Raspberry Pi into its display, which runs Citrix on the Pi, meaning that no additional thin client computing device is needed to connect to Citrix.

Whether it is simple, structured applications or line-of-business software, Windows applications dominate.

Tatarinov believes thin client computing is the way forward for user computing. It is able to provide access to the growing legacy of Windows applications across multiple device types – irrespective of whether the underlying operating system is iOS, Android, Windows or a version of Linux.

“Supporting legacy IT is a very common scenario. When migrating to Windows 10 – including some very large companies – they often do not have enough time to refresh the hardware,” he says. “Instead, they create a virtual Windows 10 image for users to access from legacy PC hardware.”

Over time, this legacy is replaced. Tatarinov says these large enterprises typically replace legacy desktop PCs with thin clients, freeing them from the need to upgrade the desktop hardware in the future.

It is a future that plays into Citrix’s core strengths.

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