Interview: Virtualise or die warns Citrix CEO, Mark Templeton

Antony Savvas in San Francisco talks to Mark Templeton, CEO of Citrix, at the company's Synergy 2010 about virtualisation, competition and convergence of corporate and consumer IT

Ask an adult with an interest in computing to name an IT visionary and you will probably get a response of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell or maybe even Larry Ellison, but perhaps Mark Templeton, the CEO of Citrix should get a mention.

Citrix has shaken off its initial moniker of being "that thin-client computing company" and has placed itself full square in the very important and expanding world of IT virtualisation and the cloud.

Through a carefully thought-out expansion strategy, as a result of rapid organic growth and carefully targeted acquisitions, Templeton has earned a place at the top table of IT supplier executives.

Computer Weekly attended Citrix's Synergy 2010 customer and partner event in San Francisco, and asked Templeton about his vision for the world of IT virtualisation.

Virtual rivals

The event attracted a number of heavy hitters from the likes of Microsoft and Intel and Michael Dell himself, illustrating the fact that Templeton and his team had something important to say.

Synergy matched Templeton's strategy of not freezing anyone out either. Citrix has a policy of competing with and working with other companies in the virtualisation space. Citrix stands competed with space run by VMWare, Wyse, Microsoft, IBM, Intel, Cisco, HP and their ilk.

On the show itself, attended by 4,600 delegates, Templeton said, "It's a complete sell-out, with standing room only for many. We've had to open extra rooms to cope with the demand for training places and networking opportunities."

Templeton said such shows weren't designed to make money, they were there to spell out what the company thought was needed to make virtualisation and the cloud a reality for all organisations.

While Citrix has established a strong market for its desktop, server and mobile apps delivery platforms, he still thinks many IT departments weren't moving quick enough to meet their employees' needs.

Merging corporate and consumer IT

Templeton's main goal though is to make sure that the dividing wall between corporate and consumer IT is pulled down completely.

He said staff working from home, on the road, part-time and often with their own equipment, should be allowed to access any apps they choose to get the job done. He added that they should be able to access online apps stores; load their own software that can be used to run both their personal and working lives, and use it on any device they choose.

"Those that oppose the combination of corporate IT and consumer IT will meet their maker. The digital generation will also force along those laggards who are thinking about it but not moving quick enough. We are being completely unambiguous about what we think will happen and what is needed," Templeton said.

The name of Citrix's conferences was recently changed from iForum events to Synergy meetings to reflect the goal of corporate/consumer IT convergence, and the need for the industry to work together to reach that goal.

Templeton's and Citrix's stance on convergence was also supported by IDC analyst Frank Gens, a keynote speaker at Synergy. He said, "If the CIO and the IT shop is not ahead of this they are buried."

Laptop client

Citrix got a lot of publicity on the back of the launch of Citrix XenClient at the show, which promises to deliver secure and faster applications and data to remote laptop workers.

Citrix said XenClient had been launched to address analyst estimates which show that 72% of corporate endpoints will be laptops by 2014.

The product is integrated with Intel processor virtualisation technologies, which also reduce the amount of battery power needed by a laptop to handle this type of working when it isn't connected to a wall socket.

XenClient can support more than one virtual desktop on the same laptop, so users can split corporate documents and apps from consumer-based apps and private data accessed by the end-user on the laptop.

Templeton said, "Corporate laptops are the last mile in extending the full benefits of desktop virtualisation to all users in the enterprise."

The first PC manufacturers to offer XenClient will be Dell and HP. With Dell and HP on board, the enterprise market will be largely addressed, he said.

No McAfee buy-out

A deal with McAfee to make it easier, faster and more secure to deliver desktop virtualisation through XenDesktop and XenServer was also announced at the show.

Computer Weekly asked Templeton whether he thought acquiring a security company would be a logical addition to Citrix's end-to-end enterprise product set, particularly as the need for good security is always cited by potential users when considering cloud strategies.

He said, "This is the type of thing I always get asked by the investment banks. They say 'you've got to scale up', but scale up to what? Backwards technology?

"We're looking forward, the security from various firms is already there, and many of our users have a loyalty to a particular security supplier brand, so we don't want to have to choose one and then offend everyone else."

He added, "You're always faced with the choice of either development or acquisition. We've got a strong balance sheet with the money for acquisitions, but at the moment we are more likely to have a small bet on test markets which we don't want to have to address directly."

Smartphone plans

XenClient has been launched to address the mobile laptop market, but what about the smartphone market? Is that something Citrix intends to also support with the technology?

"Well, we don't see an immediate need at the moment. We haven't gone into any real testing phase here and there are hardware virtualisation issues with smartphones when it comes to this type of technology."

A key feature of XenClient is the ability to create more than one virtual machine on the device, which is a bit trickier to do on a smartphone, said Templeton.

Cloud control

The cloud is where most right-thinking IT suppliers are floating towards currently, and a whole day of the Synergy show was devoted to it.

Citrix serves the cloud corporate and service provider space with a combination of its NetScaler and XenServer products. Various analysts say most companies are resisting the move from their private clouds to the public cloud, controlled by service providers wanting to deliver data and apps on demand to organisations.

While such a move promises to save money for public cloud users, security is still seen as the major obstacle.

But Templeton says Citrix and the market is turning the corner on this. He said, "A year ago the Citrix Service Provider Programme was launched to serve the public cloud community, and now we have 460 service providers using our XenServer and NetScaler technology to deliver apps and data to organisations on demand."

At Synergy, Templeton was able to announce that Rackspace, seen as the second biggest cloud controller after Amazon, would be standardising on XenServer, to enable firms to move to the public cloud.

The next Synergy show will take place in Berlin later this year. Templeton was keen to point out that this will not be the usual second-hand slop usually handed out to the European market by US suppliers after a US event is held previously.

He said, "We decided to have two Synergy events in a year because it was needed, the velocity of the changes being seen in the market mean the content for Berlin will be totally different to that of San Francisco."

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