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Brian and I have been talking, most recently on Brian Madden TV, about how Microsoft and Citrix have become competitors since each has a VDI solution. With their product lines and release dates fresh in my mind, I thought I'd take a look and see if there is anything to this growing sentiment that Microsoft and Citrix are becoming "frenemies."
These "Microsoft hates Citrix" rumors have been going on for so long
now that I forget when they started. "Bear Paw," which was the code name
for what was to be Terminal Services in Windows Server 2003, was
slated to be the "Citrix Killer." Since then, people have been looking
for ways to "do it without Citrix," and each new version of Windows Server brings new features to RDS that people hope will allow them to leave Ft. Lauderdale and take up residence permanently in Redmond.
In the past, it was easy to look at Citrix and Microsoft as friends. Every time Citrix sold a XenApp (or Presentation Server, or MetaFrame) license, Microsoft sold a TS CAL, so it was like Microsoft had a whole fleet of non-Microsoft sales reps selling their product. Microsoft didn't care if people chose XenApp over Remote Desktop Services, because they sold the license anyway. That arrangement continues to this day, and not just for Citrix. Quest is a big fish in the SBC world, and has a good relationship with Microsoft. While Citrix, Quest, and smaller companies like Ericom compete against each other, Microsoft is cool with it all.
2007 was a sign of things to come, although we didn't know it. It's when Citrix acquired XenSource, and turned out their own hypervisor - XenServer. Microsoft followed with Hyper-V in 2008, and later formed a partnership with Citrix in the face of stiff competition from VMware. The partnership between Citrix and Microsoft meant that there would be some commonalities between XenServer and Hyper-V, namely with the disk image container and the management of the virtual machines. The thing is, if you chose one product (rather, the management products to support those hypervisors), you essentially weren't choosing the other. This is the beginning of Microsoft actually taking sales away from Citrix. A huge deal? Not really, but a sign of things to come.
In 2009, Microsoft released the VDI Suite, which we kind of look upon as the first time Microsoft really started to take on Citrix in the desktop virtualization space. If you think about it in the same terms as the Citrix/Microsoft relationship with XenApp and RDS, it's hard to find any common ground. The products do the same thing, and it's not like XenDesktop rides on top of VDI Suite and enhances it the same way that XenApp rides on top of RDS. For the first time in desktop virtualization, if you chose Citrix, Microsoft lost out. And, if you chose Microsoft, you'd have no reason to follow that up with Citrix. That's competition! Of course, Microsoft still receives licensing dollars for VECD, but they get that either way.
Up to this point, mid-2009, it appeared that Microsoft had been leading the charge for competition. VDI Suite has an edition that contains the full capabilities of RDS, a full feature-set that, at the time, only Quest (Microsoft's "other" SBC partner) could lay claim to. In late 2009, however, Citrix announced that XenDesktop 4 would also be including the features of XenApp, which boils down to a single-SKU competing product to VDI Suite. (I suppose it's worth noting that, if you use the XenApp features of XenDesktop, Microsoft still gets the licensing dollars for the RDS CAL)
What we're starting to see is a little like a tug-of-war between Microsoft and Citrix. It could be all coincidental, but ignoring the features and looking at the products themselves show that there is definitely some competition going on here. Whether or not either party says that "want" to compete or not is irrelevant--the fact of the matter is that they are competing, even if it's unintentional.
What does this mean in the short/long term? Short term, I think we start to get some of those little features that we've always wanted. It's already happening, actually. The XenDesktop 4 change of single SKU for XenDesktop/XenApp is a big deal, as is the more refined, almost single, management console. Long term, it's tough to say. Competition is usually good, leading to more innovation and better products, but few people go up against Microsoft and win.
One last thought: A lot of the same ideas here can apply to Quest, a company that also says they have a great relationship with Microsoft. Their vWorkspace product competes with VDI Suite every bit as much as XenDesktop does. There's no hypervisor element, so it's a little different, but there's still some conflicts.
I don't want this to sound like a tabloid, and I'm not trying to stir up any ill will or anything, but when I sat down to look at it, I saw a trend. What do you think?
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