Well, 2017 January sure got started with a bang!
Yesterday news broke from Citrix Summit that Citrix has acquired Unidesk. Acquisitions during Summit are nothing new, though sometimes they don’t work out (Citrix acquired Sanbolic in 2015 only to shut it down in 2016), but in this case Citrix has made a bold move that I’m sure will work out well for everyone. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, so I’m sure it wasn’t a newsworthy amount of money, but Citrix finally buying an application management company certainly qualifies as newsworthy. Couple that with profile management capabilities and you have the makings of a big deal.
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Citrix has made attempts to get into the "application and profile management by way of layering" space before with their acquisition of Ringcube. Ringcube’s IP turned into Personal vDisk and AppDisk, both of which have seen limited success in the enterprise, especially as VDI has matured and we’ve begun to branch out to the cloud. The Ringcube acquisition was in 2011, so times have certainly changed.
Unidesk was around at the same time, and are arguably the champion of the “layer cake” approach to managing virtual machines, applications, and profiles. The “layer cake” approach starts with an OS layer, then adds other layers for apps and profiles at runtime to build a custom VM image each time a machine is started. This approach is useful for updating individual layers without having to update the entire image.
Though they were basically married to VMware (I suspect in hopes of being acquired by them), once VMware acquired CloudVolumes and renamed it AppVolumes, Unidesk released a new version that included a completely redesigned platform module that supported not only vSphere, but also XenServer, Acropolis, KVM, AWS, Hyper-V and Azure. More on Azure that in a minute.
Buying Unidesk scratches a few itches for Citrix. First, it evens them up with VMware AppVolumes. Citrix tried to do that with AppDisk, but that always seemed like they were trying eek as much as they could out of the Ringcube acquisition in order to match line items on the competitive checklist against VMware.
Second, it breathes new life into PVS, which has been in a bloodless war with MCS since MCS was introduced. I’ve gotten the impression at times that Citrix would like to get rid of PVS, but there are many customers that prefer it over MCS based on their specific use case. PVS is great at certain aspects of image management, but falls short in areas (like individual application updates) that Unidesk can help with. With Unidesk, you can build up the VM using layers, then stream it with PVS in a “best of both worlds” kind of way.
Last, I’m seeing a lot of synergy with Unidesk's and Citrix’s ties to Azure. I noticed this when looking at the competition in an attempt to answer the question “Why Unidesk?” It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Unidesk, but there are other platforms out there that do application and profile management. Liquidware Labs could have been in the running, and I know that FSLogix has been suggested to Citrix as a technology they should have. (You can watch BriForum speaker and Unidesk Chief Solution Architect Ron Oglesby’s Vendor Neutral Comparison of Application Layering Vendors if you want to learn more)
I think the answer to “Why Unidesk?” is Azure, and I think it plays into Citrix’s relationship with Microsoft. Having XenApp and XenDesktop on Azure is great, but making them into services does nothing to help manage applications and profiles. You could argue that it makes it harder since you’d have to roll your own Azure-based platform even to do the stuff that you do today. Cloudhouse has recently shifted their focus to an Azure-based offering available in the Azure Marketplace, but that only takes care of applications, not image management and profiles.
So I think Unidesk fits in well here. Originally, Unidesk had an Azure RemoteApp-based product that allowed you to assemble and deploy VMs via ARA’s Hybrid delivery model (the one where you created your own image). Though ARA has gone away, the experience of making that product can prove useful to Citrix. It integrates with your existing Unidesk environment, letting you follow the same workflow for on-prem and Azure-based systems. In the future, this will even work with physical desktops (something that Unidesk has been talking about for a long time).
It doesn’t stop there, though. Unidesk also integrates directly with Azure, meaning that you can use the same individual layers to build up images on-prem or in the cloud. You don’t even have to build the image locally and upload it, but you can use the exact same layers. There’s no doubt that this is valuable to Citrix as they grow their partnership with Microsoft, and I suspect we’ll see a lot more about this in the months leading up to Synergy.
All we really have to go on right now are the blog posts (Rob Beekmans and Bas van Kaam to name a few), tweets, and press releases that have come out of Summit. From those, we can glean a few more pieces of information. First, Unidesk’s capabilities will be included in all editions of XenApp and XenDesktop (which is important to Citrix’s cloud migration strategy), and it will continue to support all of the platforms listed earlier. VMware Horizon customers running Unidesk will still have the option of buying a standalone product for use with Horizon, though I suspect the pricing will be high enough that it’s probably worth switching to XenApp/XenDesktop.
Since Summit is an NDA, partner-only event, we likely won’t be able to dig in until Synergy (though I’ve also seen hints that it will be released as a Citrix product by the end of Q1). Either way, I honestly can’t wait. This is very exciting news. Congratulations to everyone at Unidesk, and, frankly, congratulations to Citrix. I think they made a great move here.