How much has Citrix really changed in the last 5 years?

In 2012, I wrote an article speculating what Citrix might look like in five years. With the anniversary of that post approaching, let's revisit what I got right (not much), and wrong.

Five years ago, on November 15, 2012, to be exact, I wrote an article asking the question "In 5 years will we even recognize Citrix?" It was so long ago that I'd forgotten about it, but yesterday Scott Cutter reminded me via twitter. It seems Scott had set a calendar reminder way back then, and I'm glad he did because revisiting that article has led to some interesting insights about the state of Citrix today.

The 2012 article was written shortly after Citrix Synergy Barcelona, back when they had more than just one event. I actually enjoyed having an event in the Spring and Fall because it gave some insight into the progress Citrix was making every six months, rather than having to wait an entire year. At this particular event, former Citrix CEO Mark Templeton started the keynote talking about Citrix CloudGateway and Citrix Online. He referenced the "post-PC era," and their acquisition of Virtual Computer, as well as ShareFile and Podio.

What was missing from the keynote, and what became the idea behind the article, was that there was no mention of XenApp or XenDesktop right off the bat. Previous events talked about new features, number of customers, licenses, use cases…basically how Citrix was crushing it. The fact that Citrix was talking more about other areas besides those classic products was noteworthy all by itself.

I left with the impression that Citrix was hedging their bets by acquiring Virtual Computer (which was rolled into XenClient), making sure they could deliver and manage Windows desktops and applications in any virtual form factor. It made sense at the time, but when you looked beyond Windows things seemed a little more disorganized. From the article:

"So, Citrix in five years will still have a focus on Windows desktops, but they're more than aware of the fact that the future lies somewhere else. That's why we see Citrix doing so much with Citrix Online, Podio, and CloudGateway. THAT is the future of Citrix, and as I was told at Synergy, you should get to know CloudGateway as well as you know XenApp and XenDesktop."

"Now add Podio to the mix, which I'm still trying to find a reason to love. Still, the fact that Podio is a platform on which enterprises can easily build applications means that Citrix is giving companies the ability to abandon legacy Windows applications in favor of a web-based approach. Not only can Citrix deliver native applications to users, but they can help you develop new ones that are accessible from anywhere without having to remote entire OSes to the users. I may not love it today, but I can see it coming around in the future."

I wrapped up the article saying that:

"The future Citrix will be all-in on these technologies, and while I don't believe they'd ever abandon the Windows-based technologies that they own (at least not in that time frame), I do see Citrix moving them further back from the main stage as time goes by. I suspect we'll see the same out of VMware, but that's not as shocking since their Windows desktop focus only dates back as far as 2008. It should be fun to watch."

Fast Forward

Looking at things today, I'm pretty sure the only thing I was right about was that the Windows-based technologies Citrix owned would still be a big part of the company, but that they'd be publicly focused on the next thing. That's not much of a stretch, so I don't really want any credit for that.

The most interesting takeaway from that article is that here we are five years later, and the only thing that's changed about Citrix's situation are the names. Citrix is still looking for the next thing, only this time it's with a different set of products and different leadership. They're still talking about things other than XenApp and XenDesktop, even though that is the main reason anyone deal with Citrix.

It starts at the top. Since 2012, CEO Mark Templeton retired, came back, then was forced out. Citrix replaced him with Kirill Tatarinov, who was then replaced by COO David Henshall. That's three CEOs in five years, with a bonus CEO search in there between Mark's first retirement and the comeback.

Now let's look at the products Citrix was focusing on back then. It's safe to say none of them feature as prominently as they used to, if they're around at all.

Podio

Citrix had just acquired Podio earlier in 2012, so they were happy to promote it as the next great thing from Citrix, allowing you to build applications and workflows for the browser-based workforce. Here we are in 2017, though, and the only time I use Podio is when someone from Citrix forces me to use it, presumably because they themselves were forced to use it. I'm not entirely sure how it escaped the cutbacks that Citrix went through in 2016 when it was isolating "core" products, or why Citrix feels it's important to be in the "Flexible Project Management" space. Podio might still be around, but it's not the platform of the future that it once appeared to be.

Cloud Gateway

When Cloud Gateway was first announced, it was an identity management tool that we thought would integrate with on-premises and SaaS applications, making it possible to provision and de-provision user accounts across multiple providers. It was the "gateway to the cloud," and it sure looked like a lifesaver. Then, Citrix transformed it into a Mobile Application Management tool, at least until they bought Zenprise a few months later. Now, whatever is left has been rolled into XenMobile.

This is ironic, given the fact that Identity and Access Management is a huge deal today. Citrix could have been at the forefront of it all, but got out of it too soon.

Citrix Online

We all know what happened to Citrix Online. One of Citrix's most valuable assets, with no direct ties to the other "Core" products, it was sold off as part of the restructuring that followed Elliott's involvement with Citrix in 2015.

Virtual Computer (XenClient)

Though Citrix already had XenClient, they acquired Virtual Computer in 2012 to add some management functionality. The two platforms were somewhat similar (both used the same hypervisor and had compatible VMs), but both lacked certain management features. Combining everything gave Citrix the best chance of gaining some traction with the client hypervisor.

Citrix ended up killing off XenClient (a Type-1 client hypervisor, in that it ran directly on the hardware instead of on top of a host OS) in October of 2015, instead choosing to do any client virtualization on their Type-2 client hypervisor, DesktopPlayer.  DesktopPlayer is still around, but it's by no means the same as XenClient, and gets very little attention from anyone other than existing customers.

That's kind of a dreary list, right? Should we add in all the other things that have come and gone at Citrix in the same span? Octoblu, for example, was going to enable a whole new world for Citrix until it was shut down last month. Remember WorkspacePod? What about Sanbolic?

Each of these things has been lauded as the next step for Citrix, and each of them has fallen by the wayside for one reason or another. I was wrong on all of them, but there's one more thing I couldn't have been more wrong about: VMware.

I predicted that VMware would do the same thing as Citrix, focusing on newer platforms rather than investing more into Windows. For context, at the time, VMware was only focused on VDI, and didn't show any interest in applications at all. Windows was still something they thought was on death row, so it really did look like they were going to go all-in on something other than Horizon.

In reality, VMware put their foot on the accelerator, adding support for applications, and even breaking into Windows management. The fact that VMware caught up to Citrix is amazing all by itself, but when you add in the complete reversal of their approach to Windows, I couldn't have been more wrong. In fact, now VMware is in the driver's seat in a lot of ways, and we're increasingly asking Citrix what they're going to do about things like Unified Endpoint Management.

In reality, Citrix and VMware are pretty much even from a desktop virtualization perspective, but all signs point to AirWatch having the lead (or at least the most mindshare) in the EMM space. Will Citrix respond, or will they continue to stay focused on whatever is next?

What is "next," anyway?

I'm in no position to make a prediction right now. In fact, if you asked me to project what Citrix would look like five years from now, I don't know that I could. In November 2015, Brian gave Citrix "exactly zero chance of being a company by the end of 2017," and, well, let's just say the year isn't over yet.

With that in mind, I think I'll sit this one out and see what happens. Citrix is a state of flux right now, focusing on things like making ShareFile more enterprise-focused while also trying to become a cloud-first security and analytics company (though that message was delivered by former CEO Kirill Tatarinov, so who knows how that will turn out under new leadership). They have desktop virtualization solutions built for Azure, which is cool even though it's not really helping the bottom line.

The primary takeaway from this is that here we are in 2017, and Citrix is still in the same situation as they were in 2012: trying to find the next new thing while leaning on their existing XenApp and XenDesktop customer base. No matter what Citrix has done to set themselves up for the next phase, they’re still a desktop virtualization company. It’s not that they haven’t seen success in other areas, but they haven’t been able to land on a technology that can propel them into the future. The result is that the company’s revenue is flat, the shareholders are unhappy, and they’re in the situation they’re in.

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Citrix' new plan seems to be to milk the user base via transitioning further to subscription. I get that the former CFO is well qualified to engage what seems a financial strategy. Not sure I understand the long term technology goals like the above writer. Goldman Sachs is a believer.
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Citrix has become Novell.
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