That's so 2017! Citrix ventures into VR.

Sometimes consumer technologies aren't a good fit for enterprise. In this case, Citrix (and VMware, too) might be on to something.

A few weeks ago, Citrix’s Christian Reilly authored a series of blog posts about a new initiative Citrix is dedicating resources to: Virtual Reality. Immediately visions of Receiver for Facebook flashed through my head (a “one more thing” announcement from Citrix Synergy 2011 in Barcelona that was taken as a joke in spite of it being delivered in a serious tone). You see, when something like that happens, you start to wonder about shiny new things and the companies that hop on board.

(In Reality, Receiver for Facebook was a demonstration of identity federation and their HTML5 client, so it wasn’t all bad. I just think it would’ve been better to focus on those things rather than the Facebook-ness of it.)

It’s not the first time something that has breached the mainstream has become a focal point of companies that work with enterprise customers. Remember Second Life? When it was first gaining attention we saw it everywhere. It was even on The Office (remember Dwight’s character that was exactly the same as him but made “60 THOUSAND dollars a year?”), and before long we were seeing hang spaces and meetups from overzealous marketers. Even I looked into it over a cup of coffee one time, just to see what all the fuss was about.

That said, I don’t believe VR belongs in the same bucket as Receiver for Facebook and conferences hosted on Second Life. VR, and its potentially more enterprise-focused cousins AR (Augmented Reality) and MR (Mixed Reality), is the real deal as long as the scope remains dialed-in.

To be clear, Citrix isn’t announcing XenVR or some such nonsense. They’re simply exploring the possibilities of VR within the Citrix product line. They call it V2R for Virtualized Virtual Reality, and in one post Christian demonstrates a rather complicated prototype rig for the sole purpose of showing that high-end VR equipment can be used in conjunction with XenDesktop. The realtime sensor data from the VR device can be sent from a client to a XenDesktop VM running Windows 10 in the data center. You have to start somewhere.

The demonstration video only shows running a simulation program in full Virtual Reality, which is little more than a good test. VR, which is totally immersive, is not a likely enterprise-class use case. Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality, on the other hand, could be very useful.

If you’re not familiar, the 10¢ tour of AR and MR is that they overlay elements from a virtual world on to the physical world. Augmented Reality is like Pokemon Go or SkyView (a mobile app that shows the stars and planets overlaid on top of live video from your phone’s camera), while Mixed Reality is using feedback from the end user’s view to inform the application that is driving the Augmented Reality. (An example of this would be SkyView recognizing that while Jupiter is visible, it’s behind a house, and it could tell you that you have to move to see it.)

VMware is paying attention, and at AirWatch Connect they discussed and even demonstrated a few ways AR could be used today. For example, doctors could use AR glasses during surgery to access information without having to look away from the patient, or engineers could use it on the manufacturing floor.

It simply makes sense that Citrix pays attention as well. Not just because VMware is doing it and they don’t want to lose ground, but also because VR really could be something that manages to break through the consumer wall and into the enterprise.

But where do Citrix and VMware actually fit into VR? They’re not going to make headsets, apps, or games. Any of those would be going way too far. There are, however, two key areas where they can play: management and access. For the moment, it seems VMware is focusing on management as it pertains to wearable technology, not just VR. A few pilot users that are sufficiently motivated can probably get VR devices working, but as more users start to pop up, the need for management and integration will grow. On the other hand, Citrix is apparently focusing on access for the moment, ensuring that their bread-and-butter platform can deliver the experience from high-end virtual machines. (In case it wasn’t obvious, VR, AR, and MR are what you would call “resource intensive.”)

It will be interesting to see how this pans out. I’m inclined to think that VMware focusing on management is the proper path to take right now since the trajectory of applications doesn’t seem to favor XenDesktop. However, since these apps require so much in the way of resources, perhaps they’ll fit into the long tail of applications that still reside on-premises, delivered by a platform like XenDesktop. It wouldn’t take much for Citrix to pivot into management, though, and the same could be said for VMware’s ability to pivot into integrating VR solutions with Horizon.

Is 2017 “The Year of VR?” Nah, but at least we’ll get some cool conference eye candy.

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