Citrix Dives into Voice over IP Space, also Acquires SSL VPN

Citrix bought a company called Net6 yesterday. Net6 is a small (30 person) company that has a few products.

Citrix bought a company called Net6 yesterday. Net6 is a small (30 person) company that has a few products. Their main product is an SSL VPN appliance. (Net6 actually calls it a “hybrid” VPN, but it’s just an SSL-based multi-protocol access point.)

This deal gets even more interesting if you look at Net6’s other products. They have a Voice over IP platform that works with all the major VoIP hardware (Cisco, Avaya, Nortel, etc.) They also have an application interface transformation package that can be used to create HTML- and XML-based interfaces for traditional 32-bit applications for use on devices like mobile phones. (Project Vertigo anyone?)

From a strategy standpoint, you could definitely make the argument that all of Net6’s products were about “access,” so the two companies’ strategies align nicely.

I think this deal is very significant, although for different reasons than the other news stories I’ve read so far. Other media outlets are only writing about the SSL VPN part of the deal. (eWeek, news.com, ComputerWeekly, NetworkWorld) While that’s most likely what Citrix went shopping for initially, I think the VoIP and application transformation stuff has the greatest potential to shape Citrix’s future.

Don’t get me wrong—I think the addition of a “real” SSL VPN to the Citrix product suite is a great move by Citrix. However, it’s not really that compelling because everyone knew Citrix was going to do this anyway. (The only question was “which one” and “when.”)

All told, Citrix will pay $50M cash for Net6. (Citrix had about $200M in cash before this deal, so they could definitely afford it.)

To truly appreciate the impact of this acquisition, I think we have to look at Net6’s three different product focuses one-by-one to see how each would affect Citrix.

Application Gateway / SSL VPN

Even though I believe the real gems of this deal are deeper than Net6’s Application Gateway VPN appliances, these devices are the central component to everything Net6 does. In addition to providing traditional SSL VPN (or hybrid VPN, as Net6 calls it) capabilities, these gateways also act as the single point of entry into the organization for Net6’s other products.

I've written on Citrix's SSL VPN strategy in the past , and the fact that Citrix’s own Secure Gateway product only ran on Windows and only supported a few protocols (ICA, HTTP/S) put a real limit on its enterprise effectiveness since companies would have to (1) buy another SSL VPN product to give them remote access to the non-Citrix protocols, or (2) use another SSL VPN product instead of Citrix’s Secure Gateway.

The acquisition of the SSL VPN product was a no-brainer for Citrix and will surely be widely-applauded by everyone. The only people who obviously won’t like it would be the other SSL VPN vendors, especially those that took the time to build Citrix-specific SSL VPN offerings (such as Netilla’s SGA-C appliance). It will be interesting to see what these companies think of this move by Citrix. Then again, Citrix is growing, and a certain amount of co-op-etition is expected. (Just like the printing and performance areas)

Other than that, I’m sure we’ll see Citrix evolve the Net6 appliance into a Citrix-branded device that seamlessly integrates with the rest of the MetaFrame Access Suite. I’m sure we’ll see common management tools and licensing packages available in 2005.

IP Telephony

As I said, I think Net6’s work in the IP Telephony space really shows how Citrix is thinking about the future. Citrix is making it clear that they view voice and data in the same way. To them, voice is just another part of the “any” access.

I totally agree with this view of the voice world. I personally use Vonage (broadband consumer VoIP phone in the US) for all my calling now. I also have a Verizon EVDO card for my laptop / iPAQ. This card provides 2mbps in large cities via the mobile telephone network. With all the WiFi and WiMax announcements, I’m sure in a few years we’ll basically have lots of wireless bandwidth available wherever we go, so we shouldn’t the “telephone” be just another application that’s delivered via Citrix?

Even though I’m sure they didn’t know about this acquisition, At iForum in Orlando last month, Citrix engineers made several comments about new capabilities of MetaFrame Presentation Server (both in audio quality and IP address loopback virtualization) that would ultimately support VoIP “soft phones.” Even if Citrix doesn’t tunnel VoIP data through ICA (which I don’t think they will—not at first), they’ll be able to use the Net6 access appliances as a single device which is the access point for everything from outside the firewall. (“Everything” as in all applications, data and voice.)

Mobile Application Platform

Net6 also has a mobile application environment that allows you to transform traditional GUI applications into basic XML and HTML pages (much like the Citrix / ViewSoft “Project Vertigo” technologies pushed in the late ninties).

This product also makes heavy use of the Application Gateway appliance for access from outside the firewall. It also includes a piece of software called “Design Studio” that lets you lay out and build the interface designs of your applications for the small devices.

I think the concept of applications re-arranging their interfaces depending on the form factor they’re being displayed on is going to be huge in a few years. This is a central tenet of Micorosft’s upcoming Longhorn release of Windows and a requirement for “true” fluid computing.

The Bottom Line

I think this acquisition was a great fit across the board, and to me it’s becoming more clear that Citrix is outlining a strategy for how they can become more than “just” a server-based computing company.

What do you think? Did this acquisition make sense? What are some of the cool ways that a hardware SSL VPN could be integrated with the MetaFrame Access Suite. What about voice and application transformation?

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This message was originally posted by an anonymous visitor on November 24, 2004
I don't get how the "telephone" will become just another appliaction that's delivered via Citrix?
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This message was originally posted by an anonymous visitor on November 24, 2004
A telephone is not an application. It is an access endpoint. Voice on the otherhand is an application. With VoIP, it becomes something that is accessible over data networks. Access is what Citrix does, and be it voice, video or data, they all need to follow the same access policies and strategies an enterprise adopts. Seamless access and end user experience while accessing voice video and data resources is a very important aspect of any complete access solution.
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This message was originally posted by Brian Madden on November 24, 2004
Yeah, when I say the telephone will become another application, I'm not talking about the end device with the speaker and microphone. I mean that any client device will be able to act as a telephone, in that the concept of calling someone and talking to them will be just another thing you do with your device (like IM today). And I totally agree with the anonymous comment above.
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This message was originally posted by an anonymous visitor on November 24, 2004
I'm wondering how Citrix will added the SSL appliance feature? Directly to CSG and continue to give it away with MPS suite or make it part of the MSAM which costs extra.
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This message was originally posted by xs4citrix on November 25, 2004
Well, as far as i know Citrix by now, they will not spend 50 million on an early christmas present for their users, so i will bet it will be an MSAM add-on.
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This message was originally posted by MicroCitrix Weary on November 25, 2004
UGH! Citrix keeps adding perimeter products to secure their core products maintenance will continue to be protected/paid. They are worse than MS in my opionion and on top of that Citrix talks about raising prices. Once a Citrix perimeter product is installed a company is locked in. Where is the cost savings that Citrix once promised? Is it going to be $700-$800/user now! It is $500-$600/user now if one honestly looks at the numbers.
Plus, I don't know of a VOIP product that you can't add html/xml based apps for mobile users so whoopee :(.
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This message was originally posted by an anonymous visitor on November 25, 2004
To quote: "They also have an application interface transformation package that can be used to create HTML- and XML-based interfaces for traditional 32-bit applications for use on devices like mobile phones. (Project Vertigo anyone?)"

Net6 have a product called Design Studio which, according to their website, is used to transform existing XML and HTML-based applications (without changing the underlying application) into the correct format for use on small form factor devices.

I think you *might* be confusing this product with AppSwing's AppServer product, which allows the creation of customised, 'sliced' HTML front-ends for existing 32-bit Windows applications. AppSwing's product achieves this by converting Windows controls to HTML controls in the original application screens and - like the Net6 offering - requires no modification to the original applications' code. This technology has been popular for organisations looking to mobilise 32-bit applications which are too cumbersome for deployment via Citrix to a small form-factor or mobile/PDA device.

So, the Net6 offering is a web-to-web offering, whereas AppSwing's product provides true 32-bit to HTML/XML transformation. I also think AppSwing's offering would make sense for Citrix to look at in terms of possible acquisition. Now Citrix have a product which will allow customisable web-to-web translation, but 32-bit application transformation is still not possible.
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This message was originally posted by an anonymous visitor on November 25, 2004
Citrix can't give it away - they have been guilty of that way too many times (NFuse, CSG, etc.)
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This message was originally posted by Michael Rueefli (MIRU) on November 29, 2004
I'm wondering a bit how Citrix will plan the integration of the new products into the basic access products. Will it be another few nice features downloadable for free if having active subscription? That would mean they must increase the prices for the basic access licenses. Although the buy of Net6 would result in a enhancement of MSAM regarding the SSL VPN functionality.
Like with Citrix Password manager, it would be hard to sell it as a standalone product, the fact is that every customer links the name "Citrix" with SBC.
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This message was originally posted by Hans on December 8, 2004
Refering to comments made above, VoIP could be implimented in a number of ways, either Citrix could deliver the voice or Citrix could deliver the actual softphone application. I cannot see either being used until MPS4 when you will be able to virtualise IP address - TAPI is commonly used in these envirenments and my current experience shows that TAPI is not TS aware as it uses the IP address of the local server.
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It would as a softphone. It would be helpful to lot of execturives, doctors, lawyere when they travel and they want to receive the phone call as well as use there number to call out . and Delivering softphones via citrx would allow us to do that. though right now the possibllities are limited.
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