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.
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?