Today, Citrix announced their acquisition of Framehawk, a company known in part for their home-grown protocol called LFP (Lightweight Framebuffer Protocol) that has been created from the ground up to work on high-latency, inconsistent networks; not to mention their exceptional client interface and management capabilities. There are a few angles that can explain Citrix’s interest in Framehawk, and I want to take a look at each of them. We should know more about their plans and the rationale behind the acquisition in the coming days/weeks, but there’s more than enough to contemplate now.
The key feature of Framehawk is the ability to “iPad-ify” Windows applications (and Linux, too) so they are more useable on iPads than they would otherwise be using more conventional remote desktop solutions, protocols, and clients. The fact that Framehawk bolts on to your existing environment means that you don’t have to change your infrastructure to use it. (I suppose that convenience also applies to acquisitions!) An admin can publish an application to users, which sounds like the same old story, but what’s compelling is that the platform can tweak the end user experience not just per application, but per region on the screen. It supports gestures, offset mouse, and some of the other more common features, but it does this in customizable way. It even has features akin to those in Parallels Access, like text field detection, which pops up a context-specific keyboard (think full keyboard in Word, internet keyboard in IE URL box, etc…).
I sometimes look at this as the antithesis of the Citrix Mobility SDK. To iPad-ify mobile applications using it, you need to actually modify code on your homegrown apps. That’s all well and good if you own the app and have the developers, but refactoring an app for use on a different form factor is tough work with a lot of requirements (like having access to your app’s code). Framehawk’s method sits in between the app and the end user, restructuring things as needed for any application. (Note: I've also heard that you do need an SDK to fully customize the interface for Framehawk. So now it's 1-1. If you know something, feel free to comment)
Framehawk has two deployment methods: from the cloud or from the datacenter. Both are identical in terms of what they do, it’s just that with the cloud method you don’t have to roll your own infrastructure. It means that in the future world where Windows is nothing more than middleware, you simply have to connect Framehawk to the app and deploy...easy as that. In a way, it’s like Mainframe2 that Brian covered recently.
Is this what Citrix is focused on with the acquisition? iPad-ifying applications and making it easier to deploy Windows apps to non-Windows mobile devices? Surely that’s part of it, they could have done some of this themselves. Don’t forget about the protocol.
I’ve had a soft spot for Framehawk since the middle of last year after I first got a demo of the product. In fact, I’m slightly jealous of Brian and Jack since they live in San Francisco and the TechTarget office there is about a block away from Framehawk’s, so they’ve seen some killer demos. I’ve speculated about their potential for acquisition, going so far as to say that if VMware and Teradici part ways, Framehawk would be a good fit for them. Frankly, I never even considered Citrix as an option, mostly because they are so joined to the hip of ICA/HDX.
Still, it makes sense. HDX has a long history in the desktop virtualization world, going back long before we actually called it desktop virtualization. It was invented in the 1990s to address a use case that, while it still exists today, is vastly different from what it was back then. Since then, it has been adapted and expanded to accommodate new workloads and use cases. As with anything so old and universally used, Citrix is forced to maintain some level of backwards-compatibility, and as such the underlying architecture of the protocol over the years hasn’t changed all that much. Any improvements in performance are largely done by adding features on top of the protocol, not changing the protocol itself.
When Mobility became a thing, Citrix did what they could to HDX to make it as mobile-friendly as possible, and they did a good job with what they had. It wasn’t until Framehawk arrived on the scene that we saw exactly how good things could be. I’m guessing Citrix has realized that, and if they want to be in the business of delivering Windows apps to mobile devices into the future, decided they needed to do something.
So how will this all fit into Citrix? What will they do with in the short term / long term? Part of the advantage of the bolt-on solution is that they don’t have to do much in order to get the technology on-boarded. I’d imagine we’ll see a Find & Replace version of Framehawk (XenHawk?) with Citrix branding fairly soon, probably even before Synergy. Eventually, as the technology from the client gets folded into Receiver, I see this as an add-on component for NetScaler, although I’m not sure how much we need in the way of resources to support users. It could be a standalone encoder, for instance, while NetScaler handles the provisioning and access.
The LFP protocol is central to the mobile side, but HDX performs just fine inside the company walls. I don’t think we’ll see HDX go away in the next few years. It could even be possible that the two protocols can be used in conjunction with one another, should an internal use case become apparent. Still, while the mobile use case is certainly there, I don’t think you’re going to see an LFP-TCP listener any time soon, but you can expect to see the Framehawk technology incorporated alongside HDX.
So, look for an expanded Windows on mobile message from Citrix in the coming months, as well as a lot about how HDX can now perform better in harsher environments. Derek Thorslund already posted a blog about this, although how and when Framehawk and HDX will be merged remains to be seen. In the not-too-distant future, we’ll probably start to see more about delivering Windows apps in a more simple fashion, a la Mainframe2.
Of course, Citrix could have purchased Framehawk for the simple reason of keeping them away from competitors (something which is often alleged when discussing Kaviza). That would protect any advantage they have in the protocol wars. I'm an optimist, so I hope they use the features that they purchased even if that was the primary reason, but I guess we'll see. This, combined what what VMware is up to, is making for a pretty exciting January! Stay tuned for more information on the acquisition, and if you want to learn more about Framehawk, check out this primer.