Citrix adds two mobile device rock stars through their acquisition of Virtual. Here’s our analysis:

When a rumor gets as hot as the one that broke on TechCruch yesterday about an acquisition, you know something is in the works. Today, we got confirmation from Citrix that they have acquired a little-known company called Virtual, or Virtu.

When a rumor gets as hot as the one that broke on TechCruch yesterday about an acquisition, you know something is in the works. Today, we got confirmation from Citrix that they have acquired a little-known company called Virtual, or Virtu.al depending on who you talk to. Virtual is a company that makes thin clients.

Just kidding.

As the name so bluntly suggests, Virtual makes an ARM-based hypervisor that allows them to virtualize both Android and iOS hardware. The stated purpose is to help with testing and development of mobile applications on different platforms to help developers get around the limitations of the various emulators on the market. I’m no coder, but even I’ve seen the gap between how an iPhone emulator works and how it actually behaves on a phone. So I can get behind the technology, but why is Citrix getting into this space?

Well, for starters, it’s a personnel grab. Though I don’t know how many people work for Virtual, two of them, founder Chris Wade and single-digit-employee-number Nick Allegra have well-documented and accomplished pasts. Nick Allegra (aka @comex) was the person behind JailbreakMe, bringing jailbreaking to even your mother’s iPhone. He brings what appears to be an unequaled knowledge of mobile operating systems and hardware (seriously, check out this article about him in Forbes), as well as 200k twitter followers. Chris Wade (@cmwdotme)was a contributor to Cydia as well creator of iEmu, a mobile device emulator. Frustration stemming from iEmu is what caused him to look into virtualization and ultimately develop Virtual.

So Citrix landed a couple mobility rock stars. You could draw a parallel to back in 2007 when Citrix acquired virtualization gurus Simon Crosby and Ian Pratt from XenSource. The difference here is that the XenSource deal was a $500mm acquisition of a company that already had customers and shipping products. Citrix used it not only for XenServer but as part of the overall movement towards VDI. Virtual, on the other hand, is in stealth mode with no shipping product. It could be a while before we see anything from Citrix with regards to the Virtual technology. It’s safe to say that a big part of this acquisition was to keep Wade, Allegra, and others away from VMware while bolstering their own expertise.

So what will Citrix do with this technology? Here’s a few thoughts:

  • Citrix could use it internally for testing Worx and Worx-enabled apps. They certainly have enough going on between their own apps and all the vendor apps to justify the technology.
  • Citrix could use it locally and release a solution like VMware Shift. I’ve been told that while the technology could be used in such a way it is not on the radar.
  • Virtual has already been testing their hypervisor on HP Moonshot ARM cartridges, which are due out later this year. Citrix sees an uptick in the demand for ARM servers, as well. So if you combine virtualized iOS and Android with Citrix’s existing app remoting pedigree, you could venture a safe bet that Citrix would head down that path like Raytheon and Hypori are doing.
  • There is the opportunity to use this as a security play. While the details aren’t clear, imagine spawning micro-VMs, like Bromium, but for mobile apps. While this skirts a little closer to the local hypervisor thing, it’s quite a bit different. Undoubtedly there are other ways to use the technology for more security (including the aforementioned app remoting), and Citrix appears to see this as a key aspect of the technology.
  • There are still questions to be answered (and I’m sure more to be asked), like which business unit does this fit into within Citrix. If it’s internal, we don’t really care, but if it will be productized is it a XenApp/XenDesktop thing or a XenMobile thing? Will it be wired into products as a feature, or sold separately? Perhaps it will remain standalone for a while longer while they finish up the baseline product, then get folded into the mix.

In addition, I have to wonder about licensing. Apple being Apple, they’re not too keen on letting end users run their OS on anything other than Apple hardware. Citrix has already been on this path with XenClient (can’t run OS X in it, and can’t run it on Mac hardware). Maybe iOS is different, but I can’t imagine that Apple will be too receptive to the idea of virtualizing it.

So many questions! I’m sure you have your own. Leave them here and we’ll see about getting Citrix to respond. In the meantime, check out the blog post from Chris Fleck after the announcement and ponder just what, exactly, you would do with this kind of technology.

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