Citrix and Microsoft join forces against VMware...at VMworld 2007!

This morning at VMworld, Microsoft and Citrix flipped a bird to VMware at their own conference and announced that they will be standardizing their platform virtualization efforts on Microsoft's VHD disk image file format.

This morning at VMworld, Microsoft and Citrix flipped a bird to VMware at their own conference and announced that they will be standardizing their platform virtualization efforts on Microsoft's VHD disk image file format.  In the same announcment, Microsoft said that they would base future versions of their SoftGrid application virtualization product on VHD files, and Citrix said they would be integrating the VHD format into Citrix Desktop Server.

So, what does this mean?  Regarding platform virtualization, Citrix and Microsoft have essentially united in a Beta vs. VHS battle with VMware.  This is probably good news for the industry, since it will probably lead to a feature war.  I imagine it will also work to drive prices down for the enterprise versions of these products. 

Regarding Citrix Desktop Server integration, this is likely to include Citrix's Ardence OS streaming product, at least in part.  What I picture is a broad solution where a VHD-based virtual machine can be streamed via Ardence, loaded via XenSource or Viridian, or delivered via Citrix Desktop Server.  In a model such as this, servers or workstations can be provisioned based on various needs, including hardware capabilities or connection type.

In regards to Softgrid integration, I'm having a difficult time trying to find a good fit for VHD integration.  Could the VHD format be adapted and used as the delivery mechanism for SoftGrid applications?  Maybe there will be a way to edit post-sequenced applications by mounting the VHD and editing the files directly.  I'm hoping there's some SoftGrid experts (tim?) out there that can throw out a few ideas.

Read the full contents of the press release here.

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What this mean is that SoftGrid, Windows Server 2008 Virtualization, Citrix Desktop Server have something in common, there  architecture of storing information. That means that with System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) a various type of vendor solutions (who know what will be added ..) can be managed from different point of views. Microsoft has SCCM, maybe Citrix will buy a Client Management solution or extend their management solution(s).. great times!
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SoftGrid uses a virtual filesystem in the SFT and for the cache file. I don't really see the benefit of making this a VHD other than reducing the number of different tools/approaches to do managament of the complete environment. Or maybe we'll be streaming Ardence images over RTSP, or SoftGrid streams over Ardence's streaming protocol. Or being able to cache Ardence streamed images in a hypervisor for offline usage, like laptops. Now that I think of it... I believe this step will be great.
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There are limitations of this SFT filesystem. That's why for example the maximum package size is 4Gb, that's also why x64 isn't so easy to support. System Center includes alot of solutions that will fit together (in the near future). Maybe Citrix and/or others can integrate there solutions within System Center. Or maybe this is the second signal that MS wil buy Citrix ;-)

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Why would they (buy Citrix). It will be expensive, it will raise questions (market dominance etc) and in this way MS has another company helping them with development, gaining marketshare and a sales force out there...for free

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It will be expensive indeed, but Microsoft is trying to become a one stop shop for big enterprise solutions (Build for Big). They could be offering this as extra (paid) functionality which you can buy, meaning you don't have to. There are plenty of solutions which 'compete' with Citrix. And if they buy Citrix, those resources are not gone all of a sudden. There will be an Enterprise TS division, Xensource would be integrated in System Center, Ardence in virtualization and so on.

On a sidenote, I don't see MS buying Citrix anytime soon. 

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If MS intends to, I'm pretty sure that a number of US states will be queuing up at the courthouse...(joining the ones who are already there to extend the Antitrust Pact)
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To answer Brian, let me point to a second, easily missed, announcement Microsoft made at VMworld, "MSI Utility for Microsoft Virtualization".  Enough to make anyone click next.  But don't.   You'll need to stay with me here as I'm taking the "end around" route to your question. If you remember back when Microsoft bought Softricity I said that the value might not lie in the product, but in the parts. 

If you look at how Microsoft is [going to be] doing published apps in Windows Server 2008, you ultimately end up the RDP file and icons packaged into an MSI file and installed to the user's desktop (or start menu) as shortcuts.  SoftGrid also needs to put shortcuts on the desktop, although with an OSD file and icon instead.  Today the streaming server does that, although SMS shops can disable that and use SMS to push that out using something called the "SMS connector for SoftGrid".  Microsoft previously announced that they were dropping support for this connector, and rumor was that they would package the OSD and icon into an MSI and use the same method.

This second announcement is what we expected, but more.  Once the OSD and icon are on the user's desktop, the content of the application, the SFT file, must be streamed down to the client PC and cached. Then the user acquires authorization (a "license") to run the application from the server.  In this announcement, the SFT also arrives in the MSI, and it sounds like the "license" is handled there as well.  So you get application virtualization without the server.  Mostly this sounds like just a hack (include the SFT and a script in the MSI and you can do all except the "licence" today).  Virtual Application without streaming.  Just a part. 

There is still a bunch of stuff going on in the announcement that I don't yet understand.  It is all wrapped up in System Center stuff and naming, which can only confuse.  Plus there are some odd statements. 

For example, "The MSI utility deploys applications to stand-alone SoftGrid client only.  Clients (occasionally) connected to a SoftGrid Virtual Application Server typically use streaming for application deployment".  But I think that most large customers today would prefer to push out the virtual application without streaming.  So why is this method second-class???  In every SoftGrid training class I run a customer asks exactly for this.

Then there is a line which states this utility will be supported for only 12 months after the release of SoftGrid 4.5 (which they don't say when, but is expected to be released in 2008).  And a small chart which mentions a "native implementation" between SCCM 2007 and SoftGrid 4.5 that seems to eliminate the need for this connector.  But they don't explain what that is! 

So back to your question...  The SFT is a special file system created to remotely stream applications.  It has "different" attributes than a normal file system.  For example, if you open a file (run an exe or open in Notepad) on a mounted share, CIFS needs to bring the entire file over to your local system before operating on it.  The SoftGrid file system can just bring over the part that is needed (streaming).  If you break things up and don't need streaming, you don't need that special feature.  Also, because the user can't write to the SFT (all writes are redirected to the user's virtual copy) there is nothing in the way of ACLs.  Sometimes we want to mark something as "you can't even try to write here" to keep the user from writing into their cache (like to add a plug-in).  Then there is that 4G limit, which frankly isn't much of an issue (how many apps are bigger than 4G?)

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[Note to brian:  Your system let me type a longer reply than it would post.  So the end of my post was lost.  Argh! ]

So the SFT is just a file system.  If, as you suggest, the SFT is to move to a VHD format (or any new format) it would be like going from FAT to NTFS.  You can bring over the content.  It is very important that customers can bring their old sequences over to anything new, and Microsoft seems to ackowlege this.  So if VHD is a convenient format that can simplfy Microsoft's life and maybe provide customers new features, OK.  I am, however, suspicous that VHD would be used with SoftGrid 4.5 (but I have no inside information on this) because 4.5 code should be close to completion given the TAP dates.  

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No way will Citrix let VMWare have a booth at the "App Delivery Expo". Nor Packeteer, nor ...[fill in the name of your favorite vendor no longer able to attend  :-() ]

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This move by Citrix and Microsoft has more to do with limiting VM Ware's marketing appeal then adding management features or whatever to Microsoft and Citrix's virtualization features.  And I'm pretty sure if Microsoft was going to buy Citrix they would have done it a couple of years ago.  Brians analogy is perfect for the situation, it IS just like the old Beta vs VHS battle.  Bete lost.....  Vm Ware will have to conform, win, or fade away.
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Whoops! Sorry about that bug. We'll get that fixed.

But I want to point out that this is Gabe's article, not mine.

Great insight though, as always, Tim.

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I might have been dreaming but i am certaing Diane, CEO at VMware said in her keynote that VMware is gonna standardize their virtual machine layout together with Xensource and Virtual Server. So it will be possible to move the virtual machines around from one system to another in the future.

/LamerSmurf

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Virtual Machine layout yes, Virtual Disk format no.
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Sun Microsystems just announced that they want to join this club. On http://www.sun.com/aboutsun/pr/2007-09/sunflash.20070912.1.xml they say that they want to ensure that Solaris runs well as a guest on Microsoft virtualization technology and that Windows runs well on Sun virtualization technology. Additionally Sun has signed on as a 64-bit Windows Server OEM. This means that in the future you will get Windows Server on Sun hardware!!!! And joint Sun-Microsoft solutions will cover the support of Remote Desktop Protocol on Sun's SunRay thin clients. What happened to the traditional rivalry between Sun and Microsoft that used to be so much fun for us watching it?

Benny

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Ah Softgrid again, that overhyped purchase that MS has done nothing with. I've used it and a bunch of emerging alteratives and Softricity is going the path exactly as I had feared. Systems Center, that ugly monster AKA SMS 200X is the drug they want us to buy into to pour more $ into their pockets. SMS comes with so much overhead to manage, and what a mess to have to buy just for the sake of Softgrid. The guy running Softrcity now is ex SMS, so we should all beware. Hopefully VMWare does something in this space to create a better alternative. Citrix are probably to scared to do anything that may rub MS the wrong way, but why bother with Tarpon then. So thanks MS, thanks for buying a real innovator, doing nothing with it and killing progress by getting the SMS guy to find ways to justify his previous genious.
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I've never seen Brian get so much credit for an article that Gabe wrote...
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Tell us how you really feel
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With the latest news here: http://redmondmag.com/news/article.asp?editorialsid=9030  I really think Microsoft is in for a good battle.  Personally I think VMWare will still win, they've been in the business longer, they have the name recognition, and I think they have better products.
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Yeah and thats what the Novell guy said back in the 90's. 

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I think I know the Novell guy who said that.  He works for Citrix now.  I'm not kidding.  It will be interesting to see how Citrix fares when they actually have someone to compete against.  It is hard to say where the future of this whole virtual computing thing is going to go.  I don't think you can compare it to the Novell/Microsoft battles in the past with what is going on today.  Back then, Novell was cocky and arrogant and they sat on their hands while Microsoft took their business from them.  VMWare is anything but that.  They (VMware) are not going to just let Microsoft take their business the way Novell did.  No matter who wins, this is a good thing.  We (the customers) want to see the best companies out there be as competitive as possible.  One thing I will say, Citrix absolutely needs to be partnered with MS.  They need to be a MS value add ISV with hypervisor in the same model that they presently have with Terminal server/PS today.  If Citrix can't make that model work with hypervisor they are doomed.  They can not stand alone against VMware.  They will be crushed if they try.   
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What this also means is that generic desktops (with Softgrid Client installed as part of the build) can be streamed via Ardence and then applications provisioned on a user basis through Softgrid.
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I am still amazed at how many people think MIcrosoft makes great products. When is America going wake up and see Microsoft contributes very little to advancement of any technology! I hope VMware wins! Microsofts technology is about as impressive as a old IBM typewriter.
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