VMware has been cleaning Citrix’s clock in the buzz department for the last several years, due in part to the fact that Citrix had already reached the top of the desktop virtualization mountain and VMware was climbing quickly. At the same time, Citrix was stuck in a rut and not putting a lot of public energy into fighting back. The general sentiment was along the lines of, “Sure, Citrix was there first, but look at all the work VMware is doing.” This is kind of like when someone who’s stayed in shape their entire life gets little credit for staying that way, while someone that lost a ton of weight gets congratulated all the time.
This year seems different, mainly because this Citrix seems different. Is Citrix finally ready to swing back at VMware? Last year, Citrix flirted with an all-out attack at Synergy, showing a few feature comparisons that were legitimate advantages (alongside a few that were insignificant at best, irrelevant at worst). This year, Citrix has more going for it that might allow them to take a more aggressive stance, but you just know that VMware is ready for a fight.
Here are a few hot areas where I think we’ll see the most activity:
Mature Skype for Business Support
Throughout last year, I spoke with people that said that the gap had sufficiently narrowed to the point where Skype for Business support was the single largest feature separating the two competitors. VMware currently has Skype for Business support in Tech Preview, though, so that will change very soon.
You can expect Citrix to call attention to the fact that their Skype for Business support is more mature than VMware’s (have a look at Derek Thorslund’s blog post from January of 2016 to see how much goes into it). Granted, VMware once again has the benefit of looking at what Citrix can do and telling their developers to “go make that,” but in order to match what Citrix has done VMware has their work cut out for them.
You can expect to hear from both Citrix and VMware about Skype for Business support around the Citrix Synergy timeframe. VMware has a habit of announcing things the same week.
Expanded relationship with Microsoft
Since we’re talking about Microsoft, it’s worth spending a minute on Citrix’s relationship with them. Since last year’s Synergy it’s been clear that Citrix and Microsoft are as close as ever, and with the recent release of XenDesktop and XenApp Essentials, you can expect the “best friends” drumbeat to get louder.
VMware simply can’t say the same thing, and they’d have a hard time making a justifiable argument to the benefit of the Citrix/Microsoft relationship. They announced VMware Horizon Cloud earlier this year, but saying IBM SoftLayer is your go to market partner is a far cry from saying your partner is Microsoft themselves. Then again, VMware has been doing this longer than Citrix, so they could turn around and play the maturity card, too.
Unidesk, Unidesk, Unidesk
When Citrix bought Unidesk earlier this year (read our article for a full analysis), it did more than just put a check in the box next to Built-in Application Management on the feature comparison between Citrix XenApp/XenDesktop and Horizon. It added user environment management, served as the death knell for Personal vDisk and AppDisk, and snatched back some buzz from VMware. It’s an all-around win for Citrix, and it’s something that will certainly be touted when the competitive juices start flowing.
Of course, VMware isn’t sitting around waiting to see what happens. Earlier this year they announced their Just-in-time Management Platform that combines App Volumes, Instant Clone, and User Environment Manager now supports Horizon Apps. The key takeaway here, though, is that where Citrix once didn’t have an answer, they now do.
The protocol wars are still happening
After years of extolling the virtues of PCoIP, VMware has created their own protocol called Blast Extreme. Currently on version 2.0, they claim that it’s better than both PCoIP and HDX in nearly every way from bandwidth to battery life. Though we haven’t seen much in the way of independent comparisons, it will be interesting to see if we hear comparisons coming from the Citrix camp about either the legitimacy of VMware’s claims or about other areas where HDX might have an advantage.
The truth is, as much as I wish the protocol wars were over, there always seems to be an ember or two left that re-lights the fire from time to time. Ultimately, they’re both still good enough for the vast majority of use cases. That’s kind of boring, though, so maybe this time around we’ll see some remarkable improvements on both sides.
Frankly, the last few years in the Citrix vs VMware competition have been kind of lackluster. Both companies keep adding features, but those features are getting more and more nuanced as the platforms mature. The low and middle hanging fruit has been taken care of, so now it’s just the stuff that’s super high up.
With the few signs that Citrix is ready to take the fight to VMware and the upcoming Citrix Synergy, perhaps we’ll see the space heat up a bit again.