Citrix is a big company with dozens (hundreds?) of groups, teams, divisions, and sections. One such group is the "Advanced Products Group," (or "AdProd" as they're known internally). AdProd's goal is to research, innovate, and incubate emerging and disruptive technologies. They're typically looking into the future about two years ahead of the product groups, which means that AdProd folks are generally thinking about things that are four or five years away from being part of an actual Citrix product.
In some ways Citrix's Advanced Products Group is like Microsoft Research. There are a lot of PhDs working on some crazy-cool stuff. But AdPord is different than many "pure" research groups in that AdProd is also responsible for helping the product groups actually implement their ideas. For example, the AdProd team will typically build initial proofs-of-concept and work out a lot of the initial architecture and code, and then the AdProd people will team up with the Product Management groups in Citrix to help them ship the "v1" release of the technology. Once v1 ships, the individual product group owns the technology and the AdProd team members can start working on the next big thing.
So what technologies have come out of AdProd? Quite a bit, it turns out. A partial list includes:
- Seamless windows
- Application Isolation Environments
- Most of the SpeedScreen technologies
- Secure Gateway
- Dynamic USB drive support
- SmartAuditor (ICA session recording / Project Iris)
- portICA (ICA to Windows XP and Vista for VDI)
- and... the OS/2 ICA Client! :)
Citrix has AdProd folks all over the world, altough they're concentrated in three main locations: Sydney Australia, Redmond Washington, and Cambridge England. I've visited the Redmond and Cambridge offices in the past, and on Monday I spent the day with the AdProd team in Sydney. My visit was really a "meet and greet" along with some discussions, reviews, and demos of current AdProd projects.
I had to sign in and print a name badge via a thin-client terminal in the lobby. The first choice in the dropdown box for the "purpose of visit" was "MetaFrame Access Suite." :)
Steve Parry, the director of AdProd's Sydney office, hosted me for the day and handled the logistics of my visit. I arrived a bit before our meetings were scheduled to start, and Steve was kind enough to give me a quick tour of the office. We hadn't walked more than a minute before I saw something that always makes me smile:
Yep, those are the logon and logoff charts that Kevin Goodman and I made a few years ago. It's always cool to see them at customer sites. But it's really cool to see them at the Citrix Advanced Products Group site! (On a side note, Kevin and I are creating a new chart for XenApp 5 on Windows Server 2008. We'll release it and present it at BriForum 2008 in Chicago.)
AdProd also has their own test lab onsite. They can do a fair amount of scalability testing and simulation in their lab. They have bunches of equipment, including this gem:
This was the first time I'd ever seen a Net6-branded appliance. Pretty cool!
In addition to creating new technologies, AdProd also helps out with the technical "due diligence" investigation when takes place when Citrix acquires another company. In other words, if Citrix management decides they might want to buy a company, they'll get some of that company's gear and send it to AdProd, and the AdProd folks will tear it apart and see if it's worthy of being owned by Citrix.
This of course is highly-secretive work, and the people on those teams can't help but feel cool in a secret-agent kind of way. Even cooler is the fact that if it's a hardware company that Citrix is thinking about buying, the AdProd team might need to test the stuff Citrix's production datacenter. But of course they can't let people know what products they're testing, so they'll have to remove bezels and peel off stickers and otherwise disguise the product so that other people don't know what they're testing, like this:
Citrix's Advanced Products Group is headed up by Martin Duursma. Martin is arguably the Citrix employee with the longest tenure, having joined the company three years before it was formed. Martin ran a company in Australia called DataPack--the folks who originally developed seamless Windows--which was bought by Citrix in the 1997. Since Martin was at DataPack since 1986, he hasn't technically changed jobs in the last 22 years, even though Citrix has only been around for 19 years.
I spent an hour or so with Martin discussing all sorts of things: rich Internet apps versus web apps, VDI user density versus terminal services, the "dumbing down" of IT, x64 pervasiveness, EdgeSight futures, the mega-consolidations happening in the IT industry, and a whole bunch of other projects that Citrix is thinking about for the future. It was time well spent, and Martin seems like the right person to be heading AdProd.
Actually, in addition to heading up AdProd, Martin also chairs the "CTO Office." Citrix hasn't had a "traditional" CTO in years . Instead, the CTOs of each business form a sort of virtual CTO office. So you get one guy from virtualization systems, one guy from Xen, one guy from NetScaler, one guy from online, etc., that make up this office. (And everyone's heard that Citrix CEO Mark Templeton is a huge geek. Mark is part of the CTO office too. :)
Once I finished up with Martin, I headed back to the conference room where various AdProd groups presented several bits of technology and projects, some of which I can write about now and some which I'll write about soon. Highlights included:
Project Alice ("Reverse Seamless") Imagine a full remote desktops (either via Presentation Server or XenDesktop), but with local apps running on your workstation "poking through." This is an intersesting technology with some fun use cases that I'll write more about later this week.
PortICA (ICA to Windows XP / Vista for VDI) While some things have been written about portICA publicly, this was the first time that someone actually explained to me how ICA to a workstation works. The key takeaway was that it was "the same, but different." A lot of ideas are similar to ICA on a Terminal Server, but Citrix had to do a lot of work to make it work properly. (And by "properly," I mean better than the way that remote desktop via RDP works out-of-the-box.) Again, this topic deserves a full article which I'll write later in the week.
SmartAuditor (The ICA session shadowing stuff) We talked about where this was going, including SmartAuditor for XenDesktop. It turns out that this is pretty easy to do, and that you can more-or-less plug a XenDesktop farm into a SmartAuditor environment just as easily you can a Presentation Server farm. There are a lot of neat enhancements to SmartAuditor in the pipeline too.
Overall it was a great day. As I said, I'll write more about some of these specific technologies later in the week. A big thanks to everyone in Sydney who spent time with me.
Disclosures: I paid for this visit myself, including transportation to Sydney and my hotel. Citrix folks provided my lunch and took me out to dinner.