Mulligan: Did Citrix CTO Martin Duursma signal a change at Citrix Synergy Barcelona?

I have been trying to get my head wrapped around the CTO Supersession at Synergy Barcelona last week. I wrote my initial impressions of the session in an article here right after the session.

I have been trying to get my head wrapped around the CTO Supersession at Synergy Barcelona last week.  I wrote my initial impressions of the session in an article here right after the session.  Later on, Benny Tritsch, who sat beside me at the presentation, wrote his views as "impressive and confusing"  in his blog here.  But given a little time to think about it, I wonder if Martin perhaps was signaling a strategy change within Citrix.  I want a mulligan on my take of the session.

Citrix has become a big company in the last ten years that I have been watching them.  No longer a "one trick pony", the company has grown through acquisitions and expansion of the product line into entirely new areas.

When the CTPs gathered in Fort Lauderdale a year ago to meet, we had a great session with then CTO Harry Labana.  One of the comments from the CTPs at that meeting struck home - that Citrix has grown so wide that they now compete with everybody.  Microsoft on the remote protocols and terminal servers (see Shawn Bass take on Citrix vs Microsoft here), VMware (and Microsoft) on the Hypervisor, Cisco and others on the WAN edge devices, and a slew of folks like WebEx on the collaboration front.

Even the CTO office was a diverse bunch.  Where many companies have one CTO, Citrix had a (virtual) office of them.  This was part of Citrix growing up also.  Enabling multiple, highly skilled professionals, to lead the company in sometimes seemingly conflicting directions.  At Synergy in SanFrancisco this spring, we had a great opportunity to hear from the CTOs together on stage.  Normally the large keynote-like sessions are dominated by Mark Templeton, but for a change the company gave these guys a chance to talk about what they are doing and why.

In the year since our meeting last fall, some of the prominent CTOs have moved on.  Harry is now at AppSense , while CTO Simon Crosby and CTO Ian Pratt both departed to start Bromium.  Citrix is retooling at the CTO office.  I'm not even sure who all of the CTOs are right now.  For sure, I know of three of them.

  • Martin Duursma, who heads up Citrix Labs
  • Bert Christiansen, from the Citrix OnLine division
  • Sheng Liang, CTO for the Cloud Division

I know Martin has been around for years driving Citrix to be innovative.  I think Bert joined when Citrix bought the company Expertcity (known for their GoToMyPC and GoToAssist products) in 2003, but the OnLine division has always been off to the side so we rarely hear much from them at the big meetings. Sheng came with the Cloud.Com acquisition this summer so he is brand new.

So when Citrix decided to give the second day keynote completely to the three CTOs for the first time, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that the result wasn't a Mark Templeton style orchestrated event.  After the blizzard of  announcements in the day 1 keynote that was choreographed by Templeton, we expected to hear how these new things all fit together and how we might use them.  Instead, we had three seemingly independent presentations from the CTOs in three different divisions.  But while disappointed that I didn't hear what I expected, it was a worthwhile glimpse into the inner workings at Citrix, or at least a tool to speculate at it.

Bert's presentation, on the surface, was about how the recently announced ShareFile acquisition fits into the OnLine division.  In announcing GoToMeeting Workspaces, Citrix might be bringing the OnLine division more into the fold.  No longer are they only that one-off thing people do at an enterprise for external communication.  Workspaces is a play to get into the middle of every day activity as part of the desktop (little 'd') landscape.  Perhaps this division is becoming a little more integrated?

Sheng's portion of the presentation was on the surface more of an introduction.  But more than an introduction, his message was more like "we do cloud for the big boys, but you can easily use it to build a private cloud and gain the benefits".

But it was Martin's presentation that needed a mulligan.  In his presentation, we spent a while talking about how companies need to go vertical.  He used some good examples of  successful companies got that way by a focus on combining a vertical solution for their customers.  Unfortunately, he also used some examples that were questionable on their face (Google/Motorola?).  But he failed to connect that meaning of going vertical to the rest of the presentation for the audience.

In looking back at the event, perhaps I've now made that connection.  Martin might be addressing that concern that Citrix is so wide, that it is time for some vertical thinking within Citrix to balance that out.  In the realm of his focus, Citrix wants to own the remote desktop space. The AppDNA purchase helps to fill a hole in that space -- helping their customers with their existing app migration.  Another demo in his presentation also is aimed at filling that hole.  The XenApp SDK is aimed at helping developers modify their apps to run centrally yet leverage the power of the local client device.  [By the way, don't be fooled by the name, you know it is bound to work on XenDesktop apps too.]  The reference design for HDX silicon also fits into this vertical thinking.  While these are simple steps right now, some vertical thinking might be just what Citrix needs right now.  It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

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By Mulligan, you mean do-over, right?


Yeah, Mulligan means do-over.


Yeah, do-over.  It's the golfer in me.  And you NEVER ask permission first.  You just drop a ball and announce that you're doing it.



Thanks for your kinds words. Since I am now on the outside, I just have an urge to comment on this topic. When I was at Citrix one thing I believe we did really well was to make a genuine attempt to reach out to the community. CTP program, geekspeak etc. I really enjoyed that aspect of the Citrix culture and always felt that it was something special that should continue. I clearly remember from many years ago when Brian accused Citrix of not being open. That started the Citrix blogging culture and more. Trust me when I say it is not easy to maintain that and people's views change over time and new people join with different philosophies. People like Laura Whalen at Citrix do a tremendous job of fighting for the community internally and deserve a lot of credit.

As CTO of the desktop division at the time, a bunch of us including Mr. Crosby decided that we wanted to get our non scripted view out as well. We wanted a CTO session to share some of our ideas and highlight some of the internal innovation that was not necessarily committed to product. We did not want a corporate brand slapped all over it. Martin Durrsma as chair of the CTO office helped us sell the idea to Mark Templeton and Wes Wasson CMO. They were both really supportive.

Our first attempt at it was Synergy San Francisco 2010, but it was not billed as a super session. It was early in the morning after the final night party. We had a light turn out but good content and Mark T with our customer council showed up. It was a lot of fun and we received good feedback. That gave us a shot to go beg for a better time slot and billing for Synergy Berlin 2010. Wes was super supportive and as a marketing guy we thought, wow he's pretty cool! Actually he's very cool if you every meet him :-)  Anyway I am sure we pissed off the product team by taking all the love away from desktop transformation session at the same time and had a full house. I remember kicking off that session and being nervous prior and made the mistake of gulping down a red bull. Guess what? 15 minutes into the session I've never wanted to pee so bad, but held out for the remainder of my section before sprinting off stage.....

Both these experiences were unscripted, we were not told what to do or say. We tried demo's with the help of some super helpers but without the entourage that supporters the main keynote. We were given the freedom to talk and fail as independent CTOs. I think that says a lot about the culture of a company and mindset of the leadership. It's what made my time so memorable and certainly something I still carry with me.

So I'd say if you want to listen to more corporate scripted stuff go for it. If you want to listen to more unfiltered CTO opinions, then speak up and support it. We pushed to make this stuff happen and I think Martin Durrsma deserves a little more credit. He's a good bloke.


@harrylabana - LMAO... I never knew that silly side of you, glad to see you're human, too.

As far as the CTO office @ CTXS: I think it's a great thing to have multiple CTO's who can mesh valid technology with business acumen. This is rare skill and should be sought by more companies. Conversely, any business executive who pursues a technological backfill can be incredibly beneficial to the company leadership balance.

Keep in mind that Citrix Labs is typically MANY years ahead of product adoption and that Martin is also a visonary technologist. Keep up the fine work M.D.