So why exactly did Citrix invest in Virtual Computer?

On Monday, I wrote about startup company Virtual Computer receiving $15m in venture funding from several companies, including Citrix. Virtual Computer is developing a Xen-based bare-metal client hypervisor.

On Monday, I wrote about startup company Virtual Computer receiving $15m in venture funding from several companies, including Citrix. Virtual Computer is developing a Xen-based bare-metal client hypervisor. While this is very cool, it seemed that Virtual Computer might be dead before they're even born once Citrix announced Project Independence. Project Independence is also based on the Xen hypervisor, and a lot of the marketing and messaging from Citrix seems to be just like what Virtual Computer was pitching. And at the end of the day, who would you rather buy from, Citrix--the $1.5B market leader, or tiny Virtual Computer--a company you never heard of that doesn't even have a product on the market?

So, that said, you can imagine my confusion when I read that Citrix was one of the investors in Virtual Computers $15m B-round. What could Citrix possibly gain from this? To answer that question, I made some calls. I talked to Virtual Computer's CEO Dan McCall and their director of product management, Doug Lane. I also talked to Citrix's Andy Cohen, Senior Director of strategic development. (This is the guy whose name was all over the press release.) Finally, I called Citrix's Sumit Dhawan, an old friend from Citrix and one of the early supporters of BriForum and Citrix's CTP program. Sumit now does something in the XenDesktop group (product management or product marketing or something), and he's the guy who initially filled me in on Citrix's Project Independence plans.

After time on the phone with those four guys, I think I finally understand the Citrix / Virtual Computer relationship. Here's the low-down:

Fundamentally, Citrix and Virtual Computer are in different markets:


  • Virtual Computer is focusing on PC lifecycle management. They want to compete in with the "agent-based" products, like System Center, Altiris' Client Management Suite, etc. The way they're doing that is via a client hypervisor that runs below Windows.
  • Citrix is in the desktop and application delivery business. They ultimately want to extend their XenDesktop product so that centrally-managed desktops can run anywhere, regardless of the actual client device. They way they're extending that to offline and different types of clients is with a client hypervisor that runs below Windows.


So while it's true that both Citrix and Virtual Computer are both using a Xen-based client hypervisor as a tool, that hypervisor is just the "means" to two very different "ends." In this regard, there is actually a lot of good reasons for Citrix and Virtual Computer to partner, not least is the fact that both of their solutions are based on the Xen hypervisor. In a world where the hypervisor market leader VMware is talking about client hypervisors, Citrix and Virtual Computer have a common goal of trying to get Xen onto as many client devices as they can.

Now of course just because Virtual Computer is basing their solution on the Xen hypervisor today, there's nothing specifically preventing them from basing their stuff on another hypervisor at some point in the future. However, Citrix's investment in Virtual Computer is big enough that they'll get a spot on the board of directors, (UPDATE: this should read that Citrix "might" get a spot on the board of directors. Nothing has changed yet.) and I would imagine that would could pretty much guarantee that Virtual Computer will stick to Xen for awhile.

So that's the main stuff. Sure, there are a lot of other "little" differences between the two... Virtual Computer's ability to execute faster than Citrix, Virtual Computer's focus on midmarket's versus Citrix's enterprise focus. And sure, there will no doubt be some overlap between the two solutions, but at the end of the day, having Citrix and Virtual Computer on the same team makes a lot of sense. And I get that now.


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I could see where both these products would be useful.

My current T60 laptop supports VT in the bios, but does not have the vPro that Independence would need.  That is where Virtual Computers installable Xen would be perfect.


After looking at Virtual Computer's NxTop a few weeks ago I came away thinking that NxTop is a lot like a VMWare ACE package that runs on a hypervisor.  I also came away thinking that it's a bit niche -- most of the discussion is centered around management of laptops.

Am I wrong about this evaluation?  

I could definitely see a place for Citrix bringing on Virtual Computer's policy definition and enforcement capabilities when the time comes to finally reveal the mythical client hypervisor product.  

Maybe I'm overthinking it and Mr. stucco has the right idea and one begins where the other ends.