"How did you feel about the show?" is a question that came up a lot this past week at Citrix Synergy, but it wasn't asked in the usual small talk kind of way. It was almost universally asked with a slightly scrunched up face, with the inquirer's head cocked to the side as if they couldn't wait to respond.
I had more conversations after Synergy at E2EVC, Alex Cooper's annual post-Synergy independent wrap up show (which is just one of many shows he organizes throughout the year). Jack and I even talked about it on our post-Synergy podcast.
In case you haven't gotten my opinion through those means, though, I wanted to spend some time here writing about what I thought of Citrix Synergy 2017.
The Good Stuff
Citrix continued their trend of delivering on the things they announced the year before. You don't have to go back too far in the history of EUC to find instances of one-upmanship between Citrix and VMware that led to yearly keynote wars where each company wrote checks that the next year's version of the company couldn't cash. That wasn't the case this year, but some of the accomplishments might have gone unnoticed because the products came out prior to Synergy. For example, XenDesktop and XenApp Essentials, which were announced at last year's show, arrived in April.
Citrix also clearly articulated their vision for the future of the company. From the early moments of the first keynote, there was little doubt that Citrix plans to be a cloud-first security company moving forward. They announced Citrix Workspace Service, a platform that focuses on contextual access to systems and services. They call it a software-defined perimeter, but it sounds a lot like an identity service.
The Citrix Analytics Service also seems interesting and useful. By using all the of the data that Citrix has at its disposal combined with machine learning (who isn't doing that these days?), Citrix has unique visibility across the XenApp, ShareFile, XenMobile, and NetScaler ecosystem that could be attractive to some companies.
The Not-So-Good Stuff
I don't want to get into an all-out complain-o-rama, so I'll spare going into detail about the size of the venue versus the size of the show. It's hard, though, to look at the expo hall and lunch area, then all the unused space behind them, and not think, "If they just opened this up a bit we might not feel like penned up cattle walking around." I feel like Synergy is getting smaller every year, and that in order to give it that "big time conference-y feel" they simply made the room artificially smaller while keeping the event at a cavernous convention center. There also appeared to be some event-wide belt tightening going on (e.g. same lunch every day, no coffee/soda in expo hall), along with the absence of the Geek Speak track.
Enough about that. Here's the two prevailing opinions I have from Citrix Synergy 2017:
1. Citrix is so focused on making themselves an attractive company for a potential buyer that they forgot to connect with the audience.
2. At the same time, they missed a key opportunity to set a bar that VMware might not be able to hit.
Let's dig into number one first.
I recently wrote that the rumors of Citrix being for sale seemed somehow different this time around. In the past, people would speculate on which company might want to acquire Citrix, but those musings were little more than thought exercises. With the recent reorg and flat revenue Citrix has shown, though, the rumors that Citrix is for sale seem to carry some more weight. Unfulfilled shareholders are fidgety like that.
In separate conversations about companies that aren't Citrix, I've been told that the fastest path to venture funds is if your company has a product with a cloud-first, subscription-oriented model. That is the way of the world, circa 2017, and anything with an on-premises platform or perpetual licensing is "the old way."
Citrix has already demonstrated that they are heavily focusing on that new market with XenApp and XenDesktop Essentials, leveraging their partnership with Microsoft. Now, add in two of the hottest areas in IT today, security and identity (not to mention machine learning and analytics), and it's pretty easy to see what's happening. Citrix is positioning itself as a security, analytics, cloud-first, subscription-based company of the future. It's a great vision, but there's a problem:
Nearly every IT person at Synergy is using traditional means to deliver desktops and applications, not planning three to five years down the road when all the stuff that Citrix talked about will be ready for prime time.
It's not that Citrix shouldn't be talking about the future. I like everything they had to say (though I have questions about how well Citrix Analytics Service will work if you're not 100% Citrix in every aspect of your IT), but between both keynotes you could count the number of times XenDesktop and XenApp were mentioned on one hand. One of those times was Kirill saying that if you're on XenApp 6.5, you should move to XenApp 7.14.
My point is that in the past, Citrix has done a good job of connecting with the audience with regards to what they're currently doing, then showing them a glimpse of the future. This time around, it seemed like the message was all about future plans.
With regards to the second takeaway, I was very much expecting Citrix to take a least a shot or two at VMware this year. Sure, last year we flamed them pretty badly for touting their ability to support Cortana in a virtual desktop, but that experience couldn't have prevented them from doing something this year, could it?
What I wanted to see was less of a head-to-head comparison against VMware, and more like a "put up or shut up" demonstration of their capabilities. VMware is hot on the heels of Citrix right now, drawing even in all but a few categories: Skype for Business support and the remoting protocol. VMware is making noise on both fronts, releasing a public beta of their Skype for Business support while at the same time talking up Blast Extreme.
Depending on whom you speak with, Blast Extreme is said to be better than HDX, though anecdotal evidence from trusted sources (though not independent, so they need to remain anonymous) would suggest otherwise. What better opportunity than Synergy to demonstrate a feature or two of HDX that Blast Extreme simply cannot accomplish?
The same applies to Skype for Business. I'm sure VMware has done a good job with v1 of their Skype for Business support, but Citrix has been functioning in that market for years. Surely, Citrix could have demonstrated something that VMware couldn't possibly have in order to show an edge. They didn't have to put the products toe to toe, but given flat revenue and lost business to VMware, they could have shown their industry-leading functionality while they still have it.
I'm at a bit of a loss to think of a one-liner with which to sum up Citrix Synergy 2017. Some great things came out of this, but there is an overall feeling among many observers that despite the good things there was something missing. As aggressive as Citrix wants to be, it seemed like when the moment finally came to make a stand, they instead chose to go down a different path.
Don't get me wrong, that path isn't a bad thing. We have more questions than answers right now, but that's normal after a big show. We have the next twelve months to figure out what Citrix Analytics Service will look like, and whether or not Citrix is going to jump feet first into becoming an IDaaS in order to support Citrix Workspace Service.
With regards to Citrix's potential sale, the universal opinion among everyone I spoke to is, "At this point I don't care what happens. Let's just get on with it." That's a one-liner I can get behind.