Citrix Aims to Make Enterprise-Friendly Clouds

With VMware and Citrix both pushing into the data center with their virtualization products, I had the chance to chat with Simon Crosby briefly about Citrix’s new portfolio of cloud products. I walked away impressed with Citrix’s plan of attack when it comes to helping providers make cloud computing compelling for enterprise customers. Citrix’s approach won’t solve issues related to the physical location of data or problems with varied platforms, but does address compliance, security and latency issues.

Earlier this year, I wrote that enterprises aren’t ready to trust the cloud. It was nice to hear Crosby agree. “It’s very early for enterprise consumption of cloud services other than delivering their own,” he said. “That means there’s a tremendous opportunity at Citrix to leverage our channel strength and to make clouds real to our customers.”

The nitty gritty of how Citrix plans to do that show that Citrix has a good idea of what enterprise cloud providers will need. Citrix plans to charge cloud providers for the products based on actual usage — just like electricity. Citrix is bundling its NetScaler appliance for load balancing, WANScaler for network optimization and a management console, together with a version of XenServer and will charge third-party cloud providers per transaction.

This move toward usage pricing isn’t new to some of the actual infrastructure vendors such as Amazon’s Ec2, or even to Platform as a Service providers such as Bungee Labs, which also charge based on usage, rather than asking a licensing or monthly fee — but it’s an important financial consideration for companies trying to build out these services. There’s a high up-front cost with building out a cloud, but the revenue trickles in. Because the infrastructure side of the equation is a fairly low-margin business, setting up the building blocks of the cloud with as little capital outlay as possible is good for cloud vendors.

That leads me to the next consideration for Citrix, one Crosby hinted at but wouldn’t comment on specifically. Most people I talk to believe the building blocks of the cloud will be software-based rather than hardware-based. It doesn’t make sense to give people an appliance and then charge them on a per-use basis. It’s also easier for cloud providers to see into and manage a cloud if the layers they are managing are software, so I would expect more from Citrix on the software front in time.

The final takeaway worth mentioning from the interview is Citrix’s plans sound very enterprise friendly¬† — with heterogeneous management capabilities with Microsoft’s Hyper-V and the ability to ensure SLAs. Crosby’s stated goal is end-to-end management of the cloud. That’s jargon, but when delivering computing services over a network there are actually two ends — and Citrix means to have its products in both.

For example, we’ve talked about how WAN optimization will play a role in visibility and reliability of the cloud. If Citrix gear is providing visibility on one end to the cloud provider (and Citrix is pricing the products to move on the provider side), it has a good shot of offering equipment to provide visibility on the other end as well.

If Citrix can support usage-based pricing and offer its level of functionality as software, it can make even bigger inroads with cloud providers (most third-party clouds already use XenServer as the hypervisor). Those cloud providers will then help sell Citrix its gear to their customers who can use Xen or Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualization products. Enterprises will eventually accept the cloud. Let’s see if they’ll like Citrix’s vision of it.