Citrix and VMware strengthen their cloud credentials

Citrix Systems announced the acquisition of private-cloud startup on Tuesday, the same day VMware rolled out a significant update to vSphere. Both companies are attempting to cement positions as private-cloud providers, with Citrix pursuing an open strategy and VMware seeking proprietary solutions. This week’s announcements strengthen their separate offerings and further entrench very different philosophical approaches.

Alongside a memorable domain name, the acquisition gives Citrix access to CloudStack, the infrastructure offering that the company lacked. This open-source product makes it straightforward for companies to run private clouds loosely equivalent to Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) inside their own data centers. The hypervisor is key to enabling virtualization of computing infrastructure, and CloudStack works with many of the leading hypervisors, including KVM, VMware’s vSphere and the one to which Citrix has given its support: Xen. This acquisition strengthens the company’s ability to compete in the lucrative market for private clouds, an area that Citrix was already beginning to explore through Project Olympus.

VMware has been strengthening its private cloud credentials for some time, moving beyond “simple” desktop virtualization to dominate the increasingly virtualized enterprise data center through server virtualization, security and management products, the vFabric platform and more. With Tuesday’s announcements, the company sought to maintain its lead over cheaper rivals like Microsoft and Citrix,¬†something that InformationWeek‘s Art Wittmann reckoned vSphere 5 achieves, at least “in the short run.” Along with vSphere, the company refreshed a group of existing tools as the cloud infrastructure suite to deliver security, disaster recovery and management capabilities. The New York Times’ Steve Lohr characterized the announcements as VMware’s “bid to become the Microsoft of cloud computing,” meaning dominant at key points in the technology stack.¬†GigaOM’s Derrick Harris welcomed the “higher-performance, more automated and generally cloudier VMware experience” promised by this release, while cautioning that although it represented steady progress, “this was not the groundbreaking event that VMware promised it would be.”

As I noted last week, VMware’s undisputed dominance of the virtualization space may be waning, and the company really needs to keep delivering innovation. To that end, vSphere gives existing customers more performance in a familiar package, and the related cloud tools deliver a rounded set of capabilities likely to make existing VMware virtualization customers seriously consider the company as their private cloud choice.

In addition to the technological differences in the solutions offered by VMware and Citrix, there’s also a philosophical difference that may become increasingly important. VMware develops, sells and maintains a stack of products that are essentially proprietary in nature. The products are tightly integrated and well supported, but they are also tightly controlled. History suggests that open often beats proprietary in the end, as community effort rallies to out-innovate any one company.

At least in the cloud, Citrix is pursuing a far more open approach, embracing, contributing to and selling commercial services around open-source projects from the Xen hypervisor to the OpenStack cloud infrastructure. By leveraging community engagement, Citrix gains access to a pool of expertise far larger than it can afford to employ. The acquisition fits this mould, and Ben Kepes suggests it should accelerate existing efforts inside Citrix to deliver a managed cloud infrastructure solution. As Krishnan Subramanian notes, both Citrix and are involved with OpenStack, although neither currently delivers solutions built on OpenStack code.

With Project Olympus, Citrix was attempting to deliver a commercial product powered by OpenStack, something Derrick Harris described at the time as intended “to combat bitter virtualization rival VMware.” But with this week’s acquisition, it may make more sense for Citrix to push CloudStack’s proven technology to their customers now, rather than waiting for OpenStack and Olympus to deliver an alternative later.

VMware’s announcements see the company continuing with a successful strategy, steadily enhancing an already rich set of products. The Citrix news also fits that company’s existing trajectory well, but it remains to be seen what the implications for OpenStack might be.¬†Regardless, it will not be long before Citrix and VMware are competing for enterprise sales within the cloud. Neither solution is indisputably “better” than the other, and we will increasingly see purchasing decisions swayed by buyers’ belief in the corporate philosophy of their supplier.

Question of the week

Will Citrix continue to develop Project Olympus, or will the company push CloudStack in the short term?