VMware poaches top Citrix desktop virtualization talent: it just got real in here.

VMware has hired two Citrix execs to drive its desktop virtualization push — and let’s face it: if you want to bolster your desktop virtualization story, Citrix is the place to go hunting for talent.

The details: VMware named Bob Schultz, formerly group VP and GM of desktop and applications for Citrix, as its new “chief strategy lead” for VMware’s End User Computing (EUC) group, according to a blog post by Sanjay Poonen, EVP and GM of that unit (pictured above.)

And perhaps even more important, VMware snagged Sumit Dhawan from Citrix to lead VMware’s desktop business organization overseeing “strategy, product portfolio and engineering.” He spent 16 years at Citrix, where he was most recently group VP and GM for enterprise mobility. VMware also promoted insider Kit Colbert to be CTO of the unit.

The consensus is that Dhawan, in particular, is a huge loss from the Citrix perspective. “This is a big deal and has caused a ton of issues between Citrix and VMware,” said one former Citrix executive. The talent war between Citrix and VMware reminds him of a similar long-running recruiting contest between Google and Microsoft a few years back.  “Sumit,” the former exec wrote, “is a long-time Citrix guy and ran a bunch of the things that shaped the XenApp business and the new XenMobile business.”  

Another Citrix watcher concurred that Dhawan’s exit is a shocker, since Dhawan was one of Citrix CEO Mark Templeton’s most trusted senior leaders.

“He brings considerable experience to VMware. I also think that VMware wants to make a statement, considering that they grouped Sumit and Bob – along with Kit’s promotion – into the same announcement. To me, the message from VMware is ‘End user computing is a serious business for us, and we’re so serious about it that we just hired two senior executives away from our top competitor.’ ”

This source said the arrivals of these key hires also speaks well for Poonen’s leadership. Poonen joined VMware last summer from SAP.

VMware seeks to diversify from server virtualization

VMware leads the world in server virtualization but has struggled in its desktop virtualization efforts where it lags Citrix’ XenDesktop. If you’re going to attack a market, it definitely makes sense to poach execs from the incumbent leader.

In what appeared to be a pre-emptive move, Citrix announced a new arrival of its own on Monday morning, naming Rakesh Narasimhan group vice president and general manager for desktop virtualization —  presumably Schultz’s replacement. Narasimhan, who will oversee XenDesktop and XenApp, spent more than a decade at Microsoft before serving as CEO of InstallFree, a company acquired by WatchDox, according to his LinkedIn profile.

The year of desktop virtualization: Are we there yet?

Desktop virtualization is one of those technologies whose time is yet to come. Widespread adoption has been hindered by expense. Set up is complex and desktop virtualization requires a ton of storage for one thing, and depending on the application, there can be performance hits. Most significantly, it can take a long time to realize cost savings from desktop virtualization compared to server virtualization where companies see near immediate payback on hardware. On the flip side, benefits of desktop virtualization are that it makes desktop support, bug fixes and updates easier and faster across an organization.

While VMware and Citrix snipe at each other, they should also pay attention to a new player in town. In November, Amazon(s amzn) Web Services came out of the blue  to announce its WorkSpaces Desktop-as-a-Service that could be very, um disruptive, to these players provided it works as advertised.