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Citrix moving up in the world

Analysis: Strategic status at last?

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Citrix is one of those vendors that has been an integral part of the IT industry for as long as many people can remember. It is a company with a solid reputation for delivering an effective solution to the problem of runaway PC costs. Through its original Metaframe product line, now known as Presentation Server, it has achieved complete dominance in the area of deploying Windows client/server applications on servers rather than desktops, then allowing thin client access from a range of devices.

It is hard to find a large company that doesn’t have Citrix software running somewhere in its organisation, and Citrix has performed well over the years as a business, sustaining good revenues ($741m in 2004) and gradually increasing its market penetration. However, the company has been constantly frustrated by the fact that most of its customers, though they rely on Citrix solutions, still view it as a tactical rather than strategic supplier.

Part of the reason for this is because Citrix and its partners were often called in to apply the equivalent of a Band-Aid when an IT department was haemorrhaging budget into the relentless black hole of Windows PC maintenance, upgrade and support. Indeed, many originally considered Citrix a temporary solution until they could fix the problem “properly” at some point in the future, even though they are typically still running Citrix software years later.

Long term, short term fix

Over the past few years, Citrix has worked really hard to move its product portfolio forward, improving core capability and expanding functionality out into secure remote access over the Web, enhanced mobile device support and even online collaboration offerings. Its loyal supporters within the customer base have responded well to such moves, but the frustration has continued as the Citrix proposition has often come across as being incomplete and patchy. Incremental deployment of new solutions has therefore still fallen into the “tactical” category.

To make life even more challenging for Citrix, there have been a couple of industry trends that have threatened its future position for a while now. Many of the key applications Citrix helped its customers to deploy, namely ERP, CRM and other packages, have been moving from the client/server architectures which are well suited to Presentation Server, to a Web-based presentation architecture. With the Windows “client” component being replaced by a standard browser, the need for Citrix Presentation Server is reduced.

The other threatening trend has been the increasing move towards mobile computing. It is now becoming relatively common for organisations to replace a large proportion of their desktop PCs with laptops and the problem with this, at least from a Citrix perspective, is that these are often operated in disconnected mode or on relatively slow cellular network connections, making a thin client approach to application delivery impractical.

With its usual pragmatic approach, Citrix has tackled both of these potential problems head on.

Got to keep moving

Through acquisition, it is has incorporated a solution into its portfolio known as NetScaler. This is aimed at optimising the delivery of Web architecture based applications accessed either internally or externally. The idea is to offload much of the communication, security and physical content delivery work normally burdening the Web server infrastructure onto highly efficient appliances that sit between the browser and the Web server, intercepting and optimising the handling of all traffic that passes between the two. NetScaler uses clever caching, compression and connection optimisation to deal with the highly chatty nature of HTTP and the often redundant processing and retransmission of the same content when requested by different users in different contexts.

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