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Citrix plunks NetScaler into virtual machines

Adds Dazzle

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Citrix Systems is hosting its annual Synergy user conference in Las Vegas this week, and the company will be fleshing out its application, server, and desktop virtualization strategy with a number of new products.

That all-encompassing virtualization strategy - called Delivery Center - is comprised of four major components that Citrix has been hammering on since it acquired XenSource, the upstart server virtualization challenger to VMware back in the summer of 2007 for $500m.

Those components include XenApp (formerly known as Presentation Server, which allows end users to log into and use server-hosted versions of desktop applications, among other things), XenServer (the server virtualization hypervisor and related tool stack), XenDesktop (a desktop virtualization and streaming system that implements server-based virtual desktop infrastructure), and NetScaler.

One additional part of the Delivery Center stack will be taking the stage this afternoon at the show: XenClient. This is the product name that will be given to the bare metal (type 1) hypervisor for PCs that Citrix and Intel announced they were working on together back in January under the code-name Project Independence.

Pat Gelsigner, general manager of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group, is going to take the stage at Synergy to do a demo of XenClient. Citrix is keeping most of the architectural details of XenClient under wraps and ditto for pricing, and according to Wes Wasson, chief marketing officer at Citrix, the PC hypervisor is on track for delivering sometime in the second half of this year.

Another bit of the Delivery Center stack that makes its debut today is called Dazzle, a graphical front-end for applications that can be streamed down from the data center and caught by the Citrix universal client, called Receiver. Receiver was announced in January and will start shipping today for Windows and Mac OS X clients and the iPhone from Apple.

Receiver has plug-ins for various Delivery Center servers. It is not itself an interface, but a way that end users link to Citrix services. (Just like ICA and RDP are not interfaces, but connection protocols to link PCs to host servers to access host-based applications).

Dazzle is a user interface, and it takes its inspiration from Apple's iTunes music store. Dazzle aims to make access to applications that are streamed through the various Delivery Center components more automatic. Basically, it gets the IT department out of the job of giving access, letting end users to browse through and shop for the IT applications they want to use. (Think of it as iApps, I guess). Wasson says that Citrix will be offering Dazzle for free to its customers and that it will run in conjunction with Presentation Server 4.5 or higher (including the XenApp releases) and will work on Windows and Mac OS X desktops.

"Dazzle gets IT out of the business of hard-coded and hands-on management of software assets," says Wasson. Dazzle has a database behind it that has all of the rules for application licensing and authentication for end users. It can be set up for authorizations to not just be done automatically based on rules, but to require human authorization from, say, an employee's manager at a company. Dazzle also includes a merchandising server akin to the kind you see on most shopping sites out there on the Internet. I can see it now: "You liked Office 2007? Well, you are gonna love Office 2010, so click here to upgrade..."

This shopping analogy for enterprise applications will make some IT shops nervous, but this is probably the wave of the future as self-service has taken over banking and then a slew of other industries over the decade. That IT will itself will be automated and given a self-service interface is no surprise, particularly with pressure to cut costs.

Citrix is also today announcing a technology preview of NetScaler VPX, a version of the software that runs inside of its NetScaler MPX hardware appliance that has been wrapped up inside a XenServer virtual machine and will be sold so customers can plunk it down onto any x64 servers in their networks to act as Web cache and application accelerators. Any Intel Xeon chip with VT features or any Advanced Micro Devices Opteron with AMD-V features can support the XenServer hypervisor and the NetScaler VPX virtual appliance.

According to Wasson, the NetScaler MPX appliance is really aimed at mid-sized and high-end deployments, while the NetScaler VPX is targeted more at the lower-end of network bandwidth ranges. Interestingly, you can daisy chain the MPX and VPX appliances, so the VPX boxes work on regional subnets or within departments, for instance, handling some of the application acceleration workload upstream that would be handled by an MPX appliance working all by its lonesome. The NetScaler VPX appliance will ship in the second half of this year, according to Citrix. No word on pricing for the software.

On the XenServer 5.5 front, Citrix is adding dynamic workload balancing to the XenServer, a feature it said it would add to the hypervisor back when 5.5 came out and Citrix partnered up with Microsoft to take on VMware in server virtualization. As we previously reported, Citrix has partnered with VMLogix for lab management and staging tools for the Citrix Essentials suites for XenServer and Hyper-V. The lab manager jukeboxing feature was already shipping, and today, the VM staging features will start shipping in these stacks.

Citrix is telling customers today that it will also deliver its own XenServer virtual switch - a capability that VMware has cooked up for its vSphere 4.0 virtualization stack. This virtual switch will be generally available in the third quarter of this year, and beyond that, Citrix is not saying anything other than it will be a core property of XenServer and not an add-on feature that is only available in the top-end distribution for extra bucks, as it is in the vSphere stack from VMware. ®

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