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Citrix ships virtual NetScaler accelerator

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The NetScaler VPX virtual appliance for network application acceleration and load balancing, which Citrix Systems previewed to customers back in May is now shipping. It comes with shiny new list prices that are lower than physical NetScaler MPX appliances running the same software.

According to Sunil Potti - vice president of marketing for the NetScaler line at Citrix - close to 3,000 companies have downloaded a trial version of the NetScaler VPX appliance since May to kick the virtual tires on the device, which he characterized as "tons of downloads."

What wasn't clear at the time of the tech preview is that Citrix was giving customers a bandwidth-challenged version of the appliance. This version of the program, which is now being distributed for free, is known as the NetScaler VPX-Express edition. It has its bandwidth throttled back to a mere 1 Mb/sec, but does at least come with free standard support from Citrix.

The useful versions of the NetScaler VPX appliances come in three flavours, with different levels of bandwidth and three different tiers of support - standard, enterprise, and platinum. These offer varying levels of handholding and the activation of certain features. (You can drill down into the features for each edition here.)

The NetScaler VPX-10 tops out at 10 Mb/sec of bandwidth, and costs $2,000 with standard support, $5,000 with enterprise support, and $8,000 with platinum support. You have to buy an x64 server and plunk a XenServer hypervisor on it to actually make use of the software, which adds to the cost. A lot of customers will plunk NetScaler VPX onto existing server infrastructure that has plenty of excess capacity on it. The server has to have an Intel chip that has VT virtualisation electronics cooked in, or an Advanced Micro Devices chip with AMD-V. This is a requirement of the XenServer hypervisor.

The NetScaler VPX-200 virtual appliance tops out at 200 Mb/sec of bandwidth and has a price that ranges from $5,000 for standard support to $15,000 for premium support. The NetScaler VPX-1000 is rated at 1 Gb/sec of maximum throughput, and costs $15,000 for a standard edition, $22,500 for the enterprise edition, and $30,000 for the platinum edition.

Back in May, Citrix was saying that the NetScaler VPX virtual appliances were aimed at smaller customers and for subnet or departmental use, while the NetScaler MPX appliances were aimed at accelerating and load balancing at fatter trunks in the network and among larger companies.

Just last week, Citrix kicked out two midrange NetScaler MPX appliances: the MPX 10500, rated at 5 Gb/sec and costing $42,000, and the MPX 12500, rated at 8 Gb/sec but not carrying a price. You can presume it scales with bandwidth, though, which would put it at somewhere around $67,000. But with the top-end NetScaler 17000, with an 18 Gb/sec bandwidth limit, listing for $205,000, it looks like incremental bandwidth costs more, not less, on the physical appliances.

The NetScaler product line accounts for roughly 10 per cent of annual revenues at Citrix, and taking it virtual to expand its appeal is important to the company, says Potti. For that reason, the NetScaler and XenServer product lines were recently consolidated into a single data centre and cloud division at Citrix, allowing the products to be developed and marketed together.

One thing that Citrix would love to see is for NetScaler to become a kind of de facto network acceleration appliance, despite the fact that the code is not open source. To that end, Citrix is also allowing service providers to buy NetScaler VPX virtual appliances on a monthly basis, with one instance at 10 Mb/sec costing $80 per month and $1,000 per month for the 1 Gb/sec version.

Citrix also kicks off what it calls its open networking program today. This is an ecosystem-building effort to get NetScaler virtual appliances embedded in all kinds of devices and to move network acceleration closer to the iron, in conjunction with Trend Micro security software, Oracle applications, or 10GE switches from Arista Networks.

Server makers Hewlett-Packard and Dell are also joining and noodling how they might embed NetScaler VPX instances in their gear. Cloud computing and hosting provider SoftLayer is also singing up as part of this ecosystem and will use NetScaler VPX on virtual server instances to accelerate network and application performance.

Citrix has cloud computing on the brain these days, just like other software and hardware infrastructure suppliers, and is licking its lips over the possible revenue stream. Potti admits that there are maybe only 50 true cloud providers worldwide and maybe somewhere between 20 and 30 in the United States who "really matter." But the key is for NetScaler to get baked into the designs of many cloud startups, as NetScaler appliances were at many companies during the dot-com build out.

"The volume of sales for these cloud companies could be quite large," says Potti. "That's why even though the number of companies are small, it is important for NetScaler VPX to get designed in from the get-go." ®

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