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Citrix snaps up Virtual Computer for VDI

Project Avalon mashes up XenDesktop, CloudStack

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It has been a busy week for desktop, server, and application virtualization juggernaut Citrix Systems, which is hosting its Synergy user conference in San Francisco this week.

It's on the prowl to bolster its virty wares and to that end, it has acquired Virtual Computer, which has a different twist from the XenDesktop tools that Citrix has created.

Citrix did not disclose how much it paid for Virtual Computer, which was founded in November 2007 by some of the same techies that created the Virtual Iron Xen-based hypervisor for servers that was borged into Oracle a few years back.

The company's NxTop client virtualization tool works a bit differently from XenDesktop in that it has a central management server that creates and stores PC images, but which beams them out over a network to execute on local PC clients.

XenDesktop stores the images and does the image management on the server as well, but also does the execution on the server, too. And it is much cheaper to execute an image on a PC than on a server, once you fully burden that server with SAN storage costs.

NxTop and XenClient are both bare-metal hypervisors; the latter was developed by Citrix for vPro-capable machines, while NxTop will run on a wide variety of PC clients. Both are based on the open source Xen hypervisor, and NxTop has a back-end management console that Citrix says is more mature than its own.

Citrix is going to rebrand NxTop as XenClient Enterprise to get a more appealing product for corporate customers who don't want to be restricted by the limited hardware support of XenClient XT - as the bare-metal hypervisor is now called. The rebranded NxTop will come out as XenClient Enterprise sometime before the end of June, and Citrix plans to sell it as a standalone product as well as putting inside the Enterprise and Platinum editions of its XenDesktop Swiss Army knife of PC virtualization.

Citrix says that it will eventually integrate its Syncrhonizer for XenClient management tool with the NxTop tools, but that could mean that NxTop is going to be the key platform going forward, with XenClient XT, as the original XenClient is called, being for the most rigorous desktop virtualization environments where vPro features (such as Trusted Execution Technology) are important.

Interestingly, Citrix was one of the companies, along with Highland Capital Partners and Flybridge Capital, that kicked in $21m in two rounds of funding for Virtual Computer. So all this time, Citrix was hedging its own XenClient bets, much as it did when it invested in Kaviza two years ago and then acquired it last May as part of the Synergy festivities.

Kaviza had created a clustering program called kMGR that ran VMware's ESXi hypervisor as a means of serving up virty PC slices on clusters of servers, but stored and replicated PC images onto local storage on those servers so customers didn't need SANs to store those images.

In addition to the Virtual Computer deal, Citrix this week also trotted out CloudPlatform, which is the commercially supported version of the open source CloudStack code the company turned into an Apache Incubator project after throwing the rival OpenStack cloud fabric under a bus last month.

This is a somewhat silly announcement, considering that CloudStack was already commercially supported by Citrix. What CloudPlatform will eventually have is specific integrations with the XenDesktop PC virtualizer, which are part of what Citrix calls "Project Avalon."

Citrix already streams virtualized applications down to over 100 million seats worldwide through XenApp and XenDesktop (which includes XenApp functionality) and has millions of seats working from virtualized PC images served up by XenDesktop.

Citrix wants to tune up XenDesktop and CloudStack so they work well together and allow for virtual PC infrastructure that can scale from as low as 100 to as high as a million seats. That latter bit is a tall order, indeed. And that is why Citrix is not providing a launch date for when this Avalon mashup will be ready for service providers and enterprises to install to serve up cloudy Windows desktops on a massive scale. ®

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