Citrix Shows Off Next-Generation Virtual Cloud Workspace

Citrix recently demoed its new Workplace Cloud and other products it hopes will establish it as the purveyor of the modern digital workplace.

The demo occurred at its annual Synergy conference, which this year focused on the Workspace Cloud, a platform created to ease the design, deployment, orchestration and management of secure work environments for mobile workers.

Although virtual desktops and apps make up a relatively small percentage of the workplace computing environments in use, the technology is expected to grow, manifested in new forms such as desktop as a service, as workers continue to use more device types and rely more on access from various places. Organizations also want to better secure information accessed by employees, contractors and even customers on these new form factors. The growth of hybrid cloud and the move to bring your own device policies are also enabling these new environments.

Looking to extend its reach from its core strength of offering virtual desktop and application environments, Citrix first started discussing Workplace Cloud a year ago but only demonstrated it publicly at Synergy last week, where customers also began testing the company's latest new platform. The company hopes to make it generally available in the third quarter. Mark Templeton, Citrix CEO, who is revered for his focus on engineering and user experience, showcased Workspace Cloud as the culmination of its effort to bridge public, private and hybrid clouds to the new ways people work with multiple device types. Templeton said the new digital workspace consists of Windows-based PCs, Macs. iPads, Android tablets Chromebooks new Linux-based systems and even embedded devices that enable Internet of Things-type environments.

"We think of Workspace as the core engine of the software-defined workplace," Templeton said in last week's keynote. "So if you don't do a great job with workspaces across all of those kinds of digital tools, then you're not going to have the engine of the software-defined workplace. And we know that everyone's workspace environment is different." The Citrix Workspace Cloud is based on a cloud delivery architecture similar to the company's BlackBeard reference architecture, which provides the service architecture to distribute XenDesktop and XenApp in hybrid cloud environments and RainMaker, which provides the orchestration across servers and nodes.

The control plane that powers Citrix Workspace Cloud is its ShareFile document sharing platform. Citrix, which acquired ShareFile in 2011, is a smaller competitor to the likes of Box and Dropbox. But Citrix has spent the ensuing years building on the core ShareFile engine to enable it to become the control plane for the new Citrix Workspace Cloud, which the company describes as a management platform for creating mobile workspaces that include desktops, applications and data provisioned in a hybrid cloud environment that could consist of a private datacenter, as well as a public or private cloud.

A key component of Citrix Workspace Cloud is the Lifecycle Manager, which creates blueprints that ease the migration of earlier versions of XenApp to current releases and provides the ability for IT to deploy them in the new management platform. These blueprints "are effectively groupings of things that you need to do to define whatever workload it is you want to deliver," explained Christian Reilly, CTO for the Citrix Workspace. "And then obviously the management piece comes after that. I'm not talking specifically about just delivering XenApp and XenDesktop because that's a key short term focus. The power of blueprints is if you kind of expand that out to two worlds, one in dealing with blueprints that can group together with different parts of the network topology, different bits of the infrastructure that need to be orchestrated to create an application workload and blueprints that can then provision or talk to Netscaler or other devices to compete the configuration."

In keeping with its history of not running its own public cloud, Citrix is empowering its base of 1,900 cloud service providers to provision Workspace Cloud in any environment, including Amazon Web Services, Azure and IBM's SoftLayer cloud, among others. The control plane itself runs in Microsoft Azure, but Citrix officials insisted that no customer data or apps touch the control plane, or Azure in particular, unless they want it to.

While building the control plane on ShareFile, Workspace Cloud brings together XenDesktop and XenApp platforms as well as networking gear such as Netscaler and CloudBridge. Stitching these together gives Citrix the opportunity to bundle -- and potentially upsell its wares -- though Templeton said the architecture allows organizations to plug in their own components, such as Microsoft and VMware hybrid cloud infrastructure. Workspace Cloud is an ambitious effort by the company to move itself forward with a major new platform designed to create and manage secure user work environments tailored around workers' tendencies to use multiple and often nontraditional devices to access their Windows environments. In addition to launching Workspace Cloud, Citrix previewed several new other key offerings in its pipeline including extensions to its XenMobile enterprise mobility management platform, networking and security upgrades to its Netscaler and CloudBridge tools, data loss prevention and other security improvements to its ShareFile enterprise file sharing offering. It also showed off new automation capabilities to its XenDesktop and XenApp platforms.

Attendees at Citrix Synergy last week seemed impressed with Workspace Cloud, though even its most visible customers said they need to understand how it might fit into their environments. "We will start playing with the beta," said David Enriquez, senior director of information technology for the Miami Marlins. "It looks to me something we could take advantage of such as spring training temporary deployments, if we have to do something at a minor league park or if we have an event at the ballpark that needs infrastructure but we don't want to put it on our existing infrastructure."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.