VMWare and Citrix Square Off in “Dropbox for Enterprise” as Tablets Evolve VDI

Earlier this month DCIG shared some key opportunities poised to make a splash in 2012. Near the top of the list is the Mobile First approach to product development, which is now threatening to disrupt the adoption of traditional Virtual Desktop Infrastructures (VDI).  Leading the charge is a combination that VMWare and Citrix both plan to deliver this year:  VDI-like application delivery by way of a Mobile First approach, focused on the already widespread adoption of tablet devices in the enterprise.

For many years now, we’ve been hearing how VDI has been touted as the panacea for IT infrastructure operations, support and management of applications. VDI is typically considered by small to large enterprises with a growing number of unmanaged desktops, external devices and users. In part to lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), VDI strategies have been conceived and executed as VDI deployments for several years.

While VDI was being deployed by early adopter enterprises, Consumerization of IT (CoIT) was transcending it via internet App Stores. CoIT and App Stores eliminate two major VDI burdens:

  • OS deployment and patch management – OS image management and storage, storage performance, security, and information governance
  • Application deployment and patch management – Application in gold image, local storage, image wiping, licensing, backup and restore, and the separation of applications from the OS

Eliminating these burdens removes 75% of the work that goes in to VDI strategy and execution. Therefore, a VDI like strategy and execution can focus on three aspects affecting application offerings:

  • Business Use Case – reducing expenses or increasing revenue
  • System Use Case – application, mobility, hybrid cloud storage, by a consumer, partner or employee
  • User Experience – video, voice, stylus, keyboard, or keypad

Focusing on business, systems and users increases the likelihood of project funding and success.  In addition, it means applications are virtualized directly to cloud storage, bypassing VDI and traditional operating systems.

Not all desktops and applications will fit CoIT and App Store mold. However, there are many business use cases that desktops and applications could not address. Those business cases are ripe for Mobile First application and cloud storage assessment and development. For example, reported in late 2011, American Airlines wanted to reduce the cost and burdens associated with cockpit staff having to shuffle heavy paper manuals on and off their airplanes.  The airline took their case to the FAA, and they agreed to allow American Airlines to equip its’ pilots with iPads for use during take-off and landing.  

In the report, American Airlines focused on the adoption strategy laid out earlier:

  • Business Use Case –  iPads will reduce fuel expenses, eliminate unnecessary baggage and printed paper
  • System Use Case – testing by FAA showed the tablets didn’t interview with cockpit electronics
  • User Experience – iPads will eliminate heavy briefcases filled paperwork

This Mobile First approach is a game-changer.  It will set the stage for users to familiarize themselves with tablet devices and will force companies to consider changing hardware and application user experiences.  Once tablets reach a critical mass of adoption, users will be drawn to systems that simplify consumption and manipulation, and allow for them to do some content creation in easy ways.   What this will mean is that software companies must be continuously evaluating their existing applications against the growing shadow of tablet systems.

VMWare and Citrix have been watching this story unfold; they’ve seen the shadow of wide-spread tablet system adoption tied to cloud-based application deployment darkening their VDI aspirations. While this development may come as a surprise to some, it isn’t for these industry leaders, who are locked in a head-to-head battle.

In 2012, the race toward VDI will become the race to support systems that enable tablets to use cloud-based application storage and App Stores.  This will be balanced by the fact that not every enterprise will require an App Store, and the fact that many applications are already available through these stores.

In late 2011, the Austin Convention Center began evaluating their employee’s and customer’s needs.  The Center spans six (6) blocks, and hosts new exhibitor layouts daily. Because the facility is already equipped with extensive wireless networking, they decided that instead of going the way of a full blown VDI deployment, they would instead be able to address their use cases and user experience by installing FileMaker Go from the Apple App Store and then connect it to their internal systems (case study) to meet their needs.  Here’s what they found:

  • Business Use Case – lower expenses by reducing response time to exhibitors on the show floor
  • System Use Case – mobility first, elimination paper work orders, and improving customer experience
  • User experience – exhibitor order in the hands of facility crew, eliminating a walk across the six-block show floor

FileMaker and FileMaker Go are great examples of increasing efficiency and reducing costs without virtualizing desktops.   In 2011, both Citrix and VMWare realized CoIT-based file-share-and-sync applications, like Dropbox, Box, and Evernote  were driving adoption of tablet systems.   However, consumer-based file-share-and-synch applications cannot be installed in a company’s data center.

Citrix and VMWare intend to use that weakness as an entry point for their cloud storage and App Store infrastructures.

  • VMWare Project Octopus for Cloud Storage
  • VMWare Project AppBlast for App Store (Note: beta/product links unavailable)

VMWare and Citrix are not the only companies looking to leverage their products in to the market segment created by consumer-based file-share-and-sync weaknesses.  Managed File Transfer (MFT) companies are also undergoing re-branding to position themselves as a “dropbox-like solution for the enterprise.” Some of the players in that segment are Oxygen Cloud (who was LeapFile), Accellion (who recently accepted $12 Million in funding), and YouSendIt (who markets their dropbox).

Enterprises of all sizes will soon be presented with multiple options designed to address these weaknesses.   Enterprise IT professionals should proceed with caution, a
voiding the consumer-b
ased approach of one-off infrastructure
and instead focusing solutions that replace consumer based file-share-and-sync.

As these technologies are adopted, it will be important for the IT professional to match and exceed the current user experience of CoIT and App Stores.  A focus on business and system use cases will aid in the search for a delivery system that is NOT limited to enterprise file-share-and-sync.

VMWare and Citrix are well aware of the changing marketplace, being driven by the widespread adoption of tablet systems and devices.  In 2012, these market leaders will move to introduce systems that ease the deployment of Mobile First applications in the enterprise in lieu of VDI.  IT pros must identify cloud storage products that offer file-share-and-synch, and at the same
time be expansive enough to support an ever-changing VDI and application
environment.

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