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Forecast calls for Citrix cloud front

When it rains in IT land, it pours

Citrix Systems wants to cover your back door and your front door.

The virtualization vendor is holding its Synergy 2011 shindig in San Francisco this week, and the product marketeers at the company are pulling out all of the stops to get future products with some sort of cloud angle into the barrage of announcements coming out of the company.

Citrix has good reason to be excited by cloud computing in its many forms in data centers, on desktops, and out there on the public clouds and app engines of the Internet. Citrix has spent a lot of time, money, and effort moving itself from the client/server era of the 1990s to the cloudy era of the 2010s, and it did so to stay in business in a world where VMware, Microsoft, and Red Hat could have otherwise made the company increasingly irrelevant.

Wes Wasson, chief marketing officer at Citrix, held a press briefing ahead of the show to rattle off a bunch of these announcements, which included the Project Olympus conglomeration of the OpenStack cloud fabric and Citrix' XenServer that El Reg already told you about.

Later this year, Citrix will be rolling out two variants of its NetScaler application acceleration and access control appliances aimed at being the "back door" and "front door" for companies linking end users and internal systems to public clouds.

The front door is the NetScaler Cloud Gateway, which will be available in third quarter of this year. This appliance will link users sitting on either side of the firewall to applications running on internal private clouds, external public clouds, or SaaS-style applications running on other platforms. The Cloud Gateway will do user provisioning and de-provisioning for applications as well as single sign-on to those applications, much as VMware hopes to do once it fully fleshes out its Horizon App Manager.

The NetScaler Cloud Gateway will also managing the user licensing for applications and services and will be able to ascertain if service-level agreements for applications are being met as they run. Presumably the NetScaler appliances will be able to do something about it if they are not, but Wasson was not clear on this in his briefing.

VMware's Horizon cloudy gateway and application manager was announced last week and initially plugs into SaaS applications, but will eventually hook into virtual desktop images being streamed down from VMware View as well as applications streamed from central servers in the data center using VMware's ThinApp and Microsoft's App-V technologies. Horizon App Manager will also eventually support the XenDesktop and XenApp alternatives from Citrix, VMware tells El Reg.

NetScaler Cloud Gateway can be used to authenticate Windows and Web applications and is supported in all the current browsers as well as through Receiver, the universal client that Citrix has cooked up for application streaming that is supported on a wide range of PCs, tablets, and smartphones.

As part of this week's announcements, Receiver is being updated with improved multi-touch support, which is important for end users working from tablets and smartphones. Hewlett-Packard's webOS tablets will be demonstrated running Receiver at Synergy 2011, as will Google's Chrome OS. Wasson said that Receiver has been certified on thousands of different PC and Mac clients, 140 smartphones, 37 tablets, and 10 different families of thin clients. All told, there are more than 1 billion clients in the world that can, in theory, run Receiver today, according to Wasson.

Now for the back door of the cloud. The NetScaler Cloud Bridge, which will be shipping sometime in June, has that covered, allowing companies to cloudburst their workloads out to private clouds or providing a permanent link between external cloudy apps and internal systems. The NetScaler Cloud Bridge is based on the NetScaler SDX appliance that Citrix announced for service providers and telecommunications firms that allows the appliance to run multiple copies of the NetScaler software atop a Xen hypervisor. The idea with NetScaler SDX is to allow different customers to have their own dedicated bandwidth for application authentication and acceleration, and it looks like Cloud Bridge will use multiple NetScaler images to link data centers to different external cloud services.

The important thing with the Cloud Bridge is that the link between the data center and the cloud provider will be encrypted and that the device will bridge the internal network with the external cloud's network to make shifting the workloads between the two seamless at the network level. (Apps have to be configured to run in the same virtual containers on the same kinds of iron to work, of course.) The Cloud Bridge also keeps authentication information for both the internal network and the cloud on the inside of the corporate firewall, where most IT managers want to keep it.

Both the Cloud Gateway and the Cloud Bridge will be available as hardware appliances and as virtualized software appliances that companies can deploy on their own x64 iron or that of their cloud computing providers. The Cloud Bridge functionality will be available as a standalone appliance, with prices starting at $5,000 and will also be rolled into the Platinum Editions of the NetScaler MPX and SDX hardware appliances or the NetScaler VPX software appliances.

Other tidbits coming out of Synergy.

XenDesktop 5, which was previewed at the Synergy Berlin meeting last October and which started shipping a few months ago, has been updated with a feature called IntelliCache. This feature allows for PC images in a VDI setup to be stored on local disk drives in the server instead of on storage area networks. IntelliCache sounds suspiciously like the image management software that Kaviza created for its VDI-in-a-Box. So maybe the acquisition of Kaviza by Citrix this week was a defensive as well as an offensive maneuver.

By moving to local storage instead of SANs for VDI, the cost of the storage can be cut in half, according to Citrix. If Kaviza slipped into the gaping maw of VMware, the competitive advantage of IntelliCache would be done. (Of course, VMware probably has something similar cooking up for its View VDI stack, and if it didn't, it does now.)

Citrix is also putting out a tech preview of the XenClient 2 bare metal hypervisor for laptops and desktops. XenClient 2 has support for the second generation of vPro Core and Xeon chips and chipsets from Intel, which were announced back in March. These new vPro chips and chipsets are based on the "Sandy Bridge" designs. Wasson said that the new XenClient 2 hypervisor could run on an estimated 45 million machines out there in the field and the hardware compatibility list had grown by a factor of three since the belated launch of XenClient last August.

The new bare metal hypervisor also has support for Intel's HD Graphics on-chip GPUs and adds support for Advanced Micro Devices' FirePro and Radeon discrete graphics cards. PCs based on AMD Athlon, Phenom, or Opteron processors are still not supported with XenClient, however.

The company is also rolling out a special military-grade version of the bare metal hypervisor for PCs called XenClient XT. This variant of the hypervisor makes use of the Trusted Execution Technology (TXT) features in Intel's most recent PC and server chips to provide trusted boot for the hypervisor, checking it against a known good configuration every time the hypervisor boots up. The XT variant also has goosed graphics performance (presumably with a more restricted set of GPUs) and multi-level security isolation for multiple guest partitions and their network connections as they run on PCs. ®

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