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Citrix dodges death, returns with bigger XenServer and NetScaler

Drinking the software-defined big data kool aid through one pane of glass

Citrix has unified its networking products and made big additions to its virtualisation stack.

Last things first: XenServer is now in version 7, which means it gains support for Intel's Iris Pro graphics technology. In theory that makes XenServer a better platform for graphics-intensive desktop virtualisation (VDI) chores. Citrix thinks there's lots of you who would love the chance to banish workstation fleets and replace them with VDI, or just make sure VDI can keep up with the requirements of video-guzzling users.

Citrix and Microsoft have been close for ages and get closer with this release, which adds support for Server Message Block (SMB) for virtual machine storage. The upshot of this is Citrix users in big Windows shops can now point XenServer at shared storage managed by Windows Server. Which should help users to make the most of storage assets.

Citrix is taking advantage of the combination of System Center Configuration Manager and Windows Server Update Services, as together they make it possible to update XenServer with Windows Update.

Everything's bigger this time around: host RAM goes up from 1TB to 5TB and 288 CPU cores are now permitted, double the previous count. VRAM now reaches 1.5TB, an eightfold increase.

There's also a new agentless API allowing inspection of guest VMs' memory, the better to make sure they're not running something nasty.

Cloud-native types may appreciate support for managing Docker from within Xen Server.

Nothing radical, therefore, but some nice bits for those running all sorts of workloads on Xen Server. Citrix's virtualisation strategy sees it prioritise its own products – XenDesktop and XenApp – in the hope of selling a stack. This release won't hurt that strategy and may give comfort to those hoping to continue using XenServer for other stuff, plus the beginning of a direction on containers.

Citrix's other strong suit is networking and the company's decided it's time to bring all its offerings into a single management console. The new “NetScaler Management and Analytics System” therefore gives users one tool with which to manage the company's CloudBridge software-defined WAN, NetScaler application delivery controller and VPN products.

CloudBridge was previously a discrete product but is now re-christened NetScaler SDWAN. The whole suite is now backed by better analytics and automation, plus templates that let you quickly cook a secure software-defined network and network optimisation environment for different applications.

The mantra, as is the case across the industry, is that in these cloudy times we all need to be able to create networks that span our own bit barns and public clouds.

Citrix isn't getting down into software-defined switching or routing, territory it is going to leave to others. But the company feels the combination it can present isn't matched and should give shoppers confidence they can deploy XenApp and XenDesktop in just about any scenario.

Citrix has strong competition in this field but looks to have buttressed itself well by making it easier to acquire and operate products needed to publish applications securely.

Citrix grew in its most recently-reported quarter, a result felt to represent a slightly-unexpected turnaround after years of confused strategy and red ink. The announcements above, the cute adoption of the Raspberry Pi as a thin client and a new workspace-as-service push surely mean the company has moved off the “not dead yet” pile and closer to many shopping lists. ®

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