Time Marches On

Before I knew it, a new year was here. This inspires me to write about the past year and what will unfold for this year. For whatever reason it doesn’t seem important to dive into particular details but instead look at some general trends.

Over the last couple of years Citrix has really realized the value of investing in the workstation desktop space. This climaxed with the purchase of XenSource later in 2007. The idea is to bring many different pieces together to form a greater whole for the sake of a better user and administrator experience.

There are many core technologies in this venture including the ICA protocol, ICA stack, and the new pieces which brings workstations into the fold. This is now known as XenDesktop and should be a key step forward in 2008. The Beta program is ongoing and there is some general excitement about how this could be applied.

The Citrix trend is towards more virtualization. Having bought XenSource makes this pursuit much more evident. Citrix has managed to turn a situation around and become relevant in the virtualization space. There is stiff competition with VMware and it is always hard to compete with such an entrenched company. However, there is so much room for competition in this range and it is always good for customers when two or more vendors enter a space.

It doesn’t hurt that Microsoft is fully behind the Xen strategy and is using core technology in their new operating systems. It actually creates more of a bridge between Microsoft and Citrix related to the virtualization story.

Obviously the initial focus will be on providing more solutions within the server virtualization environment to ride the wave of consolidation and management benefits. There is much untapped potential in this space especially when it becomes more clear that performance is not the only concern.

This trend is more about duplicating the range and power first created on mainframes by IBM. The overall message is that once the virtual platform is established, hardware and software are no longer coupled. There are many implications of being disconnected but the main thing is that the virtualization framework turns out to be the most important with the hardware being even further commoditized and the software given new value with longer life and broader compatibility. The need for tossing the software based on it not working on the latest server platform becomes irrelevant if the virtualization platform can continue to run the old server platform.

Pairing virtualization with emulation gives the full spectrum coverage. If I can emulate a device and then run that emulated device on newer devices, the software at the top will not be aware of the difference. It is the ideal compatibility story. Most business applications don’t even care about the hardware at all. They just want the Windows model to be intact with its set of API and means of display, control, and printing. It’s a simplistic observation but largely true based on my experience with debugging these kind of applications.

Already I’ve heard a few people say that certain applications don’t work on Vista. Most applications will get upgraded and a new version will be sold for Vista but some will not. The more on the fringe the application is with a lower install base, the less likely it will be adopted to the latest operating system quickly. The more specialized applications tend to suffer this lag to the point organizations will hold off moving to the latest operating system until there is some solution. It can get bad enough that people will actually uninstall Vista to install XP to get their stuff working. It is a pattern that follows every major release of Windows since practically the beginning.

Just recently I realized that it would be difficult to keep full compatibility based on an operating system changing. It is like a fingerprint that is unique to each release. If the fingerprints don’t match (which they won’t) it is just a matter of how sensitive the applications are to the differences. In the case of Vista, the fingerprint has changed dramatically based on new security concerns. Stuff like LUA can really ruin your day and yet keep you secure :). Sensibly Microsoft cannot ignore security concerns but also cannot ignore the pain they are causing by making things “better” for everyone.

I have an old story about the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) here in Australia. I was assigned to work on a project for a test pilot in 1997 in Canberra. Essentially they were assessing the viability of deploying Citrix WinFrame within DSD to provide specific services. It was an eye opening experience on security and how far it could go. These guys were incredibly smart and obviously focused on cracking codes and intercepting signals. I would guess that they are sort of like the NSA from America. It was a bit daunting to enter the DSD premises based on strict security and the need to double check everything. One of the requirements was that no electronics were allowed to leave the building. Mobile phones and laptop computers would be confiscated if allowed beyond the entry desk. When I was working on the server, I was never allowed to be alone. The server was a powerful Compaq which was pretty advanced for the time. The pilot did not match their expectations (probably because it was oversold) but I did learn some interesting facts. First of all, according the security expert I dealt with, the only secure computer was one which was not connected to a network. Secondly, based on my own observations, they must have been involved in the Echelon program. I guess the main point is that there is no perfect security unless nothing happens at all. In other words, if your computer was completely secure, you wouldn’t be able to use it. Even if you think that you are secure hiding behind encryption, there is a good chance that someone else is listening.

As usual, it becomes more of a balance. You can’t have it be too loose and you can’t have it too tight.

This distracting topic was brought up in the context of virtualization. Please excuse the digression.

What I do see coming is virtualization for workstations. Just like how people have come to expect multitasking operating systems, I believe that they will also come to expect multitasking different operating systems on the same machine. This makes a single machine more like a mainframe in its ability to support different platforms at the same time. But why would someone want this? Good question. The easiest answer lies in being able to run different vendors operating systems or even different versions of the operating systems. Being able to run XP and Vista concurrently would obviously reduce the pressure to run either exclusively. Also, more obscure platforms like Apple could potentially supported alongside Windows. The point is that your computer is much more powerful now and would be capable of running much more than it does now. A compelling argument for workstation virtualization is bringing a balance of power to what is currently a monopoly game for which operating system was installed first on the machine. So many users just use what they are given whereas having a hypervisor which switches the operating systems would give this kind of choice back to the user.

Honestly, it is easy to see the trend and why it is starting with the servers first. The servers are actually easier and better known than supporting a plethora of workstation machines. Based on initial studies, the workstation environment is much more lucrative based on sheer volume of workstations out there.

So, anyways, welcome to 2008. It looks like it is going to be another interesting year.

Oh, and as one last controversial stir, did you know that citrite.org is slowly dieing? It will not be much longer now that I’ll have to seriously consider changing to something like WordPress. The original team was really good at citrite.org but has moved on to other things. Being that I am one of of the most avid bloggers on citrite.org, I am sort of sad to go but there really is no choice if things continue to be neglected.

Another deciding factor is the exclusion of personal posts from the main Citrix blog site. Personally I’m a bit offended with this decision and instead of complying with the policy with having groups which have to be specially approved (and managed) it doesn’t make sense to stick with this. I don’t know what drove this decision but it does look a bit suspicious. This bit of honesty is due to pent up frustrations. It seems my yearly summaries are the most contentious.

Let’s just assuming that I’ll be moving house within the next two weeks. I’ll announce the destination when it happens.

Thanks for listening.

Live near Brisbane, Australia. Software developer currently focused on iOS and Android. Avid Google Local Guide

Posted in Favourite, Observations, Trends
One comment on “Time Marches On
  1. James K says:

    Jeff,

    Great to see another post. 2008 will indeed be an interesting year for the industry, not only for Citrix. VDI will become mainstream, with products from all major vendors. It will be interesting to see Citrix’s XenDesktop offering when it is released.

    Cheers,
    JK.

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