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Citrix to turn laptops into virtual machines

With competitors launching desktop virtualization solutions, Citrix is going in another direction

Budapest, Hungary –Citrix Systems Inc.’s (Nasdaq: CTXS) new Xen-based client hypervisor, currently under development with Intel and scheduled for release in early 2010, will turn laptops into locally-running virtual machines. The results include increased security, the ability to work offline, and complete segregation of corporate and personal data.

At a press event, held here, Citrix revealed plans for a bare metal hypervisor that will be an integral part of the company’s channel partner ecosystem.

Simon Crosby, CTO of Citrix, said the product will get certified on certain laptops. “One of the interesting things is that in the laptop world, there is enormous uniformity of hardware. If you look at anything from the Intel Montevina platform onwards, which is probably a year deep in the customer base already, they are very uniform in terms of the core chipsets and so on. So that gives us an ability to quickly support a large number of different vendors’ products,” Crosby said.

The hardware certification will target Intel’s vPro chipset because of its security features. This means some legacy laptops cannot be virtualized, but as Citrix goes to market early next year more features will be added that may get the company deep into its customer base, Crosby said.

In terms of how the customer acquires a client side hypervisor, there is a very substantial challenge by comparison with server virtualization, Crosby added. In server virtualization, customer’s understands that the CD is needed for installation on a server. “But end users are different and our goal is to make sure end users don’t have to know about virtualization. Making an end user understand the concept of a hypervisor is a completely broken idea,” he said.

Citrix is looking at two ways for distribution. One is embedded, as an option roam, within the bios of a new PC. “It just gets turned on by IT when they purchase it. There seems to be a substantial interest on the part of the PC OEMs to have this kind of feature set. In general, all of the PC OEMs are trying to differentiate their offerings not so much in the hardware domain as in the software domain. PC OEMs are trying to differentiate by adding cool software and this is certainly one category of that,” Crosby said.

The other is to deliver the product to customers with a known hardware compatibility list. “For those computers, which are compatible, it would just a matter of re-imaging them, lay down this bare metal hypervisor, lay down what goes on top and presto you’re up and running,” he said.

Citrix’s approach to channel sales will be an open one, Crosby said. “We are absolutely committed to that two-tier distribution model. Citrix does not sell the right and our solution advisors know this, they know that they can trust us. It doesn’t mean they don’t sell VMware, they do, it just means they trust us and there is a lot of loyalty there. We have confidence in the model, it grows very well and it builds a higher repeatability of sale for our partners,” he said.

The average laptop user who gets a corporate laptop breaks corporate security policy every day, according to Crosby. “They browse where they shouldn’t, they store photographs in there or music or whatever, and all of that is probably in violation of corporate security polices. So you have to start back at the beginning, which is to say; here is a reasonable principal of separation and here is a way that, if you implement this thing, you get to really lock down, constrain the work environment while not completely screwing up the users life because you can liberalize that life in another way.”