Citrix/Microsoft partnership takes aim at VMware

With an eye on rival VMware and to meet evolving virtualization market demand, Citrix Systems (NASDAQ: CTXS) announced Monday it’s offering its XenServer virtualization platform free to end-users. The company also announced Citrix Essentials for Microsoft Hyper-V, a fee-based solution that uses the Microsoft platform to bring simplified storage configuration and automation to the virtual machine (VM) development lifecycle.

David Wright, area vice-president for Citrix Canada, said the company is offering its XenServer virtualization software product free as a way of increasing market adoption. Users can download Citrix XenServer free of charge directly from the company’s Web site and through other download portals.

“We really want to increase adoption…and we feel we can do that by having no fee attached,” Wright said. “Citrix is a company with about 7,000 customers in the country and about 165 partners in Canada. We want to address our existing base and find new customers.”

As an extension of its virtualization partnership with Microsoft, Citrix has announced its Citrix Essentials for Microsoft Hyper-V product which works with Microsoft’s System Center solution portfolio. The solution will come in an enterprise and platinum edition, at a price of $1,500 and $3,000 per physical server respectively and will be available through any Citrix or Microsoft channel partner.

The announcements were made just as VMware’s customer conference kicked off in Cannes, France.

“What this is really about is Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and Citrix as a team are going against VMware,” said Mark Bowker, an analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group.

David Greschler, director of system center marketing at Microsoft, said the new solution sits on top of the Hyper-V and System Center platform and helps to improve the scalability around server virtualization and Hyper-V.

Simon Crosby, chief technology officer for Citrix’s virtualization and management division, said Citrix Essentials for Microsoft Hyper-V is the perfect solution to complement enterprise customers who are already using Hyper-V. Citrix says its target customers with the solution are really for any enterprise customer who uses Hyper-V across all verticals and markets.

“It makes Hyper-V more scalable, manageable and agile,” Crosby said. “It offers new capabilities such as advanced StorageLink technology, provisioning services, automated lab management, workflow orchestration, multi-hypervisor interoperability and integration with System Center.”

Both Citrix and Microsoft will be jointly going to market with the solution, which is scheduled for general availability beginning April 7. Local training, seminars, Webinars and other tools will be provided to the channel community to help prepare for the release, Wright said.

“On any products partners sell in general, the feedback I’ve been getting from them is they’re receiving healthy (margin) gains in the low double digit range,” Wright said. “By presenting the entire Citrix solution portfolio to customers and looking at their complete needs, partners can actually make more money by helping their customers save as much money as possible.”

Chris Wolf, a senior analyst with Burton Group, said Citrix Essentials for Hyper-V is a much-needed step, especially for Microsoft. The storage and provisioning capabilities will be a boost for Microsoft, although the lack of a high-availability option will make some enterprises hesitant about using Hyper-V for production applications, Wolf said. At least initially, he expects the Microsoft platform to be more widely used for virtual test and development environments.

The cross-management capabilities between Hyper-V and XenSource will also give Citrix a boost, Wolf said. Customers could deploy XenServer now, with the knowledge that they can adopt Hyper-V later and manage both from Microsoft Systems Center, he said.

However, both vendors still face a formidable challenge in VMware, Bowker and Wolf said. VMware retains a technology lead in server virtualization, and it has an established presence in many data centres.

“A lot of large enterprises have mature VMware deployments; they’re a bit cautious about splitting their infrastructure across multiple hypervisors.” Wolf said, adding that Monday’s announcements may have the most impact for small and midsize businesses.

–With files from IDG News Service

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