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This syndicated post originally appeared at Zeus Kerravala's blog.

Citrix held its annual industry analyst event last week in Santa Clara and I left with a favorable view of the company’s short- and long-term prospects based on current IT trends. The company has always had a niche position in the IT space dating way back to the WinFrame and MetaFrame days. Prior to being an analyst, I actually worked for a Citrix reseller and was fully certified as a Citrix engineer. I chose to go down this technical path because I had a belief that the standardization, security and management capabilities that thin-client computing brought was the way the industry would go. With centralized management, the highest level of security, and no local PC problems, what could be better?

However, the market didn’t really play out that way. Sure, almost every large enterprise I worked with used Citrix in some capacity. Typically, its primary function was to deliver a subset of applications to people like consultants, call center agents or other task-based workers based on the fact that it was easier to manage and easier to secure. Despite the strong value proposition, the penetration rate of Citrix never reached much more than 10% in most companies and there were several reasons for this.

One of the reasons was that the overall user experience wasn’t great. While Citrix worked well with applications like Word, Excel and even Internet browsing, some basic things like printing were a headache and never really worked well. Multimedia applications were also problematic, particularly over WAN segments. Real-time applications like CAD performed very slowly as well. So users could do some things well but not everything, and that kept IT from being more aggressive with it. Today, all of these issues have been addressed, but in IT memories last a long time and a number of IT leaders I’ve talked to remember the struggles of yesterday and don’t want to risk impacting user satisfaction.

Additionally, users do like to customize the desktop, and older versions of the technology didn’t really allow for that. Workers want their own backgrounds, screen savers, etc., to make their desktop a very personal computing experience. Again, this is no longer an issue with the current version of Xen Desktop.

In hindsight, though, I think the biggest reason we didn’t see broader adoption is that the market just wasn’t ready for wide-scale desktop virtualization. IT standardized on PCs, corporate applications and operating systems and the work required to drop an image on a PC, even remotely, wasn’t all that great so it reduced the need for Citrix. I agree that ultimately it would have been easier to centralize desktop computing via Citrix, but doing IT the traditional way was certainly doable, so why change what isn’t broken?

Also, desktop virtualization is ideal for a mobile worker and until recently we only had portable workers. The distinction I make is that a portable worker uses a single device, pre-loads it with every bit of information or application he or she may need, and carries it around. Network connectivity is simply needed to update email or browse the web. True mobile computing allows workers to roam around but then switch devices on the fly. This makes pre-loading content on to a single device sub optimal. Also, desktop virtualization only works when you’re connected. Ten years ago there were many, many gaps in connectivity. Today, through a combination of home broadband, 3G/4G data cards, phone tethering and public Wi-Fi, users can be connected if they want to. The only real gap now is in the air, but there are more and more planes offering Internet connectivity. Pervasive connectivity allows companies the leverage the network much more efficiently than we did before.

The other big IT trends that make me believe desktop virtualization needs to become a bigger part of IT strategy are cloud and bring your own device (BYOD). A decade ago, heck even three years ago, IT had very tight control over the device workers used and where the content and applications were. Today, that whole model has been flipped upside down and IT has little or no control of this. Multi-operating system and cloud-oriented IT cannot work with traditional IT management models and desktop virtualization is an ideal way to meet the challenges. We get stuff from the network in our consumer lives, so why not do it in our professional lives as well?

It seems these IT “mega-trends” such as cloud, BYOD, wireless advancements and mobile computing are converging on us all at once and creating a huge headache for IT. Instead of fighting it and trying to struggle with legacy desktop strategies, IT leaders should look to desktop virtualization as a way of creating a more scalable computing environment. Anyone who knows me knows I really am not a big demo guy when I go to events – in fact I try to avoid vendor demos – but I did go to the one Citrix had set up for analysts. The ability to start working on one device and seamlessly move between devices of different operating systems is so much better than it was just a few years ago. I know there are plenty of companies out there with a small-to-moderate Citrix footprint, and to that audience I say take a look at it again and make it a bigger part of your computing strategy.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.

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