Citrix plans to put Constellation in Microsoft’s server orbit

LAS VEGAS — Citrix Systems Inc. Monday said it is creating a suite of products and services designed to take advantage of the next iteration of Microsoft’s server platform.

Citrix has been working on a product set tentatively called Constellation for several years, said Scott Herren, vice-president of the company’s access management group.

Herren, who spoke at the company’s annual user conference iForum, supplied only a few details about what the products might look like, but he said they could start to appear sometime next year. So far Constellation comprises six initiatives, including an autonomic load management tool, a system health monitor, a graphics accelerator and a policy manager.

The latter, codenamed Iris, will record keystrokes and mouse clicks in order to determine what causes common computing errors. When Iris recognizes a series of keystrokes or clicks that could lead to a problem, it will automatically warn the system administrator that there may be an impending issue to resolve. The system could also be used for security purposes and initiate a lockdown or be used to help a company meet accounting or privacy compliance regulations.

The Constellation tools in development may be issued as separate SKUs or could be bundled with other product sets, or may simply be features within future releases of existing products, said Herren.

Citrix has undergone a transformation this year, ditching its best known brand name, Metaframe, and reorganizing product groups. Its flagship product is now known as Presentation Server. Citrix announced version 4.0 of the application virtualization tool in June and company CEO Mark Templeton took the wraps off a 64-bit version of the product during his opening keynote address at iForum.

Enterprises are struggling to keep up with the demands of running IT shops with limited resources, said Templeton. “At the same time, the expectations of your users are changing and increasing. . . . They don’t want to deal with complexity, they just want it to work.”

The 64-bit version of Presentation Server 4.0 is designed to make the most of Microsoft Server 2003, said Templeton, and supports three times as many users as the 32-bit version running on a Server 2000 environment.

The term “64-bit” may be on everyone’s lips these days, but the technology has been available for Unix for decades, said IDC analyst Dan Kuznetsky. The difference today is that 64-bit is “now available as industry standards.”

Kuznetsky acknowledged that 64-bit systems “could be useful tools” but cautioned that “we’re doing things the same way, we’re just trying to mash them all in one box to make them appear simpler.”

Herren described the difference between the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Presentation Server as a “a quantum leap” but also noted that Citrix still has its work cut out for it. The company sells its tools to numerous enterprise customers, but those customers virtualize only about 15 per cent of their applications.

“What are we doing about that? We’re getting busy,” said Herren. The Constellation project, for example, is designed to increase Citrix’s 64-bit profile in the enterprise and the company is working on products for its Web optimization tools.

Citrix entered that market only a few months ago with the acquisition of NetScaler for US$300 million. NetScaler, which makes traffic compression and balancing tools, is designed to help enterprises manage bandwidth requirements.

Templeton noted that some users are taking a prudent strategy towards Internet management by virtualizing their browsers. “That’s good, but what’s best is to optimize Web applications so they run faster, they scale better.” A new version of NetScaler, announced Monday, is available for small and medium-sized businesses.

Citrix is also working on a means to drive efficiency by streaming desktop applications via a product codenamed Tarpon. “Streaming applications means you never install them,” explained Templeton. Rather than pushing applications to the desktop level, “you go to . . . a self-service model. It’s kind of like video-streaming, only it’s for applications.”

IDC’s Kuznetsky noted that application streaming technology is already available from other vendors such as Softricity, but so far has failed to gain a real foothold in the enterprise. He said that Citrix’s commitment to streaming is significant, but “the fact that Citrix is making the technology available doesn’t mean people will use it.”

There are concerns around how streamed applications will be licensed, for example. IT managers may be hesitant to consider it as an option until Microsoft has weighed in on the issue, said Gartner Inc. analyst Mark Margevicius.

Among the features expected for Tarpon is a tamper-proof system whereby the software will detect if any crucial files — like .exe or .dll files — are missing from the application and automatically fill them in.

Citrix’s iForum wrapped up Tuesday.

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