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How the New Microsoft and Citrix Partnership Puts Enterprise Anywhere

By Patrick Hubbard, Head Geek, SolarWinds

Citrix and Microsoft have history: they've been friends, rivals, and everything in between for decades. Now, Microsoft and Citrix have taken their relationship to the next level by announcing a new, multiyear partnership. This "next step," as Citrix refers to it, will impact the future of remote working as we know it and has the potential to help CIOs put their enterprises anywhere. And for CFOs, it's yet another step in the evolution of traditional brands like Citrix toward OpEx subscription options. 

Remote Is the New Normal

Timing for the Microsoft Azure-Citrix Workspace partnership is fortuitous. The events of 2020 all but confirm remote work at some scale is here to stay. Meanwhile, your distributed workforce requires a consistent and secure way to access desktop environments, even as many IT budgets are being cut. The pandemic accelerated a trend already underway, with teams considering new levels of remote working, or at a minimum demanding contingency investment.

The pitch to IT teams for Citrix Managed Desktops and Citrix Workspace in general is to simplify secure deployment of desktops and applications to distributed workers from the cloud as needed. Azure adds more hosting, application integration, and billing options to the mix.

Citrix generally does an admirable job of shielding end users from its considerable features catalog and customization options. CIOs will pay for management layers to improve reliability and at the same time ensure non-tech workers don't need in-depth expertise to gain full benefit. They can access their work on any device, in any location.

With the Azure partnership, Microsoft and Citrix also seek to offer better desktop standardization in a patchwork of work-from-home user endpoints. With workers on-premises, IT teams can streamline desktop experiences into related cohorts. For example, most users on mid-tier Dell laptops linked to the main data center via established WAN from the Seattle office will share a common user experience. However, 10,000 employees working remote each see one of 10,000 different experiences, if only from a network perspective.

For other organizations, inconsistent endpoint hardware can be an even larger challenge. If an employee, customer, or supply chain partner has a laptop or a tablet you've given them, you have some control over the commonality of CPU, memory, and everything else affecting the end-performance of applications on that machine. However, many employees have ended up on their own machines or on machines you can't directly service. It's even more confusing if the business was forced to quickly buy and provision several stopgap systems to move workers home in a hurry.

Citrix bread and butter has always been about normalizing the interface and creating a consistent service abstraction from endpoints. Being able to offer the same, familiar desktop across countless locations reduces complexity and management headaches for tech pros.

2020 Grade Desktop Security

Desktop configuration and policy standardization is often security governance step one, if only to reduce the cost of analysis and configuration. Under the terms of this partnership, Microsoft will select Citrix Workspace as a preferred digital workspace, and Citrix will choose Microsoft Azure as a preferred cloud platform. Close security collaboration between the partners may make "Citrix as a Service" more appealing than DIY options.

Further, a connected roadmap to enable a consistent, flexible and secure work experiences can deliver and manage a larger set of services including Citrix Workspace, Citrix SD-WAN, Microsoft Azure, and Microsoft 365. For a start, because each user session (generally) launches a fresh copy of the OS, viruses and ransomware find it harder to gain a foothold. Effective policy for 100 users can easily and consistently scale to 100,000+, while Azure offers scalability as needed without expanding on-prem.

How Citrix Will Change

The partnership is also a reflection of how quickly the software industry continues to transition to subscription licensing. Generally, end customers won't see much change beyond new license options, but it will affect the revenue model for Citrix partners. While it's too early to know exactly what the impact will be, at a minimum it will reduce some opportunities for margin in perpetual licenses and renewals, or at least affect how it works.

Citrix partners are an adaptable lot and have weathered plenty of technology and licensing storms in the past. In the short term, they'll offer clients huge value while helping businesses adopt to new invoice options. They may also have new incentives for bundling other Azure services for clients. Acting as MSPs sitting atop Azure, they'll transition from selling equipment to driving cloud service consumption. Microsoft may need to reassure the partner network occasionally they should be excited about it, but Microsoft is generally good at supporting its large partner ecosystem.

Some things won't change. Cloud hosted desktops can still add complexity and expand hybrid IT by moving traditionally on-prem desktop resources to cloud. It may create multi-cloud monitoring and management challenges, and there will be initial implementation costs-the list goes on. However, as with most service-based applications, it's possible the cloud-based Azure-Citrix deployments may lean less bespoke and more toward best-practice operations. That's been a winning simplification formula CIOs increasingly seek out.

It will be interesting to see how enterprise reacts. Businesses won't be forced to buy a great deal of the usual hardware that could end up sitting idle. They could retire some technical debt, and they don't have to make large bets on future on-prem investments at a time of unparalleled uncertainty.

What's in It for Microsoft

Microsoft sees an opportunity to adding Citrix to the Azure Marketplace-offering yet another well understood, de facto IT standard as a subscription service. The Microsoft pitch is to simplify resource management and make it easier to control costs-you're dealing with a familiar Microsoft billing system, along with Microsoft enterprise application support. The partnership also moves virtual desktop delivery closer to where workloads are increasingly going in Azure. It also gives Microsoft an opportunity to bundle tightly integrated collaboration and communication tools for remote users.

For example, there are plenty of opinions about Skype in virtual desktop sessions, and they're not often positive. With the Citrix partnership, Microsoft has signaled its intent to deliver easy to manage virtual desktop Teams collaboration and one assumes additional integration with Office 365. This could result in a smoother experience for both users and administrators. It may not be checkbox management easy but should be closer to configuration than development work for IT teams. Again, Citrix partners should be helpful here. It's not an easy button-that's prevented in virtual desktops by the natural laws of the universe. But it essentially an easier button on top of Citrix.

Citrix and Azure also have overlapping customer bases, especially with respect to Windows. For its part, Citrix's margin from Azure deployment may be slightly less, but easing deployment complexity may drive wider adoption. In the end, the partnership is also a natural, even obvious move. Citrix's customers are moving to cloud just like everyone else, so why wouldn't they partner to put it in the marketplace alongside so many of the other apps and services their customers increasingly rely on?

Win-Win for IT Organizations

If you're all-in on AWS, the Microsoft-Citrix partnership may not be as attractive to you. That's why Citrix is most certainly not announcing they're single-sourcing their cloud to Azure. The Citrix partner or internal dev team you rely on today can continue to support your applications on AWS, GCP, or on-prem with no changes.

If you're migrating to Azure, the partnership makes it easy to attach Citrix delivery costs to your existing Azure invoices. It also provides added scale-out flexibility crucial in unprecedented times. It also may enable smaller businesses to reconsider using virtual desktops if the complexity is in line with other Azure services designed for business teams.

In either case, you'll still need to monitor your Citrix environment, and with Azure delivery, you'll need to configure cloud resource monitoring in your dashboards. Fortunately, cloud infrastructure monitoring is becoming mature enough to make the transition easy. This is handy because cost management will be more important than ever, as is always the case with cloud.

The dark side of consumption-based billing is unused resources, sprawl, and resource sizing guesswork to prevent bottlenecks. They can create real, unexpected invoice consequences. Broad monitoring will be required to ensure you're not paying for hosting resources you aren't using. Custom apps in particular will need accurate utilization and performance data to deliver acceptable user experiences using the fewest possible resources.

Before the unprecedented adaptations for the pandemic became the "new normal," software as a service, especially storied vendors, and adoption of subscription options were already becoming a new normal. The Microsoft-Citrix partnership and entry into the Azure marketplace is a part of this trend. And the timing for both companies couldn't be better. The world's "New normal" has IT seeking virtual desktop and applications delivery options as never before. Perhaps timing really is everything.

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About the Author

 

PATRICK HUBBARD, Head Geek

An accomplished technologist with over 20 years of experience, Hubbard's career includes software development, operations, product management and marketing, technology strategy, and advocacy. An unapologetic market-hype deconstructionist, Hubbard is passionate about arming technology professionals with the tools and skills to deliver services that delight, not just satisfy, users. Hubbard's current focus is helping enterprises adopt cloud-native and DevOps techniques that deliver the business transformation CIOs increasingly demand.

Since joining SolarWinds in 2007, Hubbard has combined his technical expertise with an IT customer perspective to drive product strategy, launch the Head Geeks, develop and manage the SolarWinds Certified Professional (SCP) and SolarWinds Academy Training Classes programs, and create the SolarWinds online demo platform. Today, most admins recognize Hubbard as the executive producer of the Telly award-winning SolarWinds Lab, and SolarWinds THWACKcamp. 
Published Thursday, August 20, 2020 7:33 AM by David Marshall
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