Microsoft, Citrix Partnership Navigates Turbulent Waters

The two companies say their 15-year relationship is going strong, even though Microsoft products are starting to include the new capabilities Citrix is now selling as value-add.

October 12, 2005

6 Min Read
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Microsoft and Citrix Systems held a virtual lovefest at the latter’s iForum event in Las Vegas this week to persuade attendees that their 15-year partnership will continue to bear fruit, not sour grapes.

At the annual conference, Citrix rolled out its first x64 version of Citrix Presentation Server for Windows Server 2003 x64 and said it will ship an upgrade of Presentation Server, code-named Ohio, for Windows Server 2003 R2 in 2006.

That will offer significant value to customers and partners, enabling them to publish and extend client/server applications over the extranet to outside partners and suppliers, one Citrix executive said at the conference on Tuesday. The new federation services in R2, due to ship in December, offer single sign-on for Web applications only.

On stage, the two companies demonstrated integration between early Presentation Server code and the Microsoft Office 12 beta. And in the iForum tech lab, they also showed off a Citrix ICA client running on Microsoft's Windows Vista beta desktop code.

Despite Microsoft's stated intent to integrate into Longhorn Server technologies that mimic two of Presentation Server's most valuable jewels--application publishing and seamless windows--there’s no chill in the relationship and collaboration continues unabated, executives of both companies insisted.Citrix CEO Mark Templeton said he’s not worried about the potential shadow cast by the 800-pound gorilla on his sunny software landscape. And he doesn’t believe the partnership with Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft will lapse into a deep freeze.

Like many ISVs that sense impending competition from Microsoft, Citrix sees the pie growing for all partners, and Templeton predicts that Microsoft won't bite a chunk out of his company’s revenue stream.

"We really don’t have concerns. We've always had a partnership with Microsoft that allows us to understand their direction, and when it comes to broad, horizontal, basic services markets, they're great at it," Templeton told CRN in an interview. "If I want to be a partner of Microsoft, I can't have angst around Microsoft going after these broad, horizontal services."

To that end, Citrix is developing a set of technologies code-named Constellation, also announced this week, that will offer advanced application virtualization features and unique application delivery to a broad spectrum of client/server, Web and desktop applications on various platforms and devices.

Citrix also demonstrated an on-demand application streaming technology code-named Tarpon that will eliminate application incompatibilities and push bits down to the desktop in isolated environments for online and offline viewing. In that market niche, the technology would compete against pioneer Softricity and AppStream.Still, Citrix is aware that customers and channel partners are concerned about the short- and long-term impact of Longhorn Server on the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based company’s relationship with Microsoft.

For example, on Tuesday, representatives from Citrix and Microsoft held a special joint session at iForum to highlight the future of their partnership and unveil new fruits of their combined labor. Those included the x64 edition of Citrix Presentation Server and two free offerings: the Web Interface for Microsoft SharePoint and the Citrix Presentation Server Management Pack for Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2005.

Citrix's SharePoint Interface seamlessly embeds Presentation Server-based applications into Microsoft's SharePoint Portal. An installable SharePoint Web Part, the interface has been available as a technical preview since July, and it was announced completed and ready for download this week.

Microsoft and Citrix also this week jointly announced formal availability of the Presentation Server Management Pack for MOM 2005. The pack enables joint customers to monitor, collect, filter and analyze data from Citrix Presentation 3.0 and 4.0 servers and server farms from within Microsoft's management and monitoring platform. Citrix is developing a similar Web interface for Java-based portals, including WebSphere and SAP, and many ISVs have developed management packs for MOM based on a set of available APIs from Microsoft.

But there’s a long history in the Citrix-Microsoft partnership and the value of their combined platforms, Microsoft said. The companies extended their pact by another five years, until 2010, and executives said they see no reason why it won't be extended again. The current agreement remains in effect through the launch of Longhorn Server in 2007 and “Blackcomb” server, due out in the 2009-2010 timeframe.

The partnership dates back to 1989, when Microsoft licensed OS/2 to Citrix for its multi-user OS/2 WinView product. Since then, Citrix has developed products for Windows NT, 2000 and 2003 in close collaboration with Microsoft."Microsoft and Citrix have a unique and special relationship. We're extremely excited about the road ahead. In December, we have Windows Server 2003 R2 and, beyond that, Longhorn Vista," Rob Bernard, general manager of developer and platforms evangelism at Microsoft, said in a reassuring tone to many joint customers in the audience, who expect to sell and use new Citrix products for those upgrades.

Yet Bernard was clear that change is on the horizon for Citrix and Microsoft. "Citrix business has changed in some ways, and we have tightly linked processes for mapping out the road ahead," he said about the company’s diversifying portfolio of products from its acquisition of ExpertCity, Net6 and Netscaler over the past year. "These things happen on an ongoing basis, and as Citrix changes its business model and brings new services to you, we'll work toward one common goal: your business. "

Standing beside Microsoft's Bernard at the iForum session was Nabeel Youakim, vice president of Citrix's global Microsoft relationship. The Australian native, a former Microsoft-turned-Citrix executive based in Miami, said Microsoft and Citrix didn’t sit down last year and define which Citrix-like features would be included in Longhorn Server and which ones Citrix would continue to own. Both will continue to innovate, he said.

"The answer is no. From a business and corporate [perspective], Microsoft has all the right in the world [to do what it wants] with terminal services,” Youakim said.

Constellation is being built to light the sky for Citrix for the rest of the decade--or for the duration of the romance, whichever lasts longest. "This relationship is solid," at least for the next five years, Youakim said in an effort to persuade customers that Citrix is a safe bet. "Who knows what the future holds? But even if we don’t [sign a new agreement in 2010] for the next five years, you can be sure of support. Microsoft and Citrix will be there with you."Though Citrix partners expect Microsoft to grab a share of the small- and midsize-business audience, they note that the two companies sell a combined offering for lower-cost markets, called Citrix Access Essentials. And while many solution providers look to greener pastures to improve their bottom line in the future, they also expect their Citrix practices to flourish for a long time.

"Yes, this is going to impact Citrix eventually in the SMB market, but as long as Citrix continues to add key pieces of functionality, they should hold their share of the enterprise business," said Mitch Northcutt, CEO of RapidApp, a Chicago-based solution provider.

"As far as my plan as a partner goes, RapidApp will continue to provide consulting services in the Citrix space as long as we continue to have demand," Northcutt said. "I have, however, shifted focus to providing services around server virtualization and VMware. You would not believe how easy it is to get a meeting with senior IT management of an organization if you want to talk VMware. Virtualization has the mind share right now."

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