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As Citrix vies for cloud lead, is anyone following?

At Citrix Synergy 2009, Citrix made several additions to its Citrix Cloud Center (C3) offering. But there are serious questions whether C3 has the ecosystem to be competitive.

Last week's announcement of enhancements to Citrix Cloud Center (C3) at Citrix Synergy 2009 was one that made me sit up and take notice. Awhile ago, I proclaimed that the era of the "cloud OS" had begun, and I called out VMware vCloud, Citrix, C3 and 3TERA AppLogic as examples of what would eventually become cloud operating systems.

Strangely, however, Citrix (and the former XenSource team) has been strangely silent since that post. Yeah, there have been one or two "announcements" that basically positioned existing Citrix technologies as being cloud infrastructure, but all in all both VMware and 3TERA greatly outstripped Citrix in the marketing department.

At Synergy last week, Citrix announced several product enhancements to C3 that help solidify its position as a true cloud infrastructure. It listed these in its press release:

Product Enhancements

The updates to the Citrix C3 product family enable service providers to create secure, highly performing, multi-tenant cloud infrastructure environments in a cost effective manner. New capabilities include:

  • Citrix XenApp and Citrix XenDesktop - The incorporation of these two products into Citrix C3 enable service providers to take their Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offerings to a new level. With Citrix C3, service providers can now effectively deliver any Microsoft Windows applications in the Software as a Service (SaaS) model and even deliver Windows Desktops as a Service (DaaS).

  • The CSP program - The newest Citrix channel partner offering, the CSP program is designed specifically for service providers who provide hosted software services to end-user customers. The CSP program addresses the service provider market for offsite and multi-tenant hosting, where the end-user customer is not the licensee. The CSP program extends to service providers the "right to use" Citrix products as the underpinning of their delivery infrastructure and gives them the flexibility of a monthly "active subscriber" pricing and licensing model. Service providers always have access to the most current versions of Citrix products available in the program and only pay for actual end-user usage recorded during the previous calendar month.

  • Citrix NetScaler VPX - A virtual appliance version of Citrix NetScaler (see today's separate announcement), the new Citrix NetScaler VPX will be added to Citrix C3, enabling service providers to run multiple NetScaler instances simultaneously and provide true, cost-effective multi-tenancy web application delivery. In addition, service providers will be able to ensure the best application performance and most reliable service delivery by "cloud balancing," which allows load balancing across multiple cloud infrastructures.

  • Citrix XenServer - One of the key components of Citrix C3, XenServer will soon be enhanced with a new distributed virtual switch add-on to enable secure, multi-tenant, highly scalable public clouds. The switch will partition network traffic on a per-application basis, with resource and security guarantees, and offer full visibility into and control over inter-VM traffic both within a server and virtual network overlay.

Furthermore, Citrix has taken to the clouds themselves via its C3 Labs offering, a suite of cloud tools now available on Amazon EC2 to support development and test lab applications. According to Citrix, C3 Labs provides standard Amazon AMIs for a variety of the C3 product line:

The Citrix C3 Lab is designed to provide an inexpensive, preconfigured environment for IT professionals to prototype solutions using their existing applications and includes technical components required to create a robust application delivery center in the cloud. Initially, lab users will have access to Citrix XenApp alongside key Citrix C3 technologies such as Citrix Access Gateway and Citrix Repeater in the AWS cloud environment, allowing them to securely test application compatibility, application staging and gain overall experience in the AWS cloud environment. Additional Citrix C3 products and scenarios will be added over time. To enable customers and partners to fully take advantage of the Citrix C3 Lab, Citrix is also providing Citrix C3 Lab Blueprints...

I like the fact that Citrix's significant abstraction portfolio has made its way to its cloud platform, and that it's attacked significant problems like networking, load balancing application delivery across cloud infrastructures, and added application streaming to the cloud. I also like that it has made it easy for others to play. I can't wait to see what services appear based on these technologies.

Ah, but there's the rub. James Staten, a Forrester analyst and a man who knows his clouds, notes that with all of the fanfare and partner focus of the announcements, there are no known ISP partners for C3:

(T)he announcement left me a little concerned when it wasn't coupled with a list of brand name ISPs who have signed on to deliver this service to enterprise customers. Anyone out there? Perusal of Citrix' C3 web site and Citrix Service Provider partner pages offer no insights either (Ingram Micro? Softcat? ExpressData? Not exactly ISPs). The technology without the partners looks a little incomplete. Citrix has started a timeclock on the credibility of this effort that it will need to fulfill soon.

The lack of ISPs will be a significant problem, as VMware's vCloud and 3TERA's AppLogic platforms increase their own presence in that market. ISPs will be a critical piece of both public and private cloud strategies, and Citrix will be fighting with the others to be the leading "platform" for workload portability (and eventually mobility).

Yes, Xen is used in all kinds of cloud implementations (including 3TERAs), but not in a form that benefits Citrix.

I join Staten in watching intently for the progress that Citrix makes on the partner front in the coming months--or, perhaps as an interesting alternative, any indication that C3 Labs gains Citrix cloud OS market share. One way or another, Citrix has to prove to people that C3 is a competitive--and desirable--choice for their cloud-computing infrastructures.

You can follow James Urquhart on Twitter.