All area access

14 Oct 2004

The calm after the storm greeted Citrix Systems when it hosted its iForum conference last week in Florida, with president and CEO Mark Templeton setting a relaxed tone as he took to the stage to kick off the event.

Not your typical head of a US technology firm, Templeton delivers a keynote with the demeanour of a favourite uncle, seemingly prepared to check in his ego and pull any number of strokes — including an alarmingly silly dance — to please his audience.

“Citrix is a trusted advisor on access solutions,” he told delegates. You could have been forgiven for thinking that his affable style would have seen his company gobbled up by the more aggressive vendors that prowl across the technology terrain. But Citrix survives and flourishes because it delivers strong products in a clearly defined space where other vendors need its expertise.

Being the 15th largest infrastructure software company in the world (according to IDC) may sound like a tortuous claim to fame until you dig a little deeper and discover that Citrix occupies the No 1 position in the access infrastructure segment. Some 15 years after its inception it has stuck to its core business, though it has evolved from server-based computing to leveraging more flexibility from the centralisation, consolidation and virtualisation of applications.

Senior vice-president Tony Marzuli summed up the core offering: “We flourish in worlds that are heterogeneous and complex. We remove the complexity for users and help IT administrators manage the mess that they have.”

Anyone even remotely familiar with the evolution of the tech sector will see the worth in these skills. When the IT sector dragged itself out of the wreckage of the dotbomb collapse, Citrix was one of the few vendors to grow its market share. Using its expertise it embraced the arrival of web-based services to use slick and workable software at a time when bigger vendors were disappearing down cul-de-sacs such as application service provision.

The Citrix vision was more incremental but also more practical in its impact: “We were able to help organisations become their own utility to their own internal customers,” said Marzuli. “We’ve enabled that to happen inside of companies, letting them control their own domain. It’s about a safe and secure infrastructure that allows the tremendous control that IT professionals are looking for.”

The MetaFrame Access Suite is the main Citrix offering. It’s infrastructure software that provides the enterprise with centralised access to applications and information. The upshot is thin-client computing with software delivered as a service. IT managers are able to manage and measure resources on demand, and end users can be enabled to access their desktop from any place, any device and any location.

This last promise has become a mission statement for so many purveyors of platforms and applications that Templeton took time to reassert his own company’s credentials: “We’ve been talking about ‘any any any’ longer than any infrastructure vendor,” he said.

For Citrix to grow from a mid-table software team to a champions league contender, it needs to grow its business another stage and it is banking on new products around mobility and security to enable the leap. More recent MetaFrame modules such as Smooth Roaming and Password Manager were pushed heavily over the three days of the conference.

Marzuli described the key perspectives that dominate the IT landscape as access, networks and security. “They all overlap,” he said, “but we believe that the access view is the most important in the long term. There are adjacent markets and they are our goal. We are prepared to engage.”

Aside from a commitment to competing in more crowded product markets, the key message of the conference came from Templeton. He argued that access infrastructure software is now a strategic investment and not just a cost-saving cure for complexity. His proposition was that his company’s solutions reduce the cost of running a business while enabling organisations to anticipate the future.

“Because of the complexities they face, companies have over-allocated expenses to just running the business,” he said, citing a statistic that says 80pc of IT investment goes on existing processes. “They look at projects they have to do now and projects they’d like to do to grow the business. One investment with Citrix lets you spend less on running the business and more on growing it. That’s our total cost of ownership model.”

Templeton acknowledged that there were challenges in pursuing this path for many organisations. “Working their way out of the complexity requires change management over time,” he said. “They have to work out how best to untangle it. We try to position ourselves to show our vision and how our solutions can be successfully implemented.”

The conference also highlighted the diverse partnerships that are core to Citrix’s all area access capabilities. Microsoft and SAP came in for a special mention but it was IBM’s general manager, Susan Whitney, that joined Templeton on the stage to officially launch an on-demand computing solution built around IBM systems and the MetaFrame Access Suite.

Whitney couldn’t stop herself from launching into an extended plug for IBM’s on-demand services. One example, perhaps, of Citrix giving its partners a little too much access.

By Ian Campbell

Pictued: Citrix Systems’ CEO Mark Templeton in full swing at last week’s iForum conference in Florida