Citrix – Microsoft partnership: what it really means for now, and the future

Recently, I attended Citrix Synergy which was held last month in Las Vegas. My Citrix Synergy event roundup summarizes most of the major announcements. Perhaps most significant of what occurred at the event was Citrix announcing a renewed partnership with Microsoft. For many years, they’ve worked together. This started with a source code contract in which Citrix was allowed to change the Windows code to build server based computing functionality into the Windows Server edition, known as WinFrame. Citrix also supported Microsoft in developing their own SBC functionality for terminal services into Windows NT4.0 TSE (Terminal Services Edition).

However, over the last few years, the relationship seemed a bit stale; nothing was happening. Both companies went their own ways and also extended their portfolio. This also appeared to cause a good deal of competition, because historically while Citrix had only added functionality to the Microsoft platform, the two companies started launching competitive products. Today, Citrix and Microsoft are active in the hypervisor market (MS Hyper-V versus Citrix XenServer), mobile management (MS Intune versus Citrix XenMobile), and cloud storage (MS OneDrive versus Citrix ShareFile). As such, I don’t think many people expected the announcement of this new partnership–and for sure, not the content of this partnership.

Let’s start with what Microsoft and Citrix exactly announced, followed by my opinion of what this means and my speculation about the future of this announcement.

What’s happening now?

The renewed partnership of Citrix and Microsoft is built on four topics:

  • To help accelerate the move to the cloud
  • To help accelerate the move to Windows 10
  • To help accelerate the move to Office 365
  • To help further to empower users on mobile devices

Going cloud-based

In my opinion, the first piece of news — to accelerate the move to the cloud — is most breaking. With this topic, Microsoft and Citrix are embracing the cloud for delivering “as-a-service solutions.” We learned that Citrix and Microsoft are going to deliver a Windows 10 Desktop as a Desktop as a service. Until now, Microsoft licensing prohibited delivering a Desktop as a Service (DaaS), which is already on the agenda for a while as #FixVDA.

Many Service Providers would deliver Windows 10 as a DaaS, but have not been allowed to do so. But that changes with the news, at least for Citrix. For now, Citrix is the only company that can deliver a DaaS solution with Windows 10.

This new service will be available on Azure only, allowing Microsoft to take care of the cloud infrastructure, and Citrix will deliver the desktop. Even Microsoft will not deliver a desktop, giving exclusivity at this time to Citrix. As Brad Anderson, the corporate vice president at Microsoft, has written, “Let Microsoft worry about building and maintaining the cloud infrastructure, and let Citrix worry about building and maintaining the Citrix apps and services.”

Citrix will also be supporting Windows Server 2016 from day one. This means that when Server 2016 becomes available, Citrix will release a new version of their product that is fully compatible with the platform.

Why’s everybody always pushing Windows 10 on me?

As we know, getting enterprises to the Windows 10 platform is really important for Microsoft. As many companies are currently on Windows 7, the migration to Windows 10 is far less complicated than the migration from Windows XP to Windows 7. However, any organization looking to upgrade should test and guarantee that all applications will run on Windows 10. This is a core function of Citrix’s AppDNA software, which can be used to verify that applications are Windows 10 ready. It was not mentioned at any Citrix Synergy keynote or blog post if anything will happen with AppDNA, and it’s suspected that nothing is changing.

The already available Citrix Connector for System Center ConfigMgr was mentioned to offer a single point of administration for managing applications including the possibility to create Published Applications out of System Center ConfigMgr.

Migrating to Office 365

In the third part about Office 365, there was a heavy emphasis on Skype for Business enhancements made by Citrix. The latest release of Skype for Business includes support for a Skype for Business from a XenApp or XenDesktop session. Citrix has actually been working on this technology for several years for Lync, but with the new announcement, the functionality has been improved. The most notable change is that Microsoft no longer has his own solution, instead stating that Citrix should be used for offering Skype from a SBC or VDI infrastructure.

Mobile empowerment

The last topic of the announcement was the empowerment on mobile devices. Perhaps this is the second most important announcement (after Windows 10 DaaS, of course), because until now, Citrix and Microsoft were not working together on mobile technologies.

That’s about to change.

Citrix will integrate with EMS (MS Enterprise Mobility Suite) in several ways. Citrix will be building apps on iOS and Android with the Intune App SKD and Azure AD for identity. Also, Citrix NetScaler will be integrated into EMS to provide conditional access to on-premise apps and data. Microsoft, on the other hand, will embed NetScaler capabilities into the Intune AppSDK, which will enable apps to securely access on-premise assets without having to launch a VPN. Citrix will embed a number of EMS capabilities into XenMobile, such as self-service password reset and multi-factor authentication (MFA). All these integrations should be become available in the second half of 2016.


Here’s what I think

Some of these announcements have already launched (Skype for Business) or just an available Citrix product (AppDNA). However. the announcements about Windows 10 and the XenMobile/EMS integration are in my opinion pretty major: two major players in that market space are going to cooperate and integrate their products and will be offering a solution together. The other players should at least be worried–especially on the Windows 10 offering, as no other party can offer the same functionality.

It also looks that Microsoft and Citrix will go to war against VMware together.

And that bring us to the challenge of this announcement: Can Microsoft and Citrix offer the Windows 10 DaaS exclusively? Logically, the other parties will complain that this is a monopoly situation. In fact, in the European Union, this will become a difficult situation, where Microsoft has already lost several cases with the embedding of Internet Explorer as its biggest case.

Also, I’d expect that current customers of Microsoft and Citrix will get confused. What does the integration of Citrix and Microsoft mean for Microsoft Azure RemoteApp? Will this service still be developed? Is this service being replaced by the Citrix XenApp functionality? On the other side, what will happen with the XenMobile product? Will it survive this integration as companies probably won’t do both products for one infrastructure? How will VMware react? Time will tell.

Some people will even go one step further to wonder what will happen for the future of these companies. Is this the first step toward an eventual acquisition of Citrix by Microsoft? Personally, I think that Microsoft would be the best party for Citrix to be acquired by. However, if Microsoft would be interested in acquiring Citrix, they probably already bought them. Why set up a partnership in advance before acquiring a company?

Rumors has it that Microsoft cannot get the expected performance out of the Azure RemoteApp, so to solve this issue, Citrix XenDesktop/XenApp is a more than adequate solution. But that may be a good reason for Microsoft to acquire Citrix. As already mentioned, however, Citrix currently has more products in their portfolio than XenDesktop/XenApp. Besides XenApp/XenDesktop, only one product is complementary, and that product, Citrix NetScaler, would be a nice addition to the Microsoft portfolio. Most other Citrix products already are offered in Microsoft product equivalents. That said, some of these products could be used to enhance current Microsoft products, and integration is possible. An example of this is ShareFile and XenMobile. On the other hand, some products are probably useless to Microsoft, like Citrix XenServer. And frankly, it would be a bit strange if, in an acquisition, Microsoft will deliver two hypervisors. Like every commercial company, Citrix can be sold to anyone if the offer is good. So now we wonder, is Citrix really for sale? It looks like Citrix is trying to generate as much profit as possible (they even have a discount opportunities on the SA agreements, something they almost never do), which could be a sign that selling the company is an actual and not imagined scenario. If Microsoft is not the buyer, who else is and what will this mean for the partnership with Microsoft? Or is Citrix strong enough (showing by enhancing the profit) to continue as a separate company? For this too, only time will tell.

For now, I’m excited about the partnership which is for both companies currently a win-win situation. I doubt that the Windows 10 offering can be exclusive for a long time, because I imagine that other service providers and VMware will complain a lot about this offering. I also imagine that products on both sides will be made obsolete, like AzureRemoteApp and XenMobile, if the cooperation will be successful. But first, let’s wait for the initial outcomes of the partnership in the end of 2016.

Photo credits: Citrix

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