The Citrix alternative for Mobile Access to Enterprise Applications

When I think of Citrix I think of GoToMeeting and GoToPC. They also created Remote Desktop Access, I believe. But only recently I discovered that one of their key offerings is essentially a blend of these technologies which allows mobile (e.g. smart phone) users to use Enterprise applications without installing them on their mobile device. It sounds like quite a trick. I was intrigued, so here are some notes and observations about the Citrix platform.

Citrix’s “XenApp” involves virtualizing client applications of all types, then streaming them to remote users. There are no application or document downloads to the client with this model, only a two-way streaming of UI information, which increases security and (for large documents) reduces bandwidth. For mobile users XenApp supports a Windows CE client, a Blackberry client (by RoveMobile), and a just released USB peripheral for Windows mobile smartphones that enhances / enables XenApp use (by Redfly).

They also have a component called “XenApp for SharePoint.” It allows remote users to browse both applications and documents over a network in SharePoint, and from SharePoint they can open Office and other Enterprise applications remotely without having those client applications installed on their own machines. http://www.citrix.com/English/ps2/accessAnswers/challenge.asp?contentID=25653

Idealy Citrix’s virtualization and streaming of applications allows companies to centralize and thus minimize hardware and software and their setup, maintenance, and upgrades. Improved mobility is a side effect of their model.

Specific Citrix solutions include:

Remote Access

  • for example, functionality like the remote access application in Windows (itself based on Citrix technology), allowing local computers to control remote computers.

Web-based collaboration, including meetings and VOIP

  • for example GoToMeeting (which will soon have a VOIP option, by the way).

Application Delivery Infrastructure (including virtualization of servers, storage, and desktops)

  • for example: imagine subscribing to a virtual desktop computer rather than buying the and software and doing the setup and maintenance yourself; this includes remote booting of a desktop computer from an OS disk image streamed to a remote computer from a permanent storage location on the network.

Web-based Application Infrastructure

  • for example their “Netscaler” product line offers compression, caching, security, traffic management (load balancing), and administration features for high volume web applications (note: one important function of web based applications is disaster recovery preparedness)

Secure Virtual Private Networks

  • SSL based VPNs which extend the security of closed networks to multiple locations.

IT workflow automation

  • their “Citrix Workflow Studio” automates workflow across APIs, web services, PowerShell, etc.

Value Proposition (aka PRO): When most of IT is invisibly handled on the back end, both administrators and end users spend less time arranging and implementing IT changes. Imagine even a small savings per person per year, multiply by a workforce of hundreds, or thousands, over a number of years, and you get some idea of Citrix’s value proposition. This model also gives information workers more time to focus on their core competencies instead of on IT.

Possible Downsides (aka CON): According to a colleague who worked in a corporate datacenter where Citrix was installed, license fees are very high, making it much more cost effective in that business to convert existing applications to web-based applications rather than running them in the Citrix virtualization environment. In addition, the reliability of the Citrix servers (at least in that datacenter) was inconsistent. Some applications are more compatible with a Citrix environment than others — which frequently flaked out — my colleague said.

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