Citrix has quickly developed into the new darling of open networking solutions. Licensing deals with Microsoft, BT, 3Com, Compaq, Sun, Boundless and Unisys among others under-line the company?s pivotal position in network compatibility and migration.
Network computer (NC) manufacturers, too, have seen the benefit of Citrix software, since it enables them to reach the much-needed Windows applications that the market still demands.
In a year which has already seen second quarter revenues balloon by 158 per cent, Citrix is flying the flag for the thin client/server architecture. It is also proclaiming that its rival, the network computing architecture (NCA) is limited in scope and isn?t the cost-of- ownership-friendly platform it professes to be.
But Citrix has its critics too. While its flagship product Winframe is undoubtedly a fine piece of software, some firms, particularly those awaiting the arrival and rise to power of Java, believe that Citrix is just one solution. This Java camp believes that Winframe is just a bridging technology that will eventually enable NCA and the network computer to take off and dominate the market.
But Mark Templeton, vice president of marketing at Citrix, shrugs this off. ?The network computing architecture won?t keep computing costs down because it is highly dependent on one fat communications pipe and a need to upgrade legacy servers and client machines,? he says.
Templeton?s main gripes with the NCA are that it is a client download and run architecture and is reliant on Java as its native application, ?which is still a future thing?, he says. In addition, he argues that its only native device is the NC and it will only work on a Lan.
Citrix?s thin client/server architecture, on the other hand will run on any network; is executed from a server; its native application is Windows, which is available now; and can take anything as its native device.
The ?available now? bit is central to the Citrix argument. Java is not expected to ship as a native application in NCs until next year. In the meantime, the growing demands for applications such as intranets and the need to retain Windows applications while protecting existing PC investment has put Citrix in a strong position. It?s no wonder hardware manufacturers are lining up to strike licensing deals with them.
The deal with Microsoft this summer has gone a long way in helping Citrix raise its profile, and in showing the networking world that Winframe works and that Microsoft is not going to try to knock it for six.
Citrix? next step is Picasso, an ICA Winframe product that will sit on top of Microsoft?s NT with Multiwin technology and push the company into the enterprise for the first time.
?Until now we have just been concerned about the desktop. Picasso is the next step and that will take us into corporate multi-user territory,? says Templeton. ?It will solve multi-user problems of large enterprise customers and will interoperate with Winframe servers, therefore no upgrades will be necessary to run Picasso. It will also be a value-added platform on which third parties can develop industry-specific solutions.?
Citrix seems to have its immediate future well mapped out, and is under no illusions that Winframe will dominate the market for years to come. It knows that Microsoft will eventually build Winframe into NT, and so as a company it is not making too much noise about what will happen in the next millennium, unlike most of the NC manufacturers.
Templeton is dismissive of all the fuss associated with the NC versus Net PC argument. He says the NC is ?a non-Windows Net PC?, and that current networking solutions should be looking at what the server is doing, regardless of the client.
Templeton also dismisses the idea that network computers will replace PCs. ?If a user needs to run personal applications for 80 per cent of the time, give them a PC. If you have users running transactions in a corporation for most of the time, give them a Windows terminal. The Net PC and NC territory is somewhere between the two. They have a role to play but they are not the sole answer to reducing total cost of ownership.?
Intel architecture manager Rod O?Shea suggests that the momentum is with the Net PC, purely because users want to stick with a machine and culture that they are already familiar with. ?All PCs in business will become managed PCs and the Net PC will be a subset of that with a reduced form factor, less expansion and no ISA capability.?
Intel has also started supplying chips to NC manufacturers. NCI recently demonstrated network computers running on Intel processors at a conference in Tokyo.
O?Shea believes there will be markets for both machines, but adds that the importance of NT and its applications outweigh any immediate drive towards alternative client and server technologies. Of course, this is where Citrix steps in. But many NC manufacturers are quick to point out that Winframe is a short-term solution, although quite an important one.
?Citrix takes one view,? says Pat Dunn, marketing director at Neoware (formerly HDS). ?Which is connect to NT and don?t worry about anything else. That doesn?t make sense because you are putting extra traffic on an NT box and creating a single point of failure. Yes, Citrix does protect investment in old PCs, but those PCs won?t do the job as well as NCs, because an NC is a display device.?
Neoware has its own solutions. Dunn refers to Citrix as ?a bridging mode? to an NC and Java future. But Neoware, too, can profess to have built a bridge. It has developed its own operating system, Net OS, which can run on any processor and currently has three distinct flavours ? Net OS for Windows terminals, Net OS for the enterprise and Net OS for intranets, which adds Java and a Web browser to the NC.
Dunn says: ?There seems to be a pure NC camp developing, saying connect to Java, and a camp which insists that Windows apps should be retained. We can bridge this gap by allowing customers to go from one end of the scale to the other.?
Richard Jackson, marketing director at Citrix distributor Datatech, is well aware that Java is still a future thing but ?it?ll be an important part of the future?, he says. ?It?s just another layer really. It won?t replace anything. Citrix won?t replace anything either, it just centralises everything.?
While Datatech has already benefited from moving from a Lan to a Citrix/NC-based network itself, it believes that corporates will take to the model because Microsoft apps are so ingrained in business. Jackson also believes that remote management is excellent with Winframe, and that guarantees interest from customers.
Citrix is already installed in a number of large corporations such as Honeywell, Willis Corroon and Sears, and more will undoubtedly follow. But Citrix is very reliant on Microsoft. Thankfully for its shareholders, interest in NT is storming Europe at the moment, providing opportunities for Citrix to step in and help solve any multi-user bandwidth problems.
But the future is uncertain. Subsequent versions of NT will be able to do everything Winframe can do and more, and the threat of Java and NCA is very real.
Market researchers are writing glowing reports for the uptake of NCs. According to the Gartner Group, ?Java-based NCs are expected to reduce the total cost of ownership of PCs by 39 per cent?, while Bloor Research says: ?NCs will outnumber PCs in the corporation by two to one within five years.?
Interest in Java is huge, and NCs are already finding homes in large corporations. Boundless boasts US retailer Sears as a major customer, while Neoware already has Fujitsu and Nat West on its customer list in the UK. The crux of the matter is how long these companies will want to continue using Microsoft applications.
Templeton does not really know the answer, but is aware that if Java does take off, Microsoft will not ignore it. The signs are that Microsoft will be prepared to write with Java and that would signal a decline for Winframe, but not yet. In view of this, Templeton pinpoints what he believes to be a larger, future market for Citrix, which would include extending the reach of its thin client/server architecture to consumer devices such as phones and TVs.
?BT is a strategic partner in the UK, and we are already experimenting with phones that have screens to help provide services such as home banking and yellow pages,? he says. Citrix, it seems, is here for the long haul.
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