LAS VEGAS--The consumerization of the Web will be as disruptive to distributed computing as distributed computing was to the mainframe. That was the central theme of Citrix Systems CEO Mark Templeton's keynote speech at this week's Synergy 2009 conference.
This is an oversimplification, of course. Over the years, companies have run their business software in many different ways--not all of which are easily categorized as either mainframe-like or PC-like. One whole era of computing architectures during roughly the 1980s commonly went by the term "client-server." However, if we think of how distributed computing in the enterprise has evolved, this broad-brush statement makes a lot of sense.
That's because the enterprise PC isn't really a personal computer any longer. The administrative and security requirements around desktop and notebook devices running an increasingly complex stew of locally installed software have seen to that. In many enterprises, they're stringently locked down as a way to protect their often fragile software payloads from corruption.
This is a drum that virtualization and cloud-computing specialist Citrix has been pounding for quite a while. Writing after Citrix iForum (Synergy's predecessor) in November 2007, I noted:
We've seen and heard a lot of praise for the democratic impulse associated with this particular phase of computing that often goes by the Web 2.0 moniker. Anyone can post. Anyone can publish. Anyone can photograph. Your vote matters in social media.
And alternative ways of accessing and running applications have indeed made it easier to do things outside of a strict IT framework. In his closing iForum keynote, Citrix CEO Mark Templeton used the phrase "making the personal computer personal again" for this idea.
It's perhaps not too surprising that the proffered solution to this problem is a variety of technologies that Citrix collectively describes as application delivery. The framework to think about it is something like a satellite TV system. A controller, a delivery network, and a receiver transmit and receive the bits; they do so independently of the actual end-point device (i.e. the TV) and the content, so long as those adhere to certain interface standards.
One could use such an architecture to deliver enterprise applications to a truly personal notebook, an employee's personal system rather than an IT asset. Although still relatively uncommon in an enterprise context when it comes to PCs, it's a fairly common model with smartphones, though we're starting to see the beginnings of such an approach in the PC space too.
What this means specifically in a Citrix environment is that Citrix Delivery Center "head-end controllers" such as XenApp and XenDesktop advertise services--that is, applications that are available for users to run. New services or service updates are then loaded or streamed to a client.
One of Tuesday's major announcements was Citrix Receiver, which the company describes as "the first universal client for IT service delivery":
Under the hood, Citrix Receiver is a lightweight universal software client with an extensible browser-like "plug-in" architecture. Receiver comes standard with a variety of optional plug-ins that communicate with head-end infrastructure in the Citrix Delivery Center product family such as XenApp, XenDesktop, Citrix Access Gateway, and Branch Repeater.
These plug-ins support functionality such as online and offline app usage, virtual-desktop delivery, secure access control, password management, app acceleration, multimedia acceleration, service-level monitoring, and voice communications. This model enables IT to effectively operate as a service provider to their own employees, proactively and transparently monitoring end-user experience from a central location.
Receiver is available for Windows, Macs, and iPhones. Citrix also plans to support Windows Mobile and Symbian operating systems. It's also working with Open Kernel Labs to support Android. In all cases, Receiver is free.
In general, as with XenServer, Citrix' strategy is to make its money from the management and delivery software infrastructure rather than all of the base-level components.
The final announcement of the day was Dazzle. It's built on top of Receiver and accesses the same head-end services. It is, in a sense, Citrix application delivery meets Web 2.0.
I mean that in a somewhat metaphorical sense. But Dazzle is a self-service application store for employees that very deliberately and consciously mimics the conventions and approach of something like the iTunes Store. Web 2.0 and cloud-computing attributes, like self-service, device independence, and remote access are what help so many consumer applications make traditional enterprise apps look a bit shopworn by comparison.
And that's what Mark Templeton was talking about when he said the enterprise application delivery model is being disrupted by the consumer Web.