Citrix Synergy 2017 Keynote: A vision waiting for direction


  • New security features, including an analytics service that uses AI to flag potential threats
  • Aims to power the future of work, ability to extend digital workspaces will improve productivity

IT has been a week since Citrix Synergy 2017 wrapped up and by the end of Day 1 of the conference two possible themes stood out. The importance of security and the cloud powering the workplace of tomorrow. In the end, the ideas were there on display, but going forward, what this meant for customers was unclear.

Citrix CEO Kirill Tatarinov was predictably bullish in the keynote, saying Citrix's overall objective is "to really help you all transform your companies". However when quizzed in the press conference afterwards, he admitted "This problem (of improving productivity) is somewhat elusive".

A new breed of security company

After stating that the "the world is under severe virtual attack," Tatarinov added that "Citrix is transforming to become (a) truly new breed of security company".

Exactly what this "new breed" is could only be gleaned from the services and products it had to offer.

Probably the most intriguing to techheads was the Citrix Analytics Service, which acts as an automated watchdog to flag potential breaches. Analytics has already been implemented in Netscaler Management and Analytics System (MAS) but the new implementation will work across all applications, including XenApp, XenDesktop, XenMobile, and ShareFile. The service monitors user activity and uses the buzzwordy "artificial intelligence" and "machine learning" to detect suspicious user behaviour. The system will autonomously take preventive action by limiting user roles, if necessary even "quarantining" them.

Another announcement was that Citrix would now offer security services for customers, which at first glance seems to be beyond Citrix's core skills. But Tatarinov clarifies, "We have essentially been providing security... for our customers for the last 28 years without necessarily telling the world that this is what we do". Nevertheless he admits that partnerships will be the way forward saying, "we will provide our part and we will work together with others".

It was also stressed that companies who shifted to their cloud services would reap the benefits of improved security there, as opposed to having to set up their own in-house security.

All this folds into their "secure digital workspace" where the secure space for the user is defined not by hardware but by software. The concept is that their software is written so that security for the user would "extend" into whatever device is being used, as opposed to being hemmed in by physical limitations. So, users should be offered the same protection if they are working in the office or on a handphone from a different continent.

However, the concept needed explaining as evidenced by the number of questions asked by journalists in the press conference.

Powering the future of work

Meanwhile, Citrix also aims to "power the future of work". Quoting studies, it was highlighted that executives who supported virtual work and mobile business outperformed their peers in measures such as increasing revenue growth and profits, reducing expenses and retaining employees.

On the other hand, Tatarinov also recognised the productivity paradox (also known as the Solow computer paradox) which observes that an increase in IT investment may result in a decrease of productivity. "We have spent a tremendous amount of time working with analysts and working with our customers just to see what's going on," said Taratinov, "And what we've found is the new category of companies that are universally defined as Digital Frontier Companies".

These companies' productivity growth outstrips that of the rest of the world, and what these companies do whole-heartedly is to embrace the idea that IT is a business enabler that drives digital transformation through the use of digital workspaces. It is the final portion that clearly falls under Citrix's expertise.

Since last year they have launched eight new cloud-based services, including XenApp Essentials and XenDesktop Essentials on Microsoft Azure, XenMobile device management and NetScaler Gateway Service. These along with any other cloud-based solutions a company is implementing can be incorporated into their "secure digital workspace", allowing users to access services in the cloud without exiting the workspace.

Yet this is nothing new. The argument that can be made is that Citrix has been extending digital workspaces for close to three decades now, through various mediums. Furthermore, unlike the security services they now offer, there was no mention of consultants (real or virtual) on how organisations could metamorphosise to become a Digital Frontier Company.

Meanwhile Tatarinov notes that the most direct way Citrix helps is by saving time on everyday tasks – for example, login times via Citrix with Workspace Environment Management is faster than in native Windows 10, and file transfer over WA can be faster via HDX than over SMB.

Selling Products or Themselves?

This unusual messaging was not missed by experts. Analyst Brian Madden wrote that the conference left "an overall feeling among many observers that despite the good things there was something missing".

His particular observation is that since the news broke that Citrix is looking for a buyer (in March, Citrix appointed Goldman Sachs to negotiate a potential sale), a shift to a cloud-based subscription-oriented model with an emphasis on security powered by new services and machine learning ticks all the boxes if you are putting yourself in the shop window.

The question if Citrix is for sale was directly put to CEO Kirill Tatarinov. He answered in the expected way: "We never comment on these rumours. We're focused on writing the business... Thank you for asking".

Companies may similarly say thank you for giving us the answer, we're not sure what questions we'll need answered to get us there.

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