VMware recorded a pretty humorous video that was unveiled at this week’s VMworld North America conference. A few minutes into the music video, VMware folks are literally shown dancing on Citrix’s doorstep (outside the Citrix office in Santa Clara). While this could be taken as a simple competitive prank, multiple conversations I’ve had with VMware’s end user computing team led me to believe that the dance was more of a metaphor for VMware’s confidence in their product portfolio. At the Gartner Catalyst North America 2011 conference, VMware announced that View 5.0’s PCoIP protocol enhancements would reduce bandwidth by up to 75%. Citrix’s Tal Klein quickly responded with his own take. Gartner is reserving judgment on the noted improvements until we complete our own thorough analysis and speak with early adopters in the field.

That being said, VMware is clearly trying to send Citrix a message. For the past couple of years, Citrix has had VMware on the defensive regarding endpoint clients and WAN support. Gartner’s own View 4.5 assessment also noted that View could not support the WAN requirements (e.g., >150 ms latency) common in many large enterprises. With View 5.0, VMware is taking a position that the last remaining holes in its architecture have been addressed: low bandwidth/high latency WAN support, and endpoint clients (e.g., iPad, Android, and Mac). I have been running View 5 in my lab for the past couple of weeks and have connected to my virtual desktop from my iPad at various locations and over various networks (e.g., conference Wi-Fi and AT&T 3G), and the performance has been solid.

Desktop virtualization strategy requires more than a few checkboxes, and VMware clearly gets that too. In previous years, VMware had not done a good enough job of articulating a complete vision to prospective customers.Most organizations realize that investments in technologies like virtual desktops require long term commitments. So many organizations are not basing purchasing decisions exclusively on what is available today. VMware needed to better articulate its strategy and roadmap, and they did it at VMworld.

The problem we are trying to solve is relatively straightforward – connect users to applications and data. However, we now have a lot more moving parts than we used to. Application delivery can come in many forms, including local installation, application virtualization, virtual desktops, server-based computing, and software-as-a-service (SaaS). In addition, user expectations have changed to where they expect to access applications and data from a variety of devices. So we’re no longer simply delivering applications to devices’; we’re delivering them to people. Inside Gartner, we often call this people centric computing. To many vendors in the space, this paradigm shift spells opportunity.

Here’s another example, I recently talked with an IT architect who asked me:

Why would our users need Dropbox when we give them WebDAV?

My response: “That’s exactly why they’re using Dropbox.”

At VMworld, VMware announced Project Octopus, which is intended to provide a true enterprise alternative to Dropbox and similar services. Project AppBlast is another innovation that was announced, which will provide access to Windows applications from any HTML 5 compatible web browser. That will also include access to applications on physical PCs. AppBlast is significant in that VMware is trying to provide an alternative to Citrix’s XenApp, while at the same time offer an on-ramp to VMware’s desktop virtualization offerings. Want your desktop apps on any device? AppBlast. Want your desktop “always-on” and highly available? VMware View.

Project Octopus will directly compete with Citrix’s “Follow-Me Data,” but the competition is really services like Drobox and Box.net. Many users are consuming those services outside of corporate IT. The winner needs to support the user’s devices of choice while offering the security and compliance features mandated by the typical enterprise.

The mobile space cannot be ignored either. VMware’s long awaited Horizon Mobile (formerly called MVP – Mobile Virtualization Platform), was also announced. LG and Samsung were part of the initial announcement. Carriers like this option because it allows them to sell two contracts while only having to subsidize a single phone. Of course, usability will be key. Also, keep in mind that this can extend beyond mobile phones to tablets as well. Of course any mobile/tablet offering that doesn’t include iPhones/iPads will remain limited in reach. Today, we really can’t say we support “Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).” It’s more like “Bring Your Own Company Approved Device.” Bottom line – it’s a start, and VMware is clearly showing leadership in this space.

Citrix is innovating and acquiring solid solutions (e.g., Kaviza and RingCube) at a furious pace. One thing is for sure – they are not letting off the gas. For awhile, I was convinced that VMware would be OK settling for second place. Now I’m starting to question that. The VMworld announcements, including significant enhancements in View 5.0, a maturing Horizon App Manager solution that seamless connects users to SaaS applications, and forward-looking solutions like Octopus, AppBlast, and Horizon Mobile point to a solution set that’s hitting its stride. Citrix is hitting hard, but VMware’s emerging product portfolio combined with their videoindicate they’re ready to punch back. What do you think?

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