Spring and fall seem to be “travel times” in the Analyst business, and quite a bit of that travel is vendor-related. The analyst role, as I see it, is largely a matter of synthesizing thousands of bits and pieces of vendor, industry, and customer-related information. The intent is to weave a cohesive fabric that accurately represents the technology industry at a given point in time and serves as a starting point for identifying trends and overall industry direction. Vendor conferences are an important information source in terms of putting together the pieces of this puzzle, so time spent at these events is generally time well spent.

Citrix held its annual event last week at their corporate offices in Santa Clara. It was a two day event, and there were multiple “takeaways”, too many to list in a short blog post. Probably the key takeaway for me, technology-wise, related to Citrix’ Cloud positioning. In case you haven’t figured this out already, Citrix is going after the Cloud market in a big way, and from multiple perspectives. In his keynote on day 1, Wes Wasson, Senior VP and Chief Marketing Officer, stated, “We feel we were born for this moment in time”. I’m inclined to agree, but probably not for the reasons you may anticipate.

Citrix has been impressive in terms of Cloud execution, starting with its early entry into the Software as a Service (SaaS) space with the acquisition of Expertcity and its “GoTo” product line in2003. At the time, most large vendors viewed SaaS as too immature and unproven to be worthy of significant investment. However, Citrix apparently anticipated the impact of the Cloud relatively early in the lifecycle.

Citrix has built and acquired additional Cloud-related products over time, of course, including the acquisition of Cloud.com and its CloudStack solution earlier this year. The company has also indicated that there will be additional Cloud-related announcements at Citrix Synergy in Barcelona this fall, and covered many of them at the Analyst event under NDA. Stay tuned for Citrix to come out of the corner swinging with some pretty impressive announcements that will kick its Cloud messaging up another notch.

From my perspective, however, the real “secret weapon” on the Citrix Cloud front continues to be NetScaler. NetScaler, Citrix’ Application Delivery Controller (ADC) was released as a virtual appliance (NetScaler VPX) back in 2009. I don’t mind saying “I told you so” on this one, as I recognized where Citrix was going with this product when they announced VPX. You may or may not remember that Citrix did an entire code rewrite prior to the announcement, which enabled them to release NetScaler physical (MPX) and virtual (VPX) appliances on the same code set. The upshot is that the same capabilities available in production-grade hardware also became available as software, which positions Citrix very neatly for Cloud-focused “ADC everywhere”.

Today, NetScaler VPX is positioned for optimizing virtual desktops, virtual mobile with Citrix Receiver, and, very significantly, both private, virtualized Cloud AND public Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). In other words, VPX can be co-provisioned in a virtual container to deliver application-specific ADC-related capabilities such as load balancing, connection management, server offloading, security, compression, and dynamic caching. To me, this is a huge differentiator and one which will likely continue to be a significant growth area for Citrix.

Cloud wasn’t the only topic of discussion, with the breadth of information covered at the event way too broad to be detailed in this (blog) format. However, in addition to the “business at hand”, which was obviously the Citrix technology, I couldn’t help but make another observation.

In the midst of the event, rumors started to fly about pending executive changes at HP. This proved to be an interesting counterpoint to the broad access we Analysts had to Citrix executive leadership during the conference. It also caused me to reflect on the topic of executive leadership and the difference it makes in the innovation capabilities of tech companies.

Virtually every Citrix executive presenting at the conference—and the “Spokespeople Biographies” brochure includes over 40 names —are either long-time Citrix employees or came into Citrix as part of an acquisition. One gets the feeling they are all on the same page, all have copies of the same play book and game plan, and that they are working as a team to “seize the day”. Mark Templeton, the CEO, combines exceptional vision with a remarkable lack of arrogance, a particularly effective (and unique) combination for corporate leadership at his level. In other words, this is a quality leadership team, which is important to customers seeking a partnership as well as a product.

We see the same combination of continuity and shared vision at IBM, a company also noteworthy for innovation and the success of its software business. IBM’s executive leadership is similar to Citrix’ in that it is homegrown. The vast majority of the executives within the IBM Software organization are also long-term IBM employees who have worked their way up the heap to positions of responsibility and leadership.

It is difficult not to contrast this to HP. HP’s apparently haphazard approach to executive choices (and apparently to acquisition choices) appears to be diametrically opposite. None of the last three CEOs was “homegrown”, and in fact none in recent history came up through the HP ranks. What HP doesn’t seem to grasp—and what both IBM and Citrix seem to grasp exceptionally well — is that being a software company isn’t simply a matter of selling software. For customers, purchasing software is a long-term partnership requiring trust that the vendor will continue to make good choices regarding ongoing product investments, product design, and overall product direction. Software investments are investments for the long term, and relationships between software vendors and customers tend to be long term relationships.

Admittedly, HP’s focus is far more on hardware than on software, and Apotheker’s ouster bears this out. Maybe partnerships aren’t that important in the hardware business—hopefully the hardware Analysts will chime in here and let me know. However, while I certainly wish HP well, its overall lack of direction does not bode well for the future of its software business.

So my two key takeaways from the Citrix Analyst event were on the product side AND on the executive side– two very different realms. Until you ask yourself, are they really that different? I think the two are far more closely intertwined than they appear at first glance.

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