Wednesday, March 11, 2009

John Humphreys, now at Citrix, sees virtualization competition shifting to management

I'm sure when John Humphreys left IDC and joined Citrix last year he had to endure lots of barbs about joining "the dark side" from his analyst compatriots. Of course, his new vendor friends were probably saying the exact opposite, yet much the same thing: no more ivory tower, John; it's time to actually apply some of your insights to a real business -- after all, he now had a bunch of real, live customers that want help solving data center software infrastructure and IT operations issues.

Regardless of comments from either peanut gallery, John did indeed vacate Speen Street and trade his role running IDC's Enterprise Virtualization Service for a spot at Citrix. He's now focused on the overall strategy and messaging for their Virtualization and Management Division, the group built from the XenSource acquisition and that is actively working on virtualization alternatives to VMware -- and more.

I thought John's dual perspectives on the market (given his current and previous jobs) would make for a worthy Data Center Dialog interview, especially given Citrix's recent news that they will offer XenServer for free. And, there's a dual connection with Cassatt, too: long before they were acquired by Citrix, Cassatt and XenSource had worked together on making automated, dynamic data center infrastructure that much closer to reality (in fact, if you poke around our Resource Center or Partner page, you'll find some old webcasts and other content to that effect). And, we worked with John quite a lot in his IDC days.

In the first part of the interview that I'm posting today, I asked John about the virtualization market, criticism that Citrix has been getting, and what they have in store down the road.

Jay Fry, Data Center Dialog: John, from your "new" vantage point at Citrix, how do you see the virtualization market changing in 2009?

John Humphreys, Citrix: I see the basis for competition in virtualization changing significantly in 2009. In recent years, the innovation around virtualization has been squarely focused on the virtualization infrastructure itself with things like motion, HA, workload balancing, etc. The pace of innovation and rate of customer absorption of recent innovations has slowed. This was inevitable as the demand curve for new innovations around any technology eventually flattens.

Rather than competing to offer new features or functions on top of the base virtualization platform, I see the companies adding management capabilities that extend across multiple platforms. It's only through this ability to manage holistically that customers will truly be able to change the operational structure of today's complex IT environments.

DCD: How do you think Citrix will play into those changes?

John Humphreys: In a sentence, we are working to drive these changes in the virtualization marketplace.

Specifically, the company recently announced that the full XenServer platform would be freely available for download to anyone. This is a truly enterprise-class product -- not just a gimmicky download trial. It has live migration and full XenCenter management for free, with no limits on the number of servers or VMs a customer can host.

At the same time, we introduced a line of management products (branded Citrix Essentials) that are designed to provide advanced virtualization management across both XenServer and Hyper-V environments. Initially, we have focused on providing tools for integration and automation of mixed virtualization platform environments with capabilities like lab management, dynamic provisioning, and storage integration. Over time you will see more automation capabilities with links back to business policies and infrastructure thresholds.

DCD: What are your customers saying are the most important things that they are worrying about right now? How influenced by the economy are those priorities?

John Humphreys: Cost cutting. Pure and simple. We see the rapid economic decline setting the agenda for at least 2009 and was a major factor in the decision to offer XenServer for free. In tough economic times, well-documented cost saving measures like server consolidation are relied upon even more and being the low-cost provider of an enterprise-class virtualization solution provides Citrix with a opportunity to get XenServer in the hands of millions of customers.

DCD: I've seen some press coverage about disappointment regarding the XenSource acquisition by Citrix. The main complaint seems to be that Citrix isn’t being as aggressive as it should be in the space and VMware seems to be adding fuel to the fire by implying that Microsoft will eventually block out Citrix. What are your thoughts on how Citrix is handling XenSource and the competitive environment?

John Humphreys: I've heard those criticisms as well. I think what you have seen already in 2009 is that Citrix is become a lot more aggressive with XenServer. We think we have a distinct position in the marketplace and a unique opportunity. What you saw Citrix announce on February 23rd was the first opportunity to tell the full virtualization story. The free platform download (with motion and management) and the ability to add cross-platform advanced management capabilities is truly unique. We like where we are positioned going forward...and from the early indications, the market likes our position as well.

DCD: Why did you make the jump to the "dark side" of working for a vendor? Is the grass actually greener?

John Humphreys: I always knew I wanted to combine strategy and execution, as to me that is where the magic happens.


Up Next: In the second part of this interview, I ask John about his thoughts on (you guessed it) cloud computing, the pros and cons of what Citrix, VMware, and Microsoft have planned in that space, and how much different things look now that he's not an industry analyst with IDC.

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