Virtual pioneers

Virtualisation is a hot topic in the IT and networking world at the moment. Citrix Systems Middle East's manager for systems engineering, Nick Black, tells CommsMEA about the company and its products, and some of the challenges and opportunities in the Middle East

Tags: Citrix Systems DubaiInfrastructureUnited Arab Emirates
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Virtual pioneers
By  George Bevir Published  June 21, 2009 Communications Middle East & Africa Logo

Tell us about Citrix and the products offered by the company?
Citrix is a global company with offices in over 40 countries across the world. Our elevator pitch is that we do end-to-end virtualisation, and products and solutions associated with that, such as application, desktop and server virtualisation. Since 1989, the ethos of Citrix has been the ‘any, any, any' message; allowing users to connect from any device, across any network, to any application. We try to be completely hardware independent. What we want to do is put a Windows application or a Unix application to any device regardless of what it is or what operating system it is running.

What kind of presence does Citrix have in the Middle East and Africa?
We cover 15 countries from the head office of the MEA region, which is in Dubai where we have 20 direct Citrix employees. As well as the Arab region, we cover Malta, Cyprus, Greece and Turkey, and we have a separate office in Johannesburg to cover sub-Saharan Africa.

We are very much a channel-centric company, so we have partners right across the Middle East and Africa. Mindware is the distributor for the virtualisation products, in addition to that for the networking products we have FVC. They take care of the distribution of the application network group of products.

What are customers in the MEA region demanding from Citrix, and what challenges does the region present?
Whenever we go into a meeting now the conversation always moves on to virtualisation. There is a lot of hype and momentum around virtual desktop infrastructure at the moment.

Any kind of virtualisation requires centralisation, so whether you are providing virtual desktops, servers or applications, that all promotes the concept of consolidation. One of the challenges is the fact that the network becomes completely critical, whether you are logging in from a PC or from an iPhone. We can enable all of that, but if you don't have a reliable network then you are pretty much dead in the water. I think that some of the challenges that customers are having right now is getting proper SLAs from the telcos in the region. The Middle East and Africa have skipped a generation; some villages or small towns have no infrastructure and there is no medium, not even copper. That is a challenge.

Is it important for customers to have access to large amounts of bandwidth to use your products?
ICA, the Citrix protocol that we use across networks to connect virtual desktops applications, uses significantly less bandwidth than any other protocol around. We also have zero latency clients that make sure that the user experience is as good as possible in the circumstances.

As a general rule when we design a network for a customer you are looking at 20-25Kbps per user session, regardless of whether that is an application that is being delivered to a desktop, or virtual desktop that is being hosted in the data centre. We're doing a project in Jeddah at the moment for a large bank and on a 128Kbps link, we've managed to get good performance for 10 users concurrently.

Are you seeing a rise in interest in products that enable working from home?
If you take the more mature markets like the US and Europe we have some solutions that enable flexible working hours and working from home with the concept of connecting from any device over any network with the best possible performance. We are well positioned to be able to provide that.

Having said that, coming into a more developing market like the Middle East it appears to be more of a management issue; managers here do not feel secure enough to be able to allow people to work from home with the confidence that they are going to continue to be productive.

What level of interest have you seen in citrix's iPhone Receiver product?
It has been significant, and I think it has surprised everyone. It's one of those products where you can question whether it has a real, tangible business use, and we could debate that, but the awareness of the iPhone and the whole Apple marketing approach has been very, very successful for us.

It was the best thing we could have done. The iPhone Citrix Receiver is the number one download from Apple's App store in most countries around the world right now. The application is free, but all Citrix clients whether it's installed on an iPhone or Nokia smartphone or a PC, the client itself is free. What we charge for is connection to the XenApp server, the virtualisation server.

The pricing varies, and like all software vendors we have volume discounts and government and educational discounts, so it depends on the sector. The key message is the ROI and TCO, which in an average size deployment, you can expect to get your investment back within 9-12 months.

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