Cisco-Citrix partnership expands to include NetScaler ADC and more

The Cisco-Citrix partnership, which began with VDI integration, is expanding to include integration with the NetScaler ADC, XenServer and CloudStack.

Cisco and Citrix Systems announced an expanded partnership that will integrate Citrix's NetScaler application delivery controllers into Cisco's data center and cloud networking portfolio. This partnership will provide a replacement option for customers of Cisco's ADC product, Application Control Engine, which Cisco is retiring.

The expanded Cisco-Citrix partnership will also bring Cisco closer to Citrix technologies that compete with products from long-time Cisco partner VMware. These technologies include Citrix's hypervisor XenServer and its cloud orchestration software CloudStack.

"This is an expansion of our existing partnership that started one year ago, which was focused on building the right infrastructure to best deliver virtual desktops," said Greg Smith, senior director of marketing at Citrix.

Cisco-Citrix NetScaler ADC partner strategy

Cisco and Citrix's NetScaler partnership will first include reference architectures and Cisco-validated designs to help Cisco customers integrate NetScaler into their existing infrastructure with the ultimate goal of fully upgrading them to Citrix when necessary. Cisco will recommend that Application Control Engine (ACE) customers buy NetScaler now if ACE no longer serves their requirements.

"Phase two will involve our two engineering teams working closely together to identify use cases that would drive tighter integration of [NetScaler] with [Cisco] products," said Giuliano Di Vitantonio, Cisco's vice president of marketing for data center and cloud.

This integration will include optimizing Citrix's virtual NetScaler software to run on Cisco's Nexus 1000v distributed virtual switch and the Nexus 1010 services appliance, Di Vitantonio said. Citrix and Cisco could also integrate NetScaler's RESTful application programming interfaces (APIs) with onePK, the APIs Cisco is developing to make its network hardware more programmable. "Our engineers are still looking at what products we want to drive that integration into first," he said.

The Cisco-Citrix partnership gives ACE customers a reasonable upgrade path for application delivery controllers (ADCs), according to Joe Skorupa, vice president and distinguished analyst for Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. The move will help Cisco customers, but those customers shouldn't assume Cisco has figured out ADCs now. The company still has work to do.

"In the short term you have a reference-selling agreement where Citrix pre-sales and post-sales support guys are involved. They have reasonable expertise in application environments, but compared to F5 Networks, those resources are limited. Citrix has a much smaller group and Cisco has nearly zero," Skorupa said.

As Cisco starts to sell and support NetScaler on its own, it will need to hire hundreds of sales engineers to help customers get the most out of the features on the NetScaler platform, he said. "That sort of training isn't something you can teach a router guy in 90 days. It will take an application guy months or years of training."

Cisco-Citrix beyond NetScaler

The Cisco-Citrix integration will extend beyond the NetScaler platform. For instance, Citrix's CloudPlatform product, which comprises CloudStack cloud orchestration software and XenServer hypervisor technology, will be integrated with Cisco's UCS server products. "You'll see Cisco-validated designs, joint reference architectures and, again, deep integration of products," he said.

Cisco and Citrix will explore multiple chances to integrate their technologies wherever they can, no matter how large or small. For instance, Di Vitantonio said Cisco Prime, the company's management software product line, could be enhanced to manage NetScaler. Cisco will also integrate its Jabber unified communications client with CloudGateway, Citrix's mobility management technology that enables enterprise app stores.

What does this mean to the Cisco-VMware partnership?

Cisco's plans to integrate with Citrix's hypervisor (XenServer) and cloud orchestration technology (CloudStack), raise obvious questions about the state of the Cisco-VMware partnership, which was altered significantly when VMware entered the network virtualization market with its Nicira acquisition.

Cisco's Di Vitantonio said the VMware partnership remains unchanged. "We're going to support customer choice," he said. "We're going to continue to work with both companies depending on customer requirements. This [Citrix] partnership was in the works for a long time and not in any way does it affect our partnership with VMware."

But Gartner's Skorupa sees a much larger shift in corporate alliances taking place.

"We've believed for some time that the relationship with VMware was limited in terms of lifespan," he said. "You've got two vendors, both of whom want to control data center infrastructure. It's been a marriage of convenience and increasingly the two companies are encroaching on one another's space. We don't believe Cisco will stop working with VMware, but their preferred partner for virtual desktops has been Citrix because Citrix has the stronger solution there. Allegiances shift and companies are going to act in the way they believe is in their own best interest."

Depending on its success, the Cisco-Citrix relationship could deepen even more, leading to a merger, Skorupa speculated. That step, however, would depend on Cisco's ability to repatriate international profits, which remain tied up overseas due to Cisco's reluctance to pay U.S. taxes on the money.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, news director.

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