As a technologist, it is really easy to get lost in the numbers. Speeds and feeds as we used to call them, back in the day. It was an easy and practical way to limit the hype we were exposed to on a daily basis from vendors. But for a long time now, performance, at least in mainstream apps and hardware, has become a commodity item, and the services that vendors provide is much more often the deciding factor in purchases, especially in the datacenter and the cloud.
Evaluating services is a much more complex task. While there are many checklists that can be applied to any need, the ability of a vendor to deliver on a checklist item is suspect until you have hard data that they have done so (especially if you have a basically cynical nature). And then, of course, you have to consider that the vendor wants to sell you something, so they will invariably shade their response to match your expectations, if they are aware of them, and identify how well their product fits your needs.
If you consider today's cloud market it is not too difficult to trace the outlines of the how the market is broken up. If we start with the actual providers of virtualization services, VMware holds a clear lead in mindshare, with Microsoft following close behind, as we expand into public cloud services, we can easily add Amazon to that mix, but while datacenter operators are finding they need ways to integrate public clouds into their service offerings, they are primarily in the business of private clouds, which means they need to host many services themselves, while integrating with offerings from other vendors.
In the broader mindset regarding software in the cloud, VMware has great virtualization, Microsoft has management tools and applications, Red Hat is the dominant Linux player, Oracle is making waves, and there's always Google and Amazon if I want to wash my hands completely of back-end responsibilities. But people are generally comfortable with what they know. So when they look for services external to what they are already running, they often follow the path of least resistance; a Microsoft shop looks for MS products, a VMware shop wants VMware support, ad infinitum.
This is where Citrix will have the upper hand. They aren't looking at their customers with the basic premise that they will replace their existing services with their cloud services; they will offer the customer the ability to extend their existing infrastructure with familiar services and capabilities. And then add Citrix's own custom and proprietary services on top of the familiar infrastructure.
In Larry Dignan's piece yesterday on the Citrix acquisition of Cloud.com, he referred to it as the "last piece in the VMware assault"; my impression is that this is less of an assault than assimilation. Want to contract for hosted services on vSphere? No problem, Cloud.com will deliver that, Windows Azure; we can handle that, too. Xen? We are right there with you. Don't have a favorite? No problem, we have a mix of services that can meet your business needs. And with that approach, Citrix might just find themselves the top player in the game of clouds.