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Citrix Project Avalon Delivers Windows as a Cloud Service

If there were any confusion about where Citrix Systems believes its future lies, it has tried to put confusion to rest with announcement of Project Avalon, an ambitious program to sew together its desktop and application virtualization technologies and infrastructure services and allow them to be managed from a common cloud-based layer. Named after the island where King Arthur's legendary sword, Excalibur, was forged, Avalon promises to deliver Windows applications and desktops as a cloud service that can be delivered across any network, to any device.

"The Avalon project is an effort to bring all the elements of a traditional environment to the cloud. The idea is really taking things that we do in the desktop environment and in a traditional hosting environment into the cloud, with all the orchestration and management tools. It brings all the pieces together," said Agatha Poon, research manager of global cloud computing for Tier1Research (formerly 451 Research). "For Citrix this is an effort to transform into a true cloud user. For them that is the goal."

The first part of Project Avalon, according to John Fanelli, Citrix's vice president of product marketing for the Enterprise Desktop and Applications Group, will be to deploy XenDesktop on a cloud platform. XenDesktop is the company's virtual desktop product that allows IT staff to deliver individual Windows, web-based, and software-as-a-service applications--virtual desktops--to PCs, Macs, tablets, smartphones, laptops, and thin client devices. With Avalon acting as the "orchestration engine," delivery of these virtual desktops could be shifted to public clouds to enable delivery on demand.

The virtual desktop would, the company said, have the same performance characteristics, network configuration, and isolation requirements as the original desktop setup. When an application or desktop needed to be updated, the administrator could point to the new image set and Avalon would handle the draining of servers (completing user tasks before taking them offline) and migrating subscribers without manual intervention.

The company sees particular usefulness for multi-tenant deployments where virtual desktops need to be delivered to multiple locations and from multiple clouds. The approach would be useful, as one example, to support business continuity and disaster recovery scenarios.

Avalon will use cloud storage via Citrix ShareFile to deliver user profiles, settings, and application data securely. "Regardless of where the information is coming from or the type of device it is going to, the virtual desktop experience remains persistent and personal each and every time," the company said in a statement. ShareFile is a service that allows enterprise users to exchange files with colleagues, clients or customers, and partners.

On the infrastructure side, in April Citrix relicensed CloudStack to the Apache Software Foundation, an open source organization. CloudStack is designed to deploy and manage large networks of virtual machines, as a highly available, scalable cloud computing platform that competes with the likes of Amazon Web Services. CloudStack supports VMware, Oracle VM, Linux-based KVM, Citrix's own XenServer, and the open source Xen Cloud Platform. CloudStack has three ways to manage cloud computing environments: a Web interface, a command line, and an API.

At the same user conference where Avalon was announced, Citrix also introduced CloudPlatform, the company's own commercial offering of CloudStack, which will allow customers to evolve their virtualized datacenter resources to automated, elastic, self-service IT delivery models. When it's available in June 2012, CloudPlatform will feature Amazon API compatibility for mix-and-match integrations of cloud applications across both platforms. It also will support large-scale deployments of Project Avalon.

The company hasn't announced a timeline for availability of Project Avalon

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.