CTO Focus Interview: Gunnar Berger, Citrix

CTO Focus InterviewIn the third installment of our CTO Focus Interview series, I got to speak with Gunnar Berger, CTO at Citrix (View Part I and Part II of the series). Gunnar is a well respected thought leader who previously worked as an Analyst at Gartner and joined Citrix last June. Gunnar is on a mission to make VDI easier and cheaper to deploy. I’d highly recommend following Gunnar on Twitter to hear more from him.


Ben: What are your primary responsibilities at Citrix?

Gunnar: A lot of what I do at Citrix is on the back end and not necessarily public facing. In the public view, it’s more of looking at a long term strategy. Most roadmaps are looking ahead 12-18 months. I can be influential in these plans, but I am really looking at the longer term strategy. Where are we going to be in 3-5 years? How do we actually get to that place? How do you take today’s roadmap and drive it towards that 5 year plan? One of the main reasons I took the job at Citrix is because I want to fix VDI. I think it costs too much and is too complex. I think we truly can change VDI at Citrix.


Ben: What are some of the challenges you face as a CTO?

Gunnar: One of the main challenges when looking at long term strategies is that things can happen in the short term that can impact those long term plans. That’s every CTO’s challenge regardless of industry. In this particular industry, things change every single day. Every couple of months there is a major merger or acquisition. You have to be nimble and quick and be ready to make adjustments on the fly. My background at Gartner is very relevant here.  I have to make sure I understand where the customer is now and where they will be 3-5 years from now.

If you look at the history of Citrix, look back 5 years and you see they made an incorrect prediction on VDI. You can create a long term strategy and have it not work out. If you aren’t correct with your long term strategy, it’s important to capture that early on and pivot.


Ben: What goals do you have for 2015?

Gunnar: I have three main goals heading into 2015. The first is doubling down on applications. The second is to review the complexity and costs of VDI. The third is to “bridge to the cloud.”

1. Double down on applications

Citrix over rotated on VDI but now the pendulum is moving back. VDI has a place but so does RDS. We are doubling down so that XenApp is not a second class citizen to XenDesktop. Apps are what users want, XenApp is our tried and true solution for pushing these apps out to users on any device.

2. Review complexity and cost of VDI

My overall goal is to make VDI easier to deploy and cheaper to deploy. This plays into a long term strategy. Let’s face it, VDI deployments take a lot of time and money. I can’t remember where it was that I heard this stat, but for every dollar of a VDI sale I need to sell $12 in everything else. For a customer to buy one thing they need to buy $12 of something else…not an ideal situation for the customer.

We need to solve that issue to make it less costly. I’m unapologetically a fan of VDI. I think it’s an extremely powerful technology that has a lot of great benefits, but it is currentlycostly and complex. Luckily, in my position I get to work with a lot of really smart people that can solve this so I’m confident that Citrix will make VDI what I have always wanted it to be.

3. Bridge to the cloud

This is where Citrix Workspace Services comes into play. You will start seeing more and more of this from Citrix over the next several months. Essentially this is the unification of all of our different products (i.e. XenDesktop, XenApp, XenMobile, NetScaler, etc.). We will be “SaaS-ifying” our entire stack, which is a massive undertaking. We really want to improve the admin experience by creating a single administrative interface for users of all different product suites.

The goal is provide the same benefits to an enterprise that an end user receives from products like the ChromeBook – automatically get the latest version so you never have to update manually. We want to get to the point that no matter what, customers are always operating on the most recent versions. This obviously benefits the customer as they are getting the latest things instantly.

Citrix isn’t going to try to become a cloud provider. To do that you need billions of dollars. We’re building a bridge to enable users to move seamlessly from on-prem to off-prem. You want to be on Azure or Amazon? We can do that.

The idea is that this becomes the middle ground between you and those cloud providers. What I like about being the intermediary is being able to dial up and back between clouds seamlessly to allow customers to stand things up and test them in minutes instead of days.


Ben: Citrix has made heavy investments in mobility. Where do you see mobility in the next 3-5 years?

Gunnar: Honestly, I want to stop talking about mobility like it’s something special. Everything we are doing these days is mobile. Mobile Device Management? Mobile Application Management? We need to drop the mobile from this story. It’s device management. It’s applications management. As far as where mobility fits in with Citrix – it’s inherent to the big picture much like the necessity to breath. I say this to paint a picture because it’s in our DNA. This is what Citrix has done for the last 25 years. In today’s world with smartphones and tablets, we take apps and make them run elsewhere just like we have always done.


Ben: Throughout your career, what concept or technology would you say has had the most drastic impact on IT?

Gunnar: Hands down virtualization. Virtualization is the root of where cloud started. Cloud is the most disruptive technology moving forward, and it all started with the hypervisor.


Are you a CIO/CTO interested in participating in our Focus Interview series? Email me at bstephenson@greenpages.com

By Ben Stephenson, Emerging Media Specialist