Business

Citrix: Constant connection is the virtual challenge

Each week we ask chief technology officers and other high-profile tech decision-makers three questions.

This week, Martin Duursma, chief technology officer (CTO) of Citrix, is providing the answers.

Citrix Systems is a provider of virtual computing solutions that help companies deliver IT as an on-demand service. Founded in 1989 Citrix combines virtualisation, networking, and cloud computing technologies.

Image caption Martin Duursma, Citrix CTO, says the internet of things will spark businesses we haven't even dreamed of

More than 230,000 organisations worldwide use Citrix technology. Annual revenue in 2010 was $1.87bn.

What's your biggest technology problem right now?

It's really a combination of lifestyle and technology issues, it's around the devices that a number of us, and certainly I, need to carry just to get the job done, whether it's for leisure or for work.

For example when I go on a business trip. I carry three devices with me - a smart phone, a tablet and a laptop.

Each one has a time and place in my life. The smartphone I use for what I call information snacking, for example when I need to quickly look up an e-mail or check the time of a flight - a snack of information.

The tablet I use more for leisure, I use it for reading books. For someone of my age, I need to wear reading glasses, and I find that annoying. But with a tablet I can expand the text very easily, and I can carry a whole library with me.

My third device is my laptop, and that's for what I call a full course meal of information. Because I'm a knowledge worker, I'm required to look up lots of information, I typically have lots of applications open, and I'm composing detailed responses. So for me a laptop is a required way of being able to work.

This multiple set of devices is a growing trend among employees, I think. It's a challenge for many companies to bring these disparate devices into the company, when at the same time these devices often contain personal information.

Chief information officers (CIOs) are under pressure, especially from senior management, because it's often senior management that like the new tablet device, or new smartphone device, and want to be able to use it. So that's the challenge. There's a lot of pressure on the CIO to support these multiple devices.

The technology problem is that obviously at Citrix we have solutions that allow people to deliver enterprise applications to these disparate devices.

The way we do it is if you think of a TV channel, we beam the information onto these disparate devices. This is what's allowed us to really promote the "bring your own computer" (BYOC) model.

This means you bring your own computer, your own laptop, bringing it into the corporate setting, because the way the Citrix technology works you're not leaving information on the device, there are no security or leakage issues.

That's all good, but it only works if you have a connection. So the challenge for us is that today, even though we think we live in a highly-connected world, it's not always that situation. You do get drop-outs, you don't always have continuous coverage on wi-fi, or 3G or 4G networks.

Our challenge is to make sure that when users have this disconnected situation, we can also provide information to that user. In 10 years I don't think this is going to be a problem.

We'll have gone from 4G to 5G and beyond networks, and then I think you're going to be in a virtually 100% connected world. People will no longer think about having information local to them, they'll be very happy with it being centralised in the cloud.

What's the next big tech thing in your industry?

I'm going to give you two things. The first one is what I think of the consumerist use of the cloud.

Think about personal computing today. It's still far too hard for the technology neophyte.

Today they've got to worry about patching the machine, backing up the data, all this stuff is way too complicated. Our lives are digital, right? And they're increasingly digital.

If you think about the poor consumer, they've got all this stuff going onto hard disks and devices in their home. But if something goes wrong there, they're going to lose their digital life.

I think the thing that's going to change is that all of this digital content is going to be in their personal cloud, you'll store all of your digital life securely, it's encrypted and it's accessible from anywhere.

When this happens you'll be able to just buy a device, plug it in and access your personal cloud without having to worry.

And when that happens it's going to drive another explosion in the use of the internet. Because it's still a small sub-set of the world's population that can (a) afford and (b) use these computing devices, because they're still too complicated.

The second thing that's going to be big is the internet of things.

This is where you have lots and lots of devices connected to the internet, broadcasting information. You may have heard of near field technology, where you've got smartphones enabled with this technology, that lets you to have, for example, contactless payment systems.

You'll have fridges with IP [internet protocol] addresses, light fittings with IP addresses. This is where we're going to go over the next 10 years or so.

There will be a whole raft of business models that take advantage of this. Businesses that we haven't even dreamed of yet.

What's the biggest technology mistake you've ever made - either at work or in your own life?

I'm a real technologist, a geek I suppose, I always want the fastest, most technologically advanced thing.

Back in the 80s, when we still had videos, I invested in a super high-end Sony Betamax video recorder. I bought it because it was by far the superior technology. It had better resolution, it was fantastic technology.

In a few years, as you know, the VHS format won the war. So I could no longer hire Betamax movies. And my family was clearly upset about that because they wanted to go to the shop and hire movies.

That was an important lesson, in that it's not always the best technology that wins, but the one that gets the best customer traction. And it's really all about what the customer desires, and how you develop that customer's desires through the proper marketing and distribution.

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