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CIO Q&A: How Citrix supports more workers with lower IT budget

CIO Q&A: How Citrix supports more workers with lower IT budget

Citrix CIO Paul Martine is the poster child for everything that Citrix markets to other CIOs.

From server and desktop virtualization to cloud computing and consumerization, Martine is an early adopter of the entire Citrix product line. As a result, he says he has been able to slash millions from his IT budget while supporting 25% more employees added during the last 18 months.

We recently interviewed Martine to get the details. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

How are you reorganizing your IT department as you centralize, virtualize and adopt cloud-based applications?

When we look at software as a service, we're looking for applications that can meet our technical requirements and are a benefit to us in terms of reduction of costs or speed to market. We still run some applications in-house. We use SAP for financials, supply chain and the HR portal. There was a talent management project underway where we looked at building it in SAP or going with a SaaS provider, and we actually went with the SaaS provider. We use a SaaS application called Authoria [now re-branded as Peoplefluent] to deliver that application to the whole company ... as if it were written to our own SAP portal. For us, it was less expensive and faster to market to use SaaS, which is a complement to the premises-based applications. That's a major shift. You still leverage your core infrastructure applications, but you can complement them with SaaS.

PANEL: The cloud requires fresh IT skills

You have to really look at the SaaS application and can it meet those criteria of security, compliance, reliability, resilience and continuity and complement a premises-based application. Out of 125 applications we run, 25 are Web or SaaS applications. When we find those SaaS applications that are a benefit as a stand-alone like that we use for lead management and sales, we integrate them into our other applications.

Right now, 20% of your applications are SaaS applications. Do you expect that percentage to increase in the next 18 to 24 months?

Sure. We're going to continue to look at SaaS where it makes sense, where it complements one of our premises-based applications or a stand-alone application. You can even integrate multiple SaaS providers and you can build out the infrastructure that way. I don't really care where [an application is] delivered from as long as it meets all of our requirements.

How has the shift to SaaS affected your staffing levels and the expertise you need in-house?

The expertise we need is still the same. Those writing integration code and those supporting our colo architecture remain the same skills, but they are integrating applications that are not sitting in our data centers. From the application development team, there are subtle differences. They are not developing that application. They are working with the SaaS project team to get their application up and running. They are no longer managing contractors doing development work because the development work is already done. We want to deliver SaaS applications as close to out-of-the-box as possible.

How has the size and structure of your IT department changed over the last 24 months?

It's gotten a little bit smaller. Our application development team is about 150 people. The infrastructure side is about 150 people. We've probably shrunk by 25 or 26 people over the last few years. We've also done virtualization around the desktop, so now we are delivering desktops from the data center. I took the desktop engineering team, and some of them moved into the data center team. We've really been able to manage virtual desktops out of the data centers. We've built little storefronts -- think of them as Apple Genius bars -- and we placed them in high-traffic areas in our main locations to provide users with walk-in help. If somebody has a problem with an iPad, a smartphone or a laptop, they can get one-on-one interaction from our people. Users seem to like that a lot better.

What metrics are using to track how your movement to SaaS applications is benefitting the company?

One of the main metrics we use is the number of employees we support. Citrix has 6,800 employees worldwide; 1,400 of them we hired in the last 18 months. When I look at my overall costs to run IT over the same time, our costs actually have been reduced. Every time a person is hired in the company that impacts my costs for hardware, storage, licenses and facilities. Yet from an IT perspective, we've been able to deflect the costs of supporting an increase in employees. I will spend $6 million less next year on IT than this year. I spent $2.5 million less in 2011 over 2010. With the movement to SaaS applications, some of the dollars are going to move from capital expenses to operating expenses. But in all the numbers -- both operating expenses and capital expenses -- there's been an overall reduction. That's the big metric that we follow.

We also measure the typical IT metrics, such as performance, reliability and the number of [help desk] incidents. Year to date, as of November, we're seeing a 29% decrease in incidents. With desktop virtualization, you're really simplifying what you're doing. You're delivering desktops and applications from the data center. You have one copy of the application, one copy of the desktop, and you deliver that out to multiple employees. All of my applications live in one data center in Miami, and I deliver that around the globe to 80 offices.

What role does outsourcing play in your IT infrastructure and how is that changing?

You can call SaaS outsourced because we don't do the development work. So in lieu of paying a team of consultants or my own development team to develop an application, you're paying an operating expense; you're paying a monthly fee. It's a bit more consistent, and there aren't big spikes of capital. We can manage more projects because a handful of them are SaaS. That frees up my team.

What types of talent are you most interested in having on staff: deep technical skills or deep management skills? Why?

We have a complement of both. We have business relationship managers at either senior manager or director level. Those are the interface to all the functional departments within Citrix. We liaison with those functional departments as they go through the capital cycle for the IT projects for next year. Our business relationship manager works closely with the functional department head, starts to gather information, and starts to build out a plan for each department. So we have those business skills. But we still need the technical skills.

Are you doing anything new to develop the talent you have in your department?

It's certainly a challenge. One of the things that Citrix is doing as a whole is looking at the design for products and making them more usable. My development team has just gone through design school. We just revamped our license management system using those design school principles. We're taking a step back and not just doing an upgrade to add features, but to make it simpler, easier and more intuitive for the user. It's a different skill set.

How are you handling the maintenance and operations of IT systems, networks and data centers?

The maintenance remains very, very similar to what it was in the past. Part of our criteria is to be able to monitor SaaS applications. We have an operations center in Fort Lauderdale and in Bangalore to get 24-by-7 monitoring. The maintenance on SaaS applications is done by the providers. Salesforce does three or four updates a year that are not disruptive to me. My team can focus on the premises-based applications. We keep our applications current. Tech currency is very important to me. It allows us to leverage the newest, latest, greatest applications. Our team focuses on the premises-based applications. We keep them no further than two versions behind. That includes SAP, Siebel, Oracle and my Microsoft stack. My SaaS is kept current by my providers. Then the integration team has a good platform to work with the newest and latest technology around my service-oriented architecture. I want my applications to provide or consume a service from one another.

Our data centers are colo facilities. In Miami, we run Citrix out of a 1,600-square-foot cage at a Terremark data center. Our data center team accesses all of that remotely. We maintain all of those applications, and we maintain that hardware. We've been in the same size data center for six years, even though the company has grown 200%. That's another important metric. With the data center, your real expense is not hardware; it's power, cooling and space inside the data center. We've been able to hold that expense.

We have a global MPLS network. We migrated to that about three years ago. That's been great for us. We moved to one provider, and they are doing a very good job with it. If I have a big video broadcast out of our Pacific office, I can allocate the bandwidth for that. Our network capacity hasn't really changed too much. A lot of the SaaS applications are coming over the public Internet. We haven't had to change the size or shape of our network unless we add a location. We're relying on the service provider to do that. Not having a data center in our building, we take our network provider's equipment and terminate it in the colo data center. We can't be more reliable or secure than that.

We're taking out a lot of our network infrastructure in the buildings and going wireless. In Fort Lauderdale, the application delivery team has 150 people who are pure wireless. We're also moving toward open seating, where nobody has assigned seating. One of our buildings is all wireless, all soft phones. Downstairs is a project room with writable walls and writable desktops. It's a real collaborative environment. People can flow from one place to another, and they don't have to worry about the wiring in the walls. It's very, very flexible.

How are you and your department helping Citrix increase speed to market or drive revenue?

There are a few subtle things we do. I spend 20% of my time talking with customers. They want to talk to me about how I am doing things [like desktop virtualization.] The sales and marketing organization is constantly pinging me about giving talks about how I support 6,800 employees around the globe with Citrix products. We keep the technology in the hands of the sales team. They were the first ones to have virtual desktops. They are on the most current version of the Windows operating system and the most current version of our applications. We even have the beta version of our applications delivered to them. That's another way that I help besides reducing the overall G&A expenses.

How will your adoption of cloud computing evolve over the next 18 months?

We're going to see more of the follow-me data. That's one of the things we really want to achieve. Your apps can follow you anywhere. Your desktop can follow you anywhere, and now your data can follow you anywhere. We're achieving this through the recent acquisition of ShareFile. We need to do some work with ShareFile; we need to ensure the security of it. We need to provide the SSL VPN capability. It's more of rounding out that offering. So I'll be able to take my iPad and travel wherever I want and bring up my XenDesktop, bring my data with me and be productive while traveling. It's kind of like a personal cloud.

You've seen IT cost reductions over the past few years despite an increase in employees. How will you handle that dynamic in the future?

Citrix is going to continue to grow as it has in the past. If Citrix wants to grow another 1,400 employees, and I can keep my costs flat, then we are doing a great job. We've done a lot of acquisitions recently, so day one is a big day for us because we have to have all of the people on-boarded. We provide a virtual desktop on day one, with all the HR applications and email set up ahead of time. So when we do mergers and acquisitions, my team goes out there and has responsibility for getting them operational. I don't care what device they have: laptop or tablet. I'm just going to provide them with a virtual desktop, and they can be up and running on day one. That's part of our speed-to-market. All of our employees are on Windows 7 or Windows 8. We want to move forward with more of an open-seating and work-anywhere style environment. More departments are interested in that.

What are your plans regarding IPv6, the next generation of the Internet Protocol?

It'll be an ongoing project. I'm not real concerned about it. IPv4 will be here for the next 20 years. As newer technologies come out, they will be IPv6. It's just part of our natural growth and changing technology of the Internet. All of our commercial sites --, -- are IPv6 compatible. We'll step through upgrading the rest of the infrastructure to IPv6. I'm not in a great big rush to do it. I don't see a lot of risks. But certainly, IPv6 is in our 2012 plan.

How do you split responsibilities between yourself and the Citrix CTO?

There is a CTO for each of our products. They are responsible for that product. My responsibility is to support the Citrix community. I take their technology and implement it in our infrastructure just as a customer would and present it to our employees. I work very closely with the engineering teams -- we have biweekly meetings -- so I get updates on what's coming out and what products I need to showcase. We use the products in alpha and beta versions so we can help the engineering teams through their life cycle and move the applications up to the point where they are ready for release.

To what degree are you "eating your own dog food" when it comes to using Citrix products in your department?

We use every bit of our technology. Server virtualization, application virtualization, desktop virtualization, our NetScaler computers that accelerate Web traffic, global server load balancing, our SSL VPN solution -- all of that is in our infrastructure. We keep it current. We even run multiple XenApp farms. A good portion of our employees -- about 1,200 -- are beta testing anything that is for our customers. Our engineering, tech support and systems engineering teams are beta testers. As soon as they identify a problem, they circle back with the engineering teams. You can test software in the lab and not find every defect. But if you put it in a real production environment, with 1,200 people doing their normal work, you're certainly going to see the defects. That's been a real positive for us.

Another thing I can do to help product development is to move quickly [to new technology]. A few years ago, we rolled out Windows 7 to the entire company in three months. Microsoft was very impressed by us, and even wrote a case study about us. It took them longer to write the case study than it took us to roll out Windows 7. Right now, I'm running a beta version of Windows 8. I recently came from a customer event where they wanted to hear about our Windows 7 adoption. But I was connected to the Internet and I had Windows 8 up and running on my laptop. I had a Windows 8 virtual desktop. I have to keep current technology in all the users' hands ... to help product development.

What advice would you offer other CIOs about migrating to SaaS applications?

Start to embrace it. It is certainly an easier way to do things. You can move faster. It's a bit more secure. It's much more manageable. If you are as fast-paced as this company, it's a huge challenge. With SaaS, you can do a lot more with the same number of people. We see that as the strongest message: We've been able to do a lot more and support more people with less money.

Read more about infrastructure management in Network World's Infrastructure Management section.

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Tags cloud computingmanagementinternetNetworkingserverSAPData CentervirtualizationServer Virtualizationhardware systemsdesktop virtualizationSoftware as a serviceConfiguration / maintenanceLAN & WAN

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