Citrix is preparing a major desktop virtualisation push to help speed enterprise adoption - and perhaps take market share from VMware.

Citrix has already had a busy year on the desktop virtualisation front. For example, Citrix placed a venture investment in start-up Virtual Computer; announced that it is developing a bare-metal desktop hypervisor; expanded a desktop partnership with Microsoft; upgraded its HDX Technology for high-definition virtual desktops; and brought virtual desktops and applications to Apple’s iPhone.

A new push will be announced in early October. While Citrix has not yet revealed its plans publicly, analysts say the company is making desktop virtualisation a major priority. New products and industry partnerships are likely on the horizon.

“It’s going to be very aggressive,” says ITIC lead analyst Laura DiDio. “They’re coming out with guns blazing, and they have a big emphasis on pretty widespread and varied industry partnerships. That’s not a big surprise. A lot of folks are doing that, but the depth and breadth [of Citrix’s partnerships] is pretty impressive.”

VMware has about a two-to-one lead over Citrix in terms of deployed seats in the virtual desktop market, according to Burton Group analyst Chris Wolf.

But Citrix can gain on VMware simply by charging lower licensing fees, DiDio says, calling high prices VMware’s biggest Achilles heel. In addition, Citrix offers several technology advantages over its rivals, says Enterprise Management Associates analyst Andi Mann. VMware is the one that has to catch up to Citrix in the desktop market, he says.

“I actually believe that Citrix is well ahead in desktop virtualisation,” Mann says. “At the moment, they have more options for end users. They have more manageability built in.”

Citrix has effectively integrated XenDesktop, its VDI product, with XenApp, the company’s application virtualisation platform, according to Mann. The VMware View desktop virtualisation software is quite good, but hasn’t been fully integrated with VMware’s ThinApp application software, he says.

“With Citrix, you’re doing management of XenApp and XenDesktop together,” Mann says. “You can really tightly integrate multiple options for desktop delivery, application delivery and hosted desktops, all through one solution.”

Citrix has focused intently on user experience, and “over time, we’ll see XenDesktops running in the cloud as well,” Mann says. A move to the cloud would mirror an announcement recently made by IBM, which is offering a cloud-based desktop virtualisation service.

Citrix still trails VMware in providing the back-end platform – namely, the server virtualisation layer, Wolf says. Most Burton Group clients that have deployed Citrix’s virtual desktop infrastructure are still using a VMware ESX server to host the desktops, he said. That’s primarily because VMware offers a memory over-commit feature that allows greater density and consolidation levels, he says. Citrix can be expected to add memory over-commit, given that the feature already exists in the mainline Xen kernel, Wolf says.

But Citrix has a few other things going for it. Citrix may be able to beat VMware to market with XenClient, its bare-metal desktop hypervisor, which will support the “bring-your-own-PC” model, Wolf says.

Citrix also can benefit from a tight partnership with Microsoft. The release of Windows 7 will likely be followed by an increase in virtual desktop deployments, because a number of IT shops didn’t want to virtualise XP this year with another operating system release coming soon. Citrix can and should take advantage by further integrating its own products with Microsoft’s System Center, to give IT administrators a common management tool across their desktop infrastructure, he says.

“Citrix has a lot of things hopping right now,” Wolf says. “The desktop space is extremely important to them strategically. You can expect them to work closely with Microsoft. They know that Windows 7 is a key catalyst for desktop virtualisation adoption.”