How Citrix supports more workers with less IT budget

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

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

From server and desktop virtualisation, to cloud computing and consumerisation, 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 centralise, virtualise 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.

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 standalone like Salesforce.com 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 standalone 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 virtualisation around the desktop, so now we are delivering desktops from the data centre. I took the desktop engineering team, and some of them moved into the data centre 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, licences 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 virtualisation, you're really simplifying what you're doing. You're delivering desktops and applications from the data centre. 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 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.

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