Australian software lab drives innovation at Citrix
US software technology company Citrix Systems entered the Australian market in 1997 by buying one of its existing Australian distributors, Datapac Australasia. To Citrix’s delight, it got more than it bargained for.
Citrix is a world leader in developing technology that provides people with access to their software applications and data wherever they might be. It works across a range of connections, such as private data networks or fixed or wireless Internet connections, and can deliver to almost any computing device.
Datapac Australasia had started working with Citrix’s technology in 1994, and had launched an innovation program that saw it develop specialised video display technology for the existing Citrix WinFrame product. In 1997 Citrix wished to establish an Asia Pacific presence and Datapac Australasia was acquired for both its technology as well as its sales and marketing expertise.
Martin Duursma had been the director of engineering at Datapac when it was acquired. Today he is vice president for Citrix Labs, based in Sydney, Australia, and is also the chair of the Office of the Chief Technology Officer for Citrix globally.
“Citrix Labs was formed to really drive applied research and innovation across the company,” Mr Duursma says. “Our focus and mission is all about looking at emerging technologies and trends,looking at unmet customer needs, and then building technology that provides a unique solution.”
Citrix Labs employs approximately 60 researchers worldwide. Two thirds are based at Citrix Labs’ headquarters in Sydney, with smaller groups located across the US, UK and elsewhere. Duursma says that keeping the Citrix Labs group at this size enables it to be very nimble when addressing customer needs, not only providing expertise back to Citrix but also to external partners and customers.
“We like to stay very close to the needs of our customers. We see customer needs and gaps and work on innovation to solve them.”
Australian expertise and ‘can-do’ attitude
Duursma says that while it is not unusual for US software companies to conduct research in different locations around the world, it is less common to have that research capability headquartered offshore. But he says Citrix Labs has benefitted from the strong software research and engineering skills that can be found in Australia, and from the attitude of the team. These two factors have been critical to the success of Citrix Labs.
“We have a skilled talent base here in Australia, and we don’t have a problem recruiting people with the right skill set. Even though some of the things we do at Citrix are quite specialised, there is a good calibre of candidates in Australia.
“Australian researchers have a can-do attitude. The staff in Citrix Labs have often thrived on challenges that are hard to crack.”
Access to research and new technology
Citrix Labs also maintains close relationships with Australian research organisations, including NICTA (National ICT Australia) and the University of Sydney. The organisations hold regular discussions on research directions, creating the possibilities for future collaborations and identifying investment opportunities for Citrix. The company has also sponsored PhD candidates at the University of Sydney.
“By sponsoring PhD candidates, we have the opportunity to give back to the community, but also sponsor research in directions that will help Citrix. And when a student finishes their PhD they are generally a great potential employee.
“We work strongly with an external ecosystem. No matter how many bright people you have inside, there are always people external to the organisation that have great ideas and we want to try and bring them into the fold.”
In December 2010, Citrix Labs launched the Citrix Start-Up Accelerator, which enables it to invest directly in early-stage companies that are aligned with its technology. As well as investing in early stage startups, Citrix makes strategic investments in more established companies, one of these investments was Open Kernel Labs, a Sydney-based spin-off company from NICTA which is developing secure software for mobile devices. Duursma says Citrix invested in Open Kernel Labs specifically because of the company’s focus on mobility technology and providing security capabilities to mobile devices – a topic of critical interest to Citrix’s own mobile customers.
Australian researchers at Citrix Labs have made numerous contributions to the global company’s products, including Citrix’s Access Gateway, which provides clients with desktop and application access from any location. This had been an internal development within Citrix, but with some input from Citrix Labs it was turned into a successful product.
Australian researchers at Citrix Labs also pioneered the company’s work in desktop virtualisation. This technology enables the entire content of a user’s desktop, including all files and applications, to be stored at a central site and then accessed by that user remotely from anywhere over a network using a wide range of devices. Duursma says this work is a strong demonstration of the contribution that Citrix Labs and its Australian-based team have made to the company’s future.
“Desktop virtualisation is now a core strategic initiative for the company, and Citrix Labs was at the forefront of building the first prototypes around desktop virtualisation.”
Australian innovation delivering international products
With consumers showing an increasing propensity for both mobile computing and using whatever device they prefer (as opposed to what their employers give them) Citrix Labs and its Australian researchers will continue to play a key role in developing new products and meeting the needs of customers.
“Citrix Labs has a charter to work on longer term innovation, projects that may be hard from a technical perspective, and often take more than 18 months to develop. Citrix Labs and our Australian team have a good history of working on solutions that fit the needs of international customers, and that ultimately makes its way into the Citrix’ international product group. And as a result Citrix Labs is very well supported by our senior management team.”