Raising the Bar for Hyrbid Work Technologies

Sridhar Mullapudi of Citrix talks about how end-user computing technologies – including virtual desktop infrastructure and desktop as a service – have evolved, enabling the massive shift to remote work.

By Tom Mangan

By Tom Mangan November 29, 2022

Virtual desktops found their moment during the pandemic. And few people had a bigger role in that moment than Sridhar Mullapudi. Now he’s helping make collaboration experiences seamless as the world shifts swiftly toward hybrid work and hybrid cloud world.

“I'm sure there are 10 years of innovation ahead of us to really make the hybrid work experiences feel like we’re in person,” said Mullapudi, general manager of the Cloud Software Group at Citrix. He spoke with The Forecast after it was announced that Citrix’s desktop as a service (DaaS) was one the first workloads to be validated for Nutanix Cloud Clusters (NC2) for Azure, which enables hybrid multicloud deployment and portability.

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He said the pandemic showed the big progress in technology made in recent decades, whether it's bandwidth, service availability, devices interacting and just everything required to collaborate online. 

“Twenty years ago, there was not a lot of tech stack to actually help us collaborate,” said Mullapudi. That’s about when he joined Citrix, a company that built end user computing technologies around the notion that work is not a place; it’s what people do. It provides IT toolsets and infrastructure that allow organizations to empower their employees to work from almost anywhere. Their virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technology really took off in the 2000s and today it’s considered a pioneer in the delivery of applications, especially as more companies move their IT operations to a hybrid multicloud model.

Mullapudi wants to “bridge that gap and democratize” the ability for any organization to empower a hybrid workforce using VDI or desktop as a service (DaaS) to manage business applications and stream them to employees who may be in the office, at home or on the go.

“There's definitely a lot of work that Citrix has done to make all of this invisible.”

The end-user computing Market size was valued at USD 9 billion in 2021 and is poised to grow more than 10% between 2022 and 2030, according to a September 2022 report by Global Market Insights

Mullapudi started out as an engineer at Citrix in 2000 and rose to key product leadership positions while Citrix grew into a global champion of remote-computing technologies for enterprises.

In early 2020, Mullapudi was the product executive in charge of Citrix’s Workplace platform, a suite of technologies that solved one of the core challenges of the pandemic: giving remote workers access to their business-critical documents and applications.

The Workplace platform in its current iteration reflects the shift from virtual desktop architecture (VDI) to cloud-based desktop as a service (DaaS). More recently, he’s devoting his team’s attention on partnerships, including one with Nutanix. The two companies worked together to bring Nutanix Cloud Clusters (NC2) on AWS and Azure, which allows businesses to replicate their applications and data from their data center and run them in a public cloud. This kind of hybrid multicloud capability has become the preferred mode of IT operations. 

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In an interview with The Forecast by Nutanix, Mullapudi talked about the rise of virtual desktops and his evolution from a computer science student in India to an innovator whose efforts helped millions during the pandemic.

The Rise of VDI 

Mullapudi and his Citrix colleagues were among the driving forces behind VDI, which emulates a computer desktop and delivers it to any kind of computer. The most popular VDI applications provide a complete Windows desktop over the internet to a home user on a laptop or a professional colleague running a different operating system like Linux or MacOS. 

“When I joined Citrix 22 years ago, that time was all about PCs and distributed computing,” Mullapudi told The Forecast. “Citrix believed in an alternative vision where centralized computing also has a big role to play.”

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Citrix’s core insight worked like this: Sure, computers and workers were widely distributed. But they still needed all the enterprise applications they used on the job. The challenge was getting, say, Windows and Microsoft Office into those widely distributed computers so people could get their work done outside the main office. The connection had to be reliable and secure. The user experience could not suffer.

Enterprise clients in computing-intense industries like healthcare and finance helped Citrix become a global leader in remote computing technology. 

“People could get a Windows application on a Mac or Linux device anywhere in the world over a very thin connection,” Mullapudi said. “That really opened up a lot of use cases for customers that never existed before or were super expensive to support before.”

The Right Collaboration Tool at the Right Time

“Citrix always talked about this notion that work is not a place — work is what you do,” Mullapudi said.

Think about how people often work in the 2020s: A jet engine designer in Germany collaborates with a product development team in Southern California. These people halfway around the world from each other need to share documents and use resource-hungry applications like CAD/CAM.

Indeed, this was the world when COVID-19 hit. Mullapudi observed that it was fortunate that the pandemic didn’t happen 20 years ago. 

“We would’ve been screwed,” he said with a chuckle. “There was not a lot of tech stack to actually help us collaborate.”

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Either VDI or DaaS can help everybody collaborate as long as they have enough bandwidth and computing power. VDI uses a lightweight application to emulate centralized software on a remote device. DaaS moves collaboration into the cloud era, making everything from the OS to the file system to the application available in a browser window.

Many Citrix clients went straight for the cloud-based version of Workspace at the onset of the pandemic, Mullapudi said, because it gave them speedy access to their applications without requiring an investment in on-premises hardware and software.

With the crisis phase of COVID behind them, enterprises are now exploring the full range of capabilities of both on-prem VDI and cloud-based DaaS.

“I think we'll come to an equilibrium” of enterprises running some workloads in private clouds and others in public clouds, Mullapudi added. “People don’t want to get locked into a single cloud.” 

For example, he said, Azure makes the most sense for Windows apps, while AWS is great for hosting SaaS and Google Cloud is a fit for certain machine learning functions.

From India to South Florida

Mullapudi was born near Bangalore, India’s technology hub, and grew up in Hyderabad.

“Computer science was actually not my plan growing up,” he said. 

Instead, he hoped for a career in the executive branch of India’s government. Such a career carried considerable prestige, but the competition would be stiff. He needed a Plan B. That turned out to be computer science.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in India, he moved to the U.S. in 1998 to pursue a master’s at Iowa State University. He then headed south to Citrix’s home base in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 

“A lot of scientists and engineers joined Citrix straight out of college in 2000,” he recalled. “I thought I'd be here for a year and then move to Silicon Valley.”

Citrix had other plans for him. 

“I really fell in love with the people,” he said. “The technology was really cool and interesting.” The staff totaled perhaps a few hundred; revenue was in the ballpark of $150 million.

“It was fun and exciting, and I was lucky enough to work on a lot of different products and projects and transformations.”

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After about five years of technical leadership roles with Citrix, he moved into product management. One of his favorite projects was making VDI available to small-business owners and mid-sized companies. Back then, VDI required enterprise-level resources to be practical. His challenge: “How do we get that same technology to the dentist's office down the street?”

Citrix’s solution was a managed VDI service operated through third-party technology companies. Mullapudi also led a team that unified multiple applications on a single platform. This project laid the groundwork for transforming data center-based VDI into a software-as-a-service platform.

“Circa 2015, we realized we needed to take our core technology and offer that as a cloud service,” he recalled. 

He said Citrix was not cloud native. Its roots were in enterprise data centers. 

“That was a monumental transformation effort in people, product, technology and everything else.”

Citrix was the right place to be when the pandemic arrived. He was senior vice president and general manager for Workspace and Networking Products and Services. In late 2020, he became chief product officer, a post he held until private equity investors acquired the company in September 2022.

Today, Mullapudi is the general manager for the Citrix Division of Cloud Software Group. He sees a bright future for the enterprise.

“As long as there are applications and people using them to create stuff, we'll be relevant,” he said.

As the business world continues forging into a hybrid work and hybrid cloud IT world, Mullapudi and his team are helping customers move full steam ahead. Teaming with Nutanix to validate Citrix on Nutanix Cloud Clusters is just one leap in that direction.

Tom Mangan is a contributing writer. He is a veteran B2B technology writer and editor, specializing in cloud computing and digital transformation. Contact him on his website or LinkedIn.

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