Even since we acquired XenSource, we’ve been asked “will Citrix make NetScaler available as a virtual appliance?” Actually, folks familiar with NetScaler we’re asking for a “software version” of NetScaler long before that. But with the XenSource acquisition, the question volume definitely ratcheted up. Well, if you’re reading this, then most likely you know the answer to that question is a most definite “yes.”

Today, during the Synergy keynote, we announced NetScaler VPX. We will have a free tech preview available for download on May 18, and general commercial availability scheduled for the third quarter of this year.

NetScaler VPX makes all NetScaler load balancing, acceleration, application security and server offload functionality available as a virtual appliance. Yes, you read that correctly; all the same functionality. All the load balancing, all the advanced L7 traffic management, caching, compression, GSLB, the full Access Gateway-Enterprise SSL VPN, the full application firewall, Web 2.0 Push, connection offload, and everything else. NetScaler VPX is NetScaler; feature-complete.

Now, beyond the core feature set, there are some differences between NetScaler VPX and NetScaler appliances. NetScaler appliances will offer higher performance and throughput than NetScaler VPX. And since the L2 networking environment is virtualized, there are some configuration differences there. But from L3 on up it is NetScaler. If the GUI wasn’t labeled NetScaler VPX, even a seasoned NetScaler admin would be hard pressed to tell they were looking at a virtual appliance.

Of course, there is the one big difference: NetScaler VPX is a virtual appliance, which means that you can run it on pretty much any modern (we do require Intel VTx or AMD-V “virtualization assist”) industry standard server. Which means that it is now possible to install NetScaler pretty much anyplace within the datacenter. Or, maybe even everyplace in the datacenter.

Which brings us to the Great NetScaler VPX Challenge.

Almost universally, whenever we first mention NetScaler VPX, new uses for NetScaler come up. The flexibility to deploy on-demand immediately opens up the ability to do things that for one reason or another aren’t currently practical.

It’s now possible to make load balancing and advanced traffic management functionality pervasive across lab, test and even development environments. Not the sexiest use case, but one I think we all agree brings some pretty significant benefits.

Now that NetScaler has a virtual footprint option, it’s also much easier to move NetScaler at the same time an application moves. This opens up some interesting options for disaster recovery (think GSLB and SSL VPN), especially for smaller companies. This also makes tapping cloud capacity easier, since NetScaler can run using the same general server capacity as the rest of the application.

And there are some really interesting two-tier deployment options where NetScaler MPX appliances front NetScaler VPX virtual appliances. This is a discussion in and of itself.

We’ve heard so many good ideas we’ve decided to provide a venue – the Great NetScaler VPX Challenge – where you can describe a problem and then talk about how you think NetScaler VPX can help solve that problem. Since anyone will be able to download the tech preview, there is plenty of opportunity to experiment. And, since documenting the idea takes a little bit of effort, we added a little kicker (the $10,000 first prize) to help get the creative juices flowing.

In terms of exactly what we’re looking for, the Challenge website documents this fairly well.

First, describe a problem. It could be your problem, it could be your friend’s problem, it could be a problem you faced in a prior life.  In fact, it doesn’t necessarily even have to be a problem. Opportunities are just as good, and maybe even better.

Second, describe how you think NetScaler VPX can solve the problem. The judges are just as interested in business issues as they are technical issues, so don’t limit yourself to bits and bytes. If there is an organizational or political issue that NetScaler VPX helps you solve, that’s likely to be a great entry.

Third, have fun. We’re not specifying any specific media or format for the submissions. PowerPoint with voiceover is fine, as is a video of you and your friends talking in front of a whiteboard. Or, just write it up. And we’re not looking for War and Peace. Within reason of course, the shorter the better. Three minutes should be plenty of time. Also, while the judges need to see and hear what you’re saying, we don’t expect Hollywood-level production quality.

We’re really excited about NetScaler VPX. And, at least judging from the reactions we’re getting at Citrix Synergy, so are you. So, when the tech preview is available, download it and take it for a spin, and then let us know what you think.