When Henry Ford introduced the mass-produced Model A, he didn't organize a conference to talk about the coming revolution in American transportation. He didn't need or want partners. He built the River Rouge plant, where iron ore came in one end, and cars came out the other.

Times have changed. Citrix Systems, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based software manufacturer, believes that it has developed a major part of the next big thing in computing. Its WinFrame and MetaFrame software allow Macintosh and Unix computers to run Windows applications supplied from a central server. This means software can work across platforms without modification. Now, it's time to show how these products fit into a larger vision.

So what does Citrix do? In mid-May of this year, it decided to hold a conference to declare the coming revolution in computing, Citrix-style. Unable to go it alone the way Ford did, Citrix needed potential partners and customers to buy into its vision. The company invited the former to exhibit and the latter to immerse themselves in its new technology for three days--and it made sure everyone paid for the privilege. And--minor detail!--the conference had to be held somewhere in Florida in early September. That left about 15 weeks for planning the conference, start to finish. Thus "Thinergy '98: Witness the Birth of an Industry" was conceived.

Thin No More Why the name? Citrix's cross-platform innovation was briefly--but significantly--going under the name thin-client computing (It's now called server computing). The thin-client was a computer minus the processing power to run Windows programs. Citrix, however, wants to move beyond the thin-client concept since its software will also work its wonders on computers that have tons of processing power. Hence, a mid-course correction in terminology. Even so, Citrix decided to go ahead with the Thinergy theme for the conference, and will again in 1999.

If this sounds a lot like network computing as relentlessly promoted by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, that's because it "is a subset of network computing," according to Matthew Haynes, Citrix System's director of strategic programs. "Oracle just licensed our stuff," he adds. "They're using our software to run their devices."

The event, held September 2 to 4 at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin in Orlando, drew 61 exhibitors and some 2,000 attendees through the turnstiles, and revenues topped $1 million. Much of this came from registration, which cost $695 for Citrix end-users and $495 for resellers. The Swan and Dolphin offered attendees a $190-a-night rate, but Haynes notes that many attendees (not every start-up customer is richly financed) stayed off-property in less-deluxe accommodations in Kissimmee and vicinity.

The Three Amigos While Citrix had the chutzpah to believe it could plan an industry-launching conference in less than five months, it wasn't foolhardy enough to think it could bring off the event by itself. Just as Thinergy was designed to bring companies offering interrelated products and services together, the planning behind Thinergy involved managing several teams of specialists. Citrix enlisted the aid of three amigos--friendly outside firms to work in concert:

* Sicola Martin, the company's Austin, Texas-based ad agency, made sure that the conference's message--server-based computing is the future and it works--was present and consistent everywhere, from the preshow mailing to the keynote addresses;

* Presentations South Inc., a Fort Lauderdale. Fla.-based exhibit house, built and designed the conference's main stage and supervised the technical aspects of the main-room speeches and presentations; and

* Foster City, Calif.-based ZD Studios, part of ZD Events, the Ziff-Davis organization that runs Comdex, handled project management. (See "Birth of an Incubator," page 44)

"The content was 100 percent Citrix-driven," says Haynes. "It was developed by us along with our customers, partners, and resellers."

Still, from the start, the software firm didn't want anyone to think that this was just another product launch. "A lot of this content is very new to the information technology landscape," explains Haynes. "This is not your typical 'My box is faster than your box' kind of show. We're defining a new industry."

What the Ad Agency Did Sicola Martin's assignment was to refine and consistently reinforce that message. Pete Hayes, the agency's vice president of interactive media, says the principal challenge he faced was the newness of the server-based computing process. "I don't think it's particularly complex," he explains. "But it is relatively new. And it's a different way of thinking, so we needed to present a paradigm shift. Server-based computing is the antithesis of personal computing."

One way that Sicola Martin sought to convince the undecided at the conference was through enthusiastic keynote talks by satisfied customers. Possibly the most satisfied customer, Robert Carter, chief technology officer for FDX Corp., the Memphis-based parent of Federal Express, delivered one of the most impressive of these testimonials, singing the praises of server-based computing to a room packed with as many as 1,000 attendees.

What the Production House Did For Presentations South Inc. (PSI), the principal challenge wasn't the message but the lack of lead time. "The planning time was extremely compressed," says Bart Peluso, the firm's vice president of market operations. "We had to build and install a rather large and very aesthetically pleasing stage in six weeks. We worked weekends and late into the night."

This stage wasn't a traditional pipe-and-drape affair. "This was a hard stage made of wood," Peluso explains. "And it was over 150 feet long. We worked closely with Sicola Martin to make sure that the staging had the same identity as the entire project." And although the stage is now sitting in PSI's Orlando warehouse, it remains the property of Citrix, and fans of server-based computing will have the opportunity to see it again. "It will be like a Rolling Stones tour," says Haynes. "We're going to take this staging around with us and use it for years."

What the Event Producer Did ZD Studios coordinated the message with the mechanics. Citrix first enlisted the services of ZD Studios in late 1997 to manage a resellers' conference. The companies saw no reason to break up a winning partnership. For Thinergy, ZD Studios handled account management, operations, exhibit sales, and registration, with teams from ZD Events handling other logistical details.

Citrix has a marketing services department that handles the company's presence at trade shows and seminars, but it went outside for help on Thinergy '98. "We had never done anything of this magnitude and scope," explains Haynes. "Our marketing services department could have done a good job. We wanted to go to the experts and have them do an excellent job."

Another Comdex? Citrix hopes that excellence in executing this conference will translate to longevity--and growth. "We fully intend Thinergy to become an industry event on the scale of Comdex," says Haynes. "Hiring the company that does that show was part of our strategy. We think this is the sort of exhibition that Ziff-Davis would be interested in rolling out." And Ziff-Davis was not the only publisher/trade show organization that Citrix was courting--and being courted by.

"We're very interested in leveraging some kind of involvement with existing high-tech trade show companies," says Haynes.

Manhasset, New York-based CMP Publications sponsored an evening event. The company's Network Computing magazine also presented an awards ceremony at the conference. " Thinnovations" recognized innovative uses of server-based computing.

Wait 'Til Next Year Next year's Thinergy will be even bigger and better, promises Haynes, and will probably be held on the West Coast. IBM and Compaq have already signed up as sponsors. Haynes is busy creating advisory councils--one each for sponsors, exhibitors, and consumers.

He's confident server computing will develop quickly. "If you look at Citrix' history, you'll understand why I don't think we'll be satisfied with growing less than two or three times our '98 size. We've just witnessed the birth of an industry. We expect to make it well into adolescence by this time next year."

Citrix Systems, Inc. made its reputation with ICA (Intelligent Console Architecture), WinFrame, and MultiWin thin-client/server computing products. Worldwide, the company has more than 2,000 strategic partners and resellers helping to market and distribute its software products. More than 3,000 companies, including Bell Mobility, AT&T Wireless, Chevron, Sears, and GE Capital Services, use WinFrame.

Its server-based products have already made Citrix, founded in 1989, the most dynamic of South Florida's Silicon Beach software companies and one of the 500 fastest growing high-tech companies in the country. Revenues have gone from $43.9 million in 1996 to $178 million in 1997, and the numbers continue to climb. In the first six months of this year, revenues reached $106 million.

"We're the incubator-for-new-ideas group," says Megan Schirmacher, marketing communications manager for ZD Studios, a unit of Ziff-Davis. It's based, appropriately enough, in Silicon Valley (Foster City, Calif., to be exact). "The core of our business is producing custom events for clients that help them develop their own community." Events the company has handled in its two-year history include JavaOne and Lucent Technologies Next Generation Networking Seminars, along with developer conferences for Lotus, Microsoft, and Netscape.

Ziff-Davis, which began life as publisher of Popular Aviation, a monthly for airplane buffs that first appeared in 1927, now publishes PC Magazine and MacUser, and produces ZDnet.com, a popular Web site about computing. In 1996, the company was acquired by Tokyo-based Softbank Corp., owner of Comdex, the massive electronics/computer industry event that fills Las Vegas each fall.

Which brings us to ZD Studios, the company that handled a range of logistical details for Thinergy '98, from site selection to registration. An offshoot of ZD Events, the division that manages the trade shows that Ziff-Davis owns (such as Comdex), ZD Studios handles shows that Ziff-Davis doesn't own. Like its parent, however, ZD Studios is focused exclusively on the computer world.

While the company is seeking to create a role separate from ZD Events, Schirmacher says it definitely benefits from the big-show expertise . "We've come into this client-focused area with a lot of experience in the event business," she says. "We know how to create communities for high-tech clients."