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Virtual Desktops Goes Local

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The Desktop Virtualization landscape is quickly evolving and companies planning to implement a Virtual Desktop Technology (VDT) solution are now benefiting from this evolution. Citrix and VMware have both announced strategic alliances with Intel to develop a client side desktop virtualization platform that will provide companies with the benefits of a highly managed solution with the flexibility of mobility that remote and laptop users have come to expect but have never been able to achieve with existing VDI solutions.

The excitement around the latest announcements is that Citrix (Project Independence ) and VMware (vClient Initiative) will be leveraging their Type-1 hypervisors at the end-point. Type-1 Hypervisors have been leveraged in the data center for server consolidation and hosted virtual desktop solutions. Users wanting to use virtualization on the client side have had to rely on Type-2 Hypervisor solutions that require an underlining operating system to run, for example Microsoft Virtual PC and VMware Workstation. These solutions, favored by the technical community for application development and testing, do not necessarily meet the needs of manageability and security that is required in corporate environments.

For as long as I can remember, managing the personal computing desktop environment has been a proverbial gerbil wheel with every effort put into creating a stable computing platform while appeasing the requests to make users desktops match what they have at home. Even after implementing centralized configuration management, end-point security, software distribution and patch management there are still the support of applications and their users (what I like to call problems between the keyboard and the chair). With all of these available solutions we continue to read about the exposure of a million or so social security numbers from a laptop that was left on a bus by some guy who really shouldn’t have had that data on their machine in the first place. Virtual Desktop technology has been a great platform to begin to answer some of these challenges, but they are required to live in the data center and do not extend to the disconnected-user use case.

VMware released its ACE (Assured Computing Environment) product in 2005 with the goal of giving its customers the ability to create a locked down virtual desktop environment that was "portable". Using a light version of their Workstation product, the VMware Player could launch the virtual machine off a CD/DVD or local drive. ACE provided administrator’s policies to manage what the user could and could not do within the environment and even included a time-bomb setting that would disable the virtual machine after its expiration date. The challenge most customers had with this solution was managing the tasks of creating and re-creating of the new virtual desktop images with every hotfix, service pack or update. As result there was not a wide spread adoption of the product.

The next generation of client side virtualization will bridge the gap for the disconnected-user use case and add tremendous flexibility to current Virtual Desktop implementations. Citrix and VMware are not the only two ponies in the race. Massachusetts based VirtualComputer (www.virtualcomputer.com) is going to be first to market with their release its NxTop solution next month. As the advancement of the XenClient initiative and View Open Client we will see the other VDI vendors make their move to the client as well.

The Impact of Intel vPro

The technology built into Intel’s vPro chip-set compliments the client side virtualization solutions by providing configuration management, remote diagnostic capabilities and extensive security measures that when married together will deliver a secured policy-based computing environment that will give the user the flexibility to install and run their favorite applications without affecting the corporate image. Intel has integration points with the most common management tools including Altiris, HP Software and MS System Center so there is low learning curve for organizations to begin leveraging these capabilities. There is an informative video overview on the Intel website (vPro Demo).

Will the Result Really Be More Usable? 

One consequence of a hypervisor on the desktop (or laptop) is that a user may end up with two operating systems on their computer – a corporate one with locked down applications and backed up data, and a personal one. Think about how different Windows XP, Windows Vista and soon Windows 7 all look and feel from each other and think through having 10,000 users using combinations of these in your environment. Citrix and VMware tell us that the enterprise is going to only have to support the corporate OS, which may be true – but the enterprise does (and should) care about total user productivity as well. It remains to be seen how many users will really embrace having to learn to separate and different operating environments. 

Will the Result Cost Less to Support?

At the end of the day this idea will live or die based upon user acceptance and whether or not there really are hard dollar savings in end user support from having a hypervisor with two operating systems on user desktops and laptops. Even if IT only has to support the corporate “partition” I can still see cases where bad software on the personal partition (a processing pounding the hard disk) is affecting performance in the corporate partition. In this case, IT support is going to have to ask, “What is going on in your personal OS”. Will this wipe out the savings from centralized partitions? We will just have to wait and see.

Joe Jessen
Director, Professional Services | Gotham Technology Group
DABCC Desktop Virtualization

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