Mainstream virtual desktop solutions have focused their efforts on providing the best platform for hosting virtual desktop environments. Hypervisors, image management, and connection brokers are the top feature sets that companies have looked at during their comparisons. Moving up the stack, these vendors are now focusing on user personalization management, but do not have what is considered to be a full desktop management solution. So are our end-to-end virtual desktop solutions really complete?
Since the initial rollout of Windows XP the desktop has not gotten a high level of visibility or concern from executive management. Enterprise applications, storage, and server virtualization have been the hot topics. Only with the introduction of Windows 7 and desktop virtualization has there been a heightened awareness of desktop concerns. Virtualization in general has forced these companies to look at new processes and tools for managing these ever-expanding environments.
The tools selected for managing desktop environments have included configuration management, image deployment, patch management, endpoint security, and, sometimes, monitoring. User Profile management is another layer of the desktop management stack that is becoming more important. In many cases each of these components comes from different vendors, making the task of managing the desktop challenging. Vendors such as IBM, LanDesk and Symantec have solutions that manage the physical desktop but we are not seeing these solutions traverse into the virtual desktop realm. This is a problem because it is critical for customers trying to realize operational efficiency and cost savings that they need to manage the virtual desktop more rigorously than the physical desktops.
Tools Convergence Needed
What we see is the need for a convergence of tools that will give the desktop administrators (both for physical and virtual desktops) a more comprehensive tool to more effectively manage the desktop end-to-end. This presents an even larger challenge with the hybrid vendor solutions that are effectively being deployed in production environments today. Even the larger framework based tools (CA, IBM, HP) do not give that single console starting point to manage the complex desktop and server workload environments. Looking at the three big virtualization platform vendors (Citrix, Microsoft, and VMware) they each have strengths and degrees of depth managing the different stacks, but I see there is still a need for additional solutions to complete the platform.
I was recently re-introduced to Novell, a company I had not done a lot of work with since my CNE expired in the last century, and found that they have a strong repertoire of products for managing the desktop lifecycle.
Novell’s Desktop Lifecycle Management
ZenWorks (not to be confused with the Xen hypervisor) is Novell’s long standing user environment management solution. In their 11th edition, the suite of products includes Application Virtualization, Asset Management, Configuration Management, Network Access Control, and Patch Management. The core of the product, Configuration Management, provides a framework to manage the complete lifecycle of a desktop environment and incorporate the products into a single solution set.
Novell sees their strength helping customers get to desktop virtualization or Windows 7 by first being able to leverage a complete application asset inventory of the desktop to develop the necessary use case definitions that define what desktop model best suits the end users. Organizations can realize an immediate cost savings by completing a license usage analysis to determine what applications are really used and what needs to be supported on the new platform and remove the licenses not needed. Applications can then be packaged with Application Virtualization (ZAV). There is support for Windows, .NET and Java based applications. The ZAV packages are self-contained executables that can be delivered to a desktop, run from the network, CD or USB drive, similar to VMware’s ThinApp but gives administrators greater management of the packages through their Configuration Management tools.
Operational support is addressed with the remaining components: patch deployment, security configuration and monitoring. For virtual environments Novell has taken the technology from their PlateSpin acquisition, specifically PlateSpin Orchestrate, and have developed a solution named Novell Cloud Manager (NCM). This workflow automation and workload management product is the cornerstone of Novell’s datacenter products. Novell is looking to extend their ability to isolate and manage availability of server-based processes (Web, SMTP, etc.) into the virtual environment by implementing workflow management based upon system need and request.
Novell is a strong value-add to any virtual desktop infrastructure, while being able to differentiate themselves from IBM, LanDesk, Microsoft and Symantec. The ZenWorks products can run on both Windows and Linux servers; either physical or virtual. None of the other vendors provide this choice. For customers looking at cost factors, hosting a Linux-based solution can significantly reduce the acquisition and management costs of the infrastructure. Being able to run on these two platforms also enables them to manage devices across the two platforms.
ZenWorks uses a centralized database and provides a free enterprise edition of Sybase as part of its installation. Customers may choose to use Microsoft SQL or Oracle instead, but the license provided allows for multiple nodes, replication, and high-availability.
Novell’s approach to management is user-focused, where the other solutions focus on managing the device. Cross directory support allows user objects from Active Directory, Novell’s eDirectory, and LDAP to be managed. ZenWorks is aware of where the user’s login credentials originate and can separate and manage entitlements accordingly. The extensibility of the platform can manage multiple instances of a directory service.
A possible VDI option
Looking further into the Novell catalog I saw many tools that together could make up a virtual desktop environment. Novell will tell you that they don’t really have a VDI solution, that they focus on the lifecycle management of the users’ environment and that they work very well with the leading virtual desktop vendors. If you were willing to perform a little bit of a Frankenstein experiment it could be something like this:
- Hypervisor – SUSE Linux with either a KVM or XEN based hypervisor
- Automation & Provisioning – Cloud Manager
- Broker – Access Manager
- Image Management – Platespin
- Profile Management – ZenWorks
- Application Virtualization – ZenWorks
Now of course these pieces don’t just fit together seamlessly; a good amount of customization is required. Speaking with two product managers at Novell, I found that in fact they did this exact experiment with one of their customers. This customer was using VMware View and was having trouble managing their software deployments and desktop images. They were able to put their components together to make up a solution that gave them feature parity with View along with some additional benefits.
Access Manager was used as an authentication point and RDP proxy for users to connect to the virtual desktops. Access Manager is capable of proxying other protocols as well. The Platespin Orchestrate product was used to create automated workflows and desktop image provisioning. They addressed the application and desktop image problem using a very creative approach. They broke up the virtual desktops into three vdisks; OS, applications and user data. Using this approach, they were able to reference a single-instance vdisk for the applications, eliminating the need to install applications onto the OS disk. The greatest benefit was being able to update the OS image without affecting the applications, eliminating the need to schedule downtime. The third vdisk was the only dynamic disk in which application and user personalization data was stored. ZenWorks managed the user entitlements and profile to complete the solution.
2011 Next Steps
Virtual desktops have very quickly become the new requirement in most enterprise desktop strategies, giving them different desktop delivery options. Keeping the user experience consistent across all possible platforms will mean that applications and user data will need to traverse these platforms as well. Organizations should now focus on solutions that enhance desktop delivery and are able to manage the full lifecycle of the desktop in order to obtain a desired state of operational efficiency. Novell has quietly continued to develop a robust offering that can manage both your physical and virtual desktop environments that should be considered.
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