Wanova has today announced general availability of Mirage 2.0, the newest release of its distributed desktop virtualization platform. Mirage 2.0 is a significant milestone for Wanova, extending the platform from a limited scalability solution to a true enterprise-class platform, just in time for when is expected to be a year of rapid growth for desktop virtualization.
Wanova’s approach to desktop virtualization differs from many of the other vendors in this market who based their solutions on offering the ability to run the desktop workload in the data center. More significantly it also differs from other desktop virtualization vendors in that it does not depend on a hypervisor for its operation. In contrast, Wanova’s approach delivers the best possible user experience by continuing to run the desktop workload on the endpoint while at the same time using desktop virtualization techniques to maintain a copy of the endpoint desktop within the data center for management, backup, and disaster recovery purposes. The immediate benefit of this approach is that it requires significantly less data center hardware to support any given number of users, in excess of 1000 users can be supported on a relatively low specification server. It also directly addresses one of the primary challenges of server hosted desktop virtualization in that has supported mobile, disconnected users from the start, without the need to develop any radical new technology to make it work.
Mirage’s approach is deceptively simple; end-user initiated activity is monitored by an agent running on the desktop operating system and replicated to a copy of the users desktop hosted in the data center. Although monitoring activities occur in real time, the synchronization schedule that allows the endpoint to replicate its settings back to the data center is controlled according to an administrator defined schedule. System administrators control desktops through a master image (Base OS and IT managed applications) and any changes or updates that are made are merged with the individual device images and pushed down to the desktop. Wanova take advantage of this constant updates from endpoint to data center to create a real-time backup and recovery service. So should a user inadvertently delete or overwrite a file it is possible to recover a previous copy of the file with minimal effort. Recovery can be performed acts individual file or system level to account for minor user errors all the way through to compete system level roll back in much the same way that it is possible to take a snapshot of a guest operating system as part of a virtual infrastructure. It is even possible to use Mirage to update from Windows XP to Windows 7 and roll it back again with the entire process managed remotely through Mirage. Workstation images are managed at the file level, but data transfer is performed at the block level to minimize the amount of WAN traffic required. Wanova employs some aggressive file and block level data deduplication and compression techniques to control both the network synchronisation and data center storage requirements associated with keeping copies of each desktop image. Typical compression rates for data transfer can be in excess of 95%. Because the Mirage agent is entirely local and only synchronizes data between endpoints and data center, should the Mirage system fail for any reason or if the agent loses connection back to the data center the local copy of Windows will continue to work unaffected by this outage. This is obviously of great benefit to individual employees, but it also means that the Mirage infrastructure does not need to be engineered for the highest levels of availability which in turn can significantly lower the cost of deployment.
Wanova’s decision to build Mirage so that it can function without the unifying hardware abstraction of a client hypervisor requires it to be able to support multiple base hardware images, however in practice this does not appear to create to many challenges as in most cases it is possible to create a single master image preloaded with all necessary device drivers and delegate responsibility to Windows to select the appropriate driver to use. Wanova’s ability to provide desktop virtualization services without a hypervisor does not mean that it cannot take advantage of hypervisor technology alongside Mirage where it is needed. This leads to some interesting possibilities; it would be quite possible for a company to use Mirage to manage all of its phyiscal desktops, as well as using it to manage desktop images on both client hypervisors and server hypervisors. While this approach may not be ideal it has the benefit of not requiring multiple tools to deliver a single service. In many respects basing a primary desktop virtualization platform on Mirage and augmenting it with a hypervisor-based virtual desktop environment creates significant benefit. Organizations wishing to adopt Citrix’s XenClient desktop virtualization platform but lamenting the immaturity of its Synchronizer services could adopt Mirage to manage the guest operating system running on top of XenClient. Mirage also has opportunities in disaster recovery and business continuity scenarios. High priority employees with lost or damaged devices could be assigned a server hosted virtual desktop session personalize with their individual working environments to allow them to continue to work until a replacement physical PC or laptop can be provided. Once replacement hardware is provided, it is possible to start streaming a snapshot of the users current environment down to the replacement hardware while continuing to work. When enough off the operating system image has streamed down to the new desktop it is possible to transfer operations to the new desktop and start work while the rest of the operating system continues to stream from data center to endpoint. This ability to shuffle desktops from place to place is also of value for troubleshooting purposes, rather than inconveniencing a user as part of a troubleshooting process and IT strata can copy the data center backup of the users environment off to a virtual desktop and continue to troubleshoot the problem without involving the user any further.
Mirage 2.0 supports up to 1,500 endpoints per Mirage distribution server significantly more than the previous release. The software supports dynamic server clustering, to enable scale out capacity to support even the largest enterprise environments. In addition, the new release adds a new infrastructure component, the Branch Reflector that provides intelligent caching services for Mirage managed endpoints in remote office and branch office environments. The Branch Reflector does not require a dedicated server, rather it is a service role that IT administrators can assign to one or more workstation within a branch or remote office site enabling it to serve image updates to its local land-based peers. This significantly reduces any WAN traffic associated with branch office desktop management without the need for expensive WAN acceleration appliances. Branch Reflector is intelligent enough to throttle its activity so that it does not impede anyone working on a desktop that is functioning as a Branch Reflector, and is also capable of supporting both active and backup Branch Reflector services to provide resilience in the event of hardware failure, or more likely if the desktop owner forgets and switches it off. By deploying Branch Reflector it is possible to upgrade an entire remote office from windows XP to Windows 7 overnight with no end-user downtime, and no local IT support staff. Wanova has also made significant improvements to the endpoint recovery capabilities of Mirage. In Mirage 1.5, IT could restore a desktop from a snapshot. In 2.0, IT administrators can now opt to restore just the system files and programs to a last known good state, while preserving any new data or settings the user has added since that point in time. In addition to this greater flexibility, Mirage 2.0 extends its snapshot history to a year of full desktop snapshots for each endpoint and efficiently store them using Mirage’s single instance file store, thereby ensuring that a user’s desktop can be restored to a desired state or archived for eCompliance purposes.
As IT organizations wake up to the broader opportunities of desktop virtualization outside that’s defined by server hosted virtual desktops, and become increasingly aware of the high cost of dumb SAN storage, Mirage 2.0 should position Wanova well for the expected growth in the markets throughout the course of 2011.