Apple to put VDI and Terminal Services to the Lions and hail client hypervisors?

Apple have released their latest OS version. There are over 200 new features including autosaves, versioning, multi-touch gestures, access to the Mac App Store and, multi-user screen sharing. But Apple have not only changed the look and feel of the new, and significantly cheaper OS, they have changed their license terms as well.

One is the inclusion of clause to allow you to run multiple instances of the OS on your own device. A similar clause to one in Microsoft’s Windows 7 and a license feature that would sit well with a client-side hypervisor solution – giving administrators centralised control and management of end-devices.  In the Panther and Leopard releases, Apple added features to allow fast user switching and screen sharing: possible precursors to a native Terminal Services function. For some enterprises, a virtual Mac OS X environment would be a desktop Nirvana: giving access to Mac-only applications on-demand without having to supply Mac hardware on a one-to-one basis.

Does the multi-user screen sharing function provide a native Mac Terminal Services solution? Will Lion allow you to virtualize the Mac OS to take pride of place in your desktop delivery strategy and finally maul Microsoft’s Windows dominance?

Lion Tames Mac VDI

At first, everything appears good. In Section 2,B,iii:

(iii) to install, use and run up to two (2) additional copies or instances of the Apple Software within virtual operating system environments on each Mac Computer you own or control that is already running the Apple Software.
The grant set forth in Section 2B(iii) above does not permit you to use the virtualized copies or instances of the Apple Software in connection with service bureau, time-sharing, terminal sharing or other similar types of services.

With Lion, Mac users can run up to two additional copies of OS X Lion or OS X Lion Server for each install of Lion on Mac hardware. Mac users get a function that has been available  in Microsoft Windows 7 – that’s an unusual bonus. It is important to note, this can only be achieved on a Mac device that is already running Apple Software: therefore a ‘type#1’ client hypervisor solution (such as BareMetal, NxTop and Xenclient) is not going to be  an option for managing this.

This reduces management options to be sure, however the license wording gets more serious in Section 2H:

2. Remote Desktop Connections.  Subject to the terms and conditions of this License, when remotely connecting from another computer or electronic device (each a “Device”) to an Apple-branded computer that is running the Apple Software (for purposes of this Section, such Apple-branded computer is referred to as the “Home Mac”), whether through the Screen Sharing feature or through any other means:

(i) only one (1) Device may remotely connect at any one time, whether directly or indirectly, to control the graphical desktop session of the Apple Software that is running and being displayed on the Home Mac; and
(ii) a reasonable number of Devices may remotely connect at the same time for the sole purpose of simultaneously observing the same graphical desktop session of the Apple Software that is running and being displayed on the Home Mac, as long as they do not control the Apple Software in any way; but
(iii) only one (1) Apple-branded Device may remotely connect at any one time, whether directly or indirectly, to control a separate graphical desktop session of the Apple Software that is different from the one running and being displayed on the Home Mac, and such connection may only be made through the Screen Sharing feature of the Apple Software.

Except as expressly permitted in this Section 2H, or except as otherwise licensed by Apple, you agree not to use the Apple Software in connection with service bureau, time-sharing, terminal sharing or other similar types of services. You also agree not to use or offer the Apple Software, or any of its functionality, to provide service bureau, time-sharing, terminal sharing or other similar types of services to third parties.

If you were to consider pushing a Mac desktop out to thin client devices, this isn’t going to be possible. You need a Mac device in order to connect to the service. More importantly, while users are permitted to run one or two virtual Mac instances on each physical Mac, this wording means that Presentation Virtualisation style environments would not available using Lion – screen sharing is for viewing only, not interaction.

Impact on Vendors?

A number of desktop virtualisation vendors have sp0ken about offering solutions to deliver a centralised desktop service around the Mac OS. At this year’s Citrix Synergy there was talk of Citrix working on a Mac service: XenClient briefings regularly allude to a XenClient offering running on a Mac. VirtualComputer had considered suggesting using their client-side hypervisor NxTop to sit on a Mac device. And then, there are those who are not just talking about it – they’re doing it. Aqua Connect has developed the impressive Mac Terminal Server – a hosted session solution built on the Mac Server OS utilising Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) which we’ve discussed previously.

Microsoft have licensing policies that make desktop virtualisation environments more complex to license but, Microsoft recognises that supporting such services drives license take-up and maintains high levels of use and (re)adoption. That said, Microsoft are primarily a software vendor.

Apple on the other hand, makes considerable profit from the sale of hardware: allowing their OS to be run on non-apple devices is not going to drive sales of hardware.

Its not about the desktop – its about the data?

Perhaps more importantly, Apple’s goal could be said to have a cohesive OS environment across devices. By standardising OS features and focusing on a 1-user/device model Apple can keep code base focused on delivering a consistent user experience, regardless of device type. And indeed, encourage different different device types for different settings: why have an iPhone or an iPad – why not have both? Users interact with their applications and data in a consistent manner; and at the same time, Apple doesn’t waste development time adding in multi-user features to their server OS, and writing gesture code that will operate effectively over a remote protocol.

This is great for Apple, gives a good consumer experience – but how does it impact an enterprise desktop strategy?

Is Apple to iTune in and AirDrop out of the Enterprise?

In terminating the possibility of deploying multiple instances of virtual Mac OS X environments in a corporate environment its highly unlikely your virtualised desktop Skynet will be delivered with a Lion interface. You have to ask – do Apple care?

There were a number of suggestions that with the move to Intel hardware, virtualisation would allow Mac devices to be more widely used in the enterprise (all be it, to run Windows applications). Apple devices are widely citied as being the device of choice in BYOD projects: but typically as a thin client. Citrix and Virtual Computer have both toyed with Mac device client-hypervisor support to allow you to use the full power of the Mac device. Yet, the existing EULA states if you need off-line access you have to utilise a solution that operates on-top-of the Mac OS , such as MokaFive or Parallels Desktop for Mac.

In creating a revolutionary smartphone and application buying experience, Apple have discovered a revenue generation model that does not need to rely on selling into corporate accounts. There is no need for Apple to deliver services to support a terminal services or virtualised desktop environment. Indeed, you have to consider if Apple will increasingly focus on portable form-factors and let go of their “traditional” Mac devices.

There may well be over 200 features in the new OS, but Lion is not the release to make Apple a desktop OS that is lord of the jungle of corporate desktop solutions.