Delivering your “desktop as a service” to laptop users

The cost savings for desktop virtualization have been widely shouted for some time. Often from desktop virtualization vendors. Effectively, these savings come through reducing the desktop management costs but fundamentally by improving your organisations ability to deliver the user’s workspace quickly and effectively – enhancing those management savings with increased productivity. Yet,  the majority of current solutions focus on delivering workspaces to devices that are on the network – be they LAN based or WAN based the device needs to be attached to the network to be able to function. Can you deliver your services to laptop users who need to operate off-line?

The greatest savings in changing desktop services come from standardising solutions across the user base for each user, for each situation. Laptop or mobile working is often a core requirement of key areas of business: sales, marketing, senior management all typically require the facility to be able to work while not connected to a network. Yet, consistent and usable network access outside of the office is not a reliable resource: on-line access to virtual services is therefore of poor quality or even unavailable. A business challenge is how to maintain an image for  device that are used by mobile users and make as much use possible of the resources used to deliver their desktop services.

Indeed a challenge in migrating to a Hosted Virtual Desktop (HVD) solution is what to do with existing devices. Citrix‘s High Definition User EXperience (HDX) technologies for example, typically relies on the end device supporting a Microsoft Windows operating system to deliver the best user experience. If that is the case, how will you manage the end device that delivers the user’s HVD? Vendors such as DevonIT, Igel, and 10ZiG would naturally suggest you replace your traditional PC with a Thin Client: vendors such as PanoLogic, Teradici and Wyse would highlight the advantages of   Zero Client devices – yet moving away from existing devices is a costly exercise in terms of providing replacement devices. And indeed – still does not address off-line working.

Microsoft recently acquired Sentillion which boasted vThere in its product portfolio. vThere is a type 2 hypervisor solution, similar to VMware‘s ACE or Moka5’s Live PC. Type2 hypervisors,  rely on an operating system, such as Microsoft Windows, to run the software that hosts the virtual device.  An advantage of Type2 hypervisors is that they offer wide device support – however, type2 hypervisors do rely on an operating system to be present. Potentially, you also have to support delivering not only the workspace image – but the underlying operating system. In addition, as there is an operating system running, the performance of a type2 hypervisor’s  can be slightly less than running the environment directly on the device. That said, solutions such as ACE or LivePC provide an excellent resource to make use of existing hardware to access standardised, secure and well managed working environments on a range of existing devices.

Citrix is soon to release their XenClient solution as offline laptop support is a missing facility in Citrix‘s desktop delivery portfolio. VMware on the other hand are looking to complement their ACE solution and in announcing their development of the Client Hypervisor Platform (CVP). While both these solutions are in development, Virtual Computer have NxTop in production. NxTop is a combined client-side virtualization and management server solution – allowing the creation and deployment of host images to devices via a web interface. All these products are a type 1 hypervisor – that is they are installed directly onto a user’s laptop provided that laptop supports  Intel® vPro™ technology. Although Type1 hypervisors are supported on a more limited number of devices at present than Type 2, they do offer a greater level of security and reduced management as they do not require an host operating system, such as Microsoft Windows, to be able to manage and maintain the workspace: this in turn allows them to have better performance. Yet, while this removes the need to manage another operating system on the end device, it does mean that if the hypervisor is not present, you will need to change the nature of that end device: type2 hypervisors can be deployed with minimum impact on the existing device, type1 hypervisors would need that device to be reconfigured. While type1 offer the greatest level of security and a focused management platform – they are more difficult to use as a solution when supplying workspaces for solutions such as outsourcing  or to allow users to use their own PC.

That said, all these products offer solutions to manage and deliver a entire workspace to mobile devices – this gives a number of business advantages

  • Standardisation of Builds – the image deployed to devices is independent of the hardware – provided the hypervisor is installed. This reduces the impact of changing devices, or introducing new devices to the environment allow more rapid deployment of service to users.
  • Secured operating environment for the end device – when moving from a traditional PC to a Hosted Virtual Desktop a major advantage is that the data and applications can be stored and managed centrally – reducing the impact of data loss and increasing the security of the data.  By enabling the facility to deliver an encapsulated workspace to the end device you are able to control and manage the user’s data and applications  without the need to centralise those resources.

and this in turn allows

  • Off-line Working – by allowing the managed desktop environment to be delivered directly to the end device there is no reliance on a network connection for the user to work. Patches and updates can be managed centrally and deployed over the network while copies of the the end user’s data and settings are maintained to be restored in the event of a  failure. But, if there is no network connection, the user is still able to work and be productive on their device.

As has been discussed in our whitepaper Enterprise Desktop Strategy organizations will fail to achieve their TCO goals as long as they continue the legacy approach to desktop management. Virtualization and centralization allow you to  blend and balance controlled stability while delivering a rich application portfolio yet, laptop users will always present a challenge for delivery of services, more so if they regularly require off-line access.  In order to reduce the complexity of maintaining multiple desktop delivery options, it is recommended that an organization select a common application delivery solution therefore, when you are considering how to deliver services to physical devices bear in mind those devices may not always be attached to your network.  While there are  new products under development from Citrix and VMware – solutions such as RingCube’s vDesk, Moka5’s LivePC, Virtual Computer‘s NxTop and VMware‘s ACE are available that can deliver a management platform to help save time and money by increasing the reliability, manageability and security of corporate PCs while enhancing the end user experience – including those of off-line laptop users.