Desired End State for the Next Generation Desktop

Enterprises and mid-sized businesses (SME’s) face two significant challenges and opportunities with respect to the end user desktops in the next two years. The first opportunity and challenge is how to replace the ageing Windows XP installed base with the recently released Windows 7 platform. The second is how to end up with a desktop environment that is inherently more flexible and manageable than what is in place today.

In order to end up with a flexible, manageable and more modern Windows desktop environment, this solution must have the following attributes:

  1. It must deal with diverse user requirements such as different working styles and disconnected use. The call center use cases are easy. The users that move between disconnected laptops and connected workstations served by centralized operating systems and applications (Terminal Services or VDI), while also needing user installed applications, and persistent user initiated customizations are hard.
  2. Maintenance of the new desktop environment should be much easier, faster, and cheaper than it is today. The least number of physical copies of operating systems and applications should be deployed, so that they can be easily maintained, patched, updated, and in the future replaced by newer versions of operating systems and applications.
  3. The operating system configuration, applications and its settings along with the user data should be completely layered and separated from each other.
  4. It should be possible to update or replace the operating system with limiting the affect on the other components of the stack. Ideally this means that once this new environment is in place, it should be possible to replace Windows 7 with its follow on OS (Windows 8?) with a mouse click without major concern over the ripple effects of this action upon applications and user data.
  5. It should be possible to update or replace any application with a new version of that application without any concern over ripple effects caused by dependencies between versions of components of the desktop stack.
  6. The management of this new environment should work across all of the deployment scenarios for next generation desktops. This includes operating systems and applications locally resident on disconnected laptops, operating systems and applications delivered over terminal services, and operating systems and applications delivered over virtualized desktops (VDI).
  7. The elimination of dependencies between versions of applications and versions of operating systems. Application virtualization technology must mature to the point where it can be trusted to work seamlessly for every application in use in the desktop environment. Furthermore application virtualization needs to allow applications to work with each other (compound applications), and to support add-ins to applications that have these features.
  8. User customizations to the operating system and the applications, as well as user data need to follow the user around as they move between all of the deployment scenarios outlined above. This implies a level of granular and continuous backup that is not present in management products today.
  9. The definition of a user’s environment needs to include the devices and peripherals to which the user has access. These devices need to be virtualized and cached in a manner that allows work directed at these devices to proceed even when the device is not physically available. For example, if a user’s environment includes a printer in their office and they choose to print while on a disconnected laptop they should be given the option to cache the print job locally until the required connectivity is in place. This implies a level of device virtualization that does not exist today.

The Role of Virtualization

Desktop Virtualization and Applications Virtualization will be indispensable technologies in the process of attaining the state described above. However, neither alone, nor both in combination are sufficient to allow end user organizations to attain this state. Desktop and Application Virtualization alone does not provide the required layering of the operating environment, management and user data, and as mentioned before, does not provide all of the required device virtualization to meet the requirements of the desired state. It is highly likely that client side hypervisors, desktop operating systems deployed on server side hypervisors (VDI) and application virtualization will be required first steps towards meeting the above requirements. But a layer of management software will be needed in addition to just these virtualization technologies in order for the desired end state to be attained.

Summary Recommendations

  1. Since virtualization of desktops (either centrally or via a client side hypervisor) is required to achieve the desired end state, enterprises should not migrate to Windows 7 unless the resulting Windows 7 installation is virtualized. This means that if you want to migrate to Windows 7 today you can do so centrally via the VDI offerings from Citrix or VMware. If you wish to put Windows 7 on laptops you should only do so after you have a client side hypervisor installed from a vendor like Virtual Computer or Neocleus, or have a containerized OS environment from a vendor like MokaFive or RingCube. Otherwise you should wait until you can deploy either Citrix XenClient or VMware CVP (the forthcoming desktop hypervisor offerings from these two vendors).
  2. If you are deploying Windows 7 in a VDI environment you should avoid installing any applications in the operating system if all possible. Application virtualization solutions like Citrix Application Streaming, InstallFree, Microsoft App-V, Symantec Endpoint Virtualization Suite and VMware ThinApp should be used to break the dependencies between the applications and the operating system.
  3. The same technologies referenced in #2 above should be considered for locally installed operating systems on laptops and other workstations. Applications should not be installed on these workstations but only delivered in “bubbles” that are isolated from the underlying OS.
  4. Operating system customizations, application settings and user data need to be completely isolated from the underlying operating systems and applications. This is easily possible today for OS and applications settings via products from AppSense, Citrix (with its profile management solution), LiquidWare Labs, RTO Software (who have licensed their technology to Symantec and VMware), Tranxition, Viewfinity, and Wanova. However the granular and continuous management of end user data remains a large unsolved problem.
  5. Keep an eye out for vendors addressing the overall management of the next generation virtualized desktop. Unidesk is a very promising start-up in this regard, and this problem is also a natural fit for the product assets and business focus of Symantec.