If Citrix is on a buying spree – should its next purchase be Virtual Computer?

Like a new college student, fresh from the flush of new found freedom to expand their horizons, Citrix appear to have had a case of the munchies. First Citrix’s portfolio was extended with the acquitisition of Kaviza. More recently, the purchase of RingCube. The desktop virtualisation techhnologies acquired will help strengthen Citrix’s virtualised desktop offering. VDI-in-a-box offering simplicity of deployment, providing options for the SMB and MSP spaces; and vDesk providing a layering functionality giving greater VDI scalability with an improved personalisation offering.

While there has been little innovation in the XenApp line since v6.0 to date, the proposed next release (XA 6.5, “Iron Cove”) is slated to offer improved administration and service management – but perhaps importantly include a more “Windows 7” feel for Presentation Virtualisation (RDS/TS) sessions. 

These technologies will help maintain Citrix’s lead in delivering on-line virtualised desktops.  XenClient, Citrix’s client-side hypervisor (CsHV) off-line-VDI offering, on the other hand remains stagnant in comparison to other CsHV solutions. While VirtualComputer offer an enterprise ready client-side virtualisation solution,  MokaFive have come on the menu under the wing of Quest releasing a very robust and intriguing offering to help enterprise’s manage the workspace of users who need to operate and manage their devices both on and off-line.

Citrix have released a technical preview of the next XenClient release – but even that future-release is left looking like a portion short in terms of today’s competition. Competition that will not stand idle getting cold. As with Kaviza,  Citrix have invested in VirtualComputer: is now time to realise that you’ve got  a stash of biscuits in the cupboard? That there is room for one more wafer thin mint? Or, does Citrix look around at the spent wrappings, a  bloated development team and the prospect of a marketing headache and upset in the morning and think “maybe,  that’s quite enough already”?

XenClient anything but Enterprise Ready

Even Citrix acknowledge that XenClient v1 was undercooked and not fit for enterprise deployment.  It’s severely limited Hardware Compatibility List (HCL), poor management and lack of user layering combined with no integration with XenDesktop and formalised vendor tie-ins to make it far less than satisfying.

It is fair to say a number of these issues are being somewhat addressed from the evidence of the XenClient 2 Technical Preview: but even that release doesn’t match up to the competition as it stands today.

Virtual Computer Ready for the Enterprise – Enterprise Ready for It?

Back in March 2011, with Virtual Computer striking a firm deal with Lenovo, introducing a smorgasbord of management functions, and accommodating an HCL that accommodated both Intel and AMD, the NxTop client side hypervisor was an enterprise ready client hypervisor solution for desktop management. NxTop has features XenClient administrators would love to devour including user data management, revision control, peripheral device control.

However by being at the forefront, the onus falls on VirtualComputer to lead the way: both to develop the concept of CsHV as a desktop management solution, and to offer differentiation from standard desktop management solutions such as Dell’s ACE, or Novell’s ZenWorks. Moreover, to build on the success of getting Lenovo on-board and bring device manufacturers such as Acer, Dell, HP and Toshiba to the client-side hypervisor table.

Despite a steady set of maintenance releases, NxTop’s current 3.x. version still has issues with graphics support (e.g. no fll,  direct-X, or OpenGL), there are complexities with NAT for wireless connections, and little integration with third party tools especially for application virtualisation. There is also a reliance on having Hyper-V installed on each management server – even if you are not going to be performing image-build creation on that server and are simply using it for image/update deployment.

MokaFive BareMetal

MokaFive’s BareMetal solution for device management is a compelling solution for delivering a workspace to users.  That said, it is not a true client-side hypervisor in the same sense as NxTop or XenClient. But, does the BareMetal player offers a solution for delivering an complete workspace to users for use on/of line and not rely on the user’s own operating system? The answer here is –  yes.

The server and client installations are incredibly straightforward. Unlike XenClient and NxTop, the server install doesn’t require that you use a hypervisor enabled server to get the server components up a running – the server package  runs as a self-contained java service. The BareMetal player does not require an Intel VT chip set and will work on AMD. This means that the BareMetal player has an even wider HCL than NxTop – although there are no direct tie-ins with manufactures as yet. This is because the MokaFive solution sits on a locked down Linux OS rather that utilises a type#2 hypervisor. While the hardware support is wider, MokaFive rely on vendors such as VMware and VirtualBox to host the deployed VMs- which means MokaFive are reliant on 3rd parties to fix solutions with the virtual instances if they do occur.

Like XenClient, MokaFive allows you to create a VM instance on an existing PC – although uniquely, MokaFive doesn’t require that you reconfigure a device for this task: an administrator only need install the appropriate configuration tools on their own device and they can start creating an image for deployment. This again is a straightforward task given the excellent documentation on optimising the build for deployment.

The administration side of the service has a number of impressive features. The web based administration tool has delegated admin rights, allows a high degree of client device configuration and management as well as user-workspace management. The management platform for the BareMetal Player can also be used to manage MokaFive’s more traditional Type#2 client hypervisor deployments – allowing a blend of services should your organisation own the device completely, or need to deploy and manage workspaces to devices outside of corporate control.

How important is Client Side Hypervisor?

Client hypervisors are not just about delivering services to off-line users. Client hypervisors can be a valid method for delivering full enterprise management, complementing existing desktop management solutions to offer a core engine that gives administrators control over the device regardless of the running of the workspace OS. Deploy Windows 7 and it fails? With a client side hypervisor you an recover the OS remotely. Use the remote compute power of different devices to offer additional services – not just a single OS.  From a security stand-point, you can provide a peripheral management function that can expose or hide devices based on location, user, or workspace purpose and help protect user-data through encryption and backup and recovery.

Client Side Hypervisors are about better utilising devices for improved availability of applications and access to, management of and security around user data. Centralisation without the need for extensive centralised hardware.

Should Virtual Computer be the next dish on Citrix’s plate?

If XenClient in its v1 form were on a buffet table, it would be the unappetizing looking cheese sandwich on a table filled with delicious chicken wings, steaks and mini-slices of pizza. However, with the purchase of RingCube Citrix already have a technology that could help satiate those hungry for a more complete XenClient offering. As we’ve discussed before, the vDesk technology could become an extension of XenClient, enabling the delivery of an off-line controlled workspace to devices that cannot support client-side virtualization or are not on the XenClient HCL. It could also enhance XenClient by providing a method for the workspace to transfer between on-line XenApp/XenDesktop sessions and offline XenClient sessions.  A solution like NxTop could then be considered an unnecessary dessert for Citrix.

However, it is fair to say that the XenClient product suite needs to move far more rapidly and aggressively. The alternative products are far more functional and worthy of consideration for an organisation in comparison. Both MokaFive and VirtualComputer have offerings that can be used to migrate from Windows XP to Windows 7, to enable virtual desktops with the virtual desktop infrastructure. This is not the case with XenClient as it stands the next release needs to be tastier, and much more fulfilling.

The goal for Virtual Computer and MokaFive is to exploit that failing – a task they are more than capable of doing.