Over the years, I’ve worked with just about every VDI vendor on the market, except one: Leostream. It’s not because the Leostream Connection Broker isn’t any good. Far from it. It’s just because I’ve never experienced an environment so complex that Leostream offered the right answer. So I thought it time to take a closer look at Leostream and its broker to try to understand what makes it so special. Before I took a look at the product itself, I spent some time with Karen Gondoly, Leostream COO and head of product management, to learn a little more about the company and its customers.
SIMON BRAMFITT, THE VIRTUALIZATION PRACTICE: Leostream is not the most well known of the desktop virtualization companies, so we should start with a brief introduction.
KAREN GONDOLY, LEOSTREAM: Thanks, Simon. Let me start with a bit of background. Leostream was one of the first independent brokering solutions back in the very early days of VDI. Our first customers were the early virtualization adopters in the banking vertical looking for connection management beyond just their VDI stack. This required us to build a broad, cross-technology session management tool that can be deployed at scale. Today, we manage some of the world’s largest VDI/HDI deployments in banking, government, oil and gas, healthcare, and education. It’s our flexibility to support the multiple technology stacks you typically find across large enterprises that makes us crucial to the success of these deployments. I agree with you that we are not as widely known as we would like to be, but we are very well known in the enterprise space, where VDI and HDI projects would have failed without our flexible broker platform.
And the Leostream Connection Broker…
The Leostream Connection Broker is a hosted-desktop connection-management platform. We provide tools that allow our customers to manage user assignments and connections to hosted desktop environments in whatever platform they choose, whether they want a virtual or physical infrastructure, a publicly or privately hosted data center, a Windows or Linux operating system, or any of a number of high-performance display protocols. We’ve been called the “Swiss Army knife of brokers” and, a personal favorite, “the one broker to rule them all.” Our goal is to allow our customers to build a hosted desktop solution that fits their needs, and give them one console to manage everything.
How does that differentiate from virtual workspace aggregators like, say, Centrix WorkSpace Universal or Workspot?
The Leostream solution is more than a tool for providing remote/mobile access to applications and desktops. Leostream is a complete connection management solution with a comprehensive set of plans, policies, and pooling options that give IT complete control over their hosted resources.
Do you need to monitor user idle time and automatically log a user out of a shared desktop after one hour of idleness? We can do that. Do you need to support collaboration between multiple users? We can manage the invitations. Do you need to scale globally? We’re good at that!
Who, then, is a typical Leostream customer?
Our customers are typically large enterprises who need to exist outside of a standard VMware or Citrix stack. We have strong partnerships with HP and Teradici, working with their high-performance display protocols (Remote Graphics Software and PCoIP, respectively), and we do a lot of our business supporting connections to graphics-rich applications with those protocols. We have a strong presence in verticals such as oil and gas, finance, healthcare, and engineering.
I would have assumed that an organization finding itself with multiple brokers in place would try to standardize on a single platform, not build an additional infrastructure layer over the top of existing services. What am I missing?
Saying that an organization can live within a single platform assumes that that platform gives them the flexibility and control they need. For larger enterprises, that’s not always the case. Consider one of our financial customers. They provide traders with RGS connections to dedicated workstations in the data center when the trader is on-site. That same trader gets an HDX connection to a virtual machine in XenDesktop when the trader logs in remotely. In either case, the trader goes through Leostream. End users don’t want to remember which portal they log into to get to which type of resource they need. By placing Leostream on top, you give end users a single portal where they can access all of their resources.
We prefer when companies don’t have multiple brokers, and let Leostream handle all the user assignments and connections. In this case, the heterogeneity of the solution is farther down the stack. Maybe the customer has a mixture of hypervisors, or a mixture of virtual and physical hosted desktops. Maybe they have a mixture of Windows and Linux, and a mixture of display protocols. Ultimately, from an end user perspective, the success of the solution depends on the performance, so you need to be able to use the display protocol that’s best suited to the user’s task. And we support a lot of display protocols!
What about education? There has been phenomenally fast adoption of Chromebooks in K–12 education, which makes Windows application delivery an important niche. Is this important for you?
We’ve definitely noticed the trend in rising importance for application delivery. Currently, we focus on desktops, but that’s not to say we’re not looking into the future of application delivery. So, in keeping with the theme that we want to make our customers successful, if application delivery is important to our customers, it’s important to us.
Which platforms do you support today?
You name it! vSphere; XenServer; Hyper-V; OpenStack; HP Moonshot Systems; AWS EC2; any physical workstation, desktop, or laptop (Windows or Linux); and the list goes on. We integrate with the APIs of some platforms, like vSphere and HP Moonshot Systems, to manage those resources. However, you can manage any desktop in Leostream simply by installing our Leostream Agent on it (there’s a version for Windows and Linux). Then there’s the display protocols, like HP RGS, Teradici PCoIP, Exceed onDemand, NoMachine, RemoteFX, HDX, VNC, and others. We’re architected specifically to make it easy to add support for new platforms and protocols.
And everything comes together through a single web portal?
It can, yes, although most Leostream customers use our software client Leostream Connect (which supports Windows, Linux, and Mac). On tablets, folks use the web portal.
Now, many of these platforms use different remote display protocols—HDX, RDP, PCoIP, RGS, etc.—which rather implies that you either fall back to RDP as the lowest common denominator, or you have some way of incorporating support for different clients. How does that work?
This hints at a key way that Leostream is architected. As you’ve noticed, we don’t provide a display protocol: we integrate with the other protocols on the market. The idea is to let our customer choose the best protocol for each use case. To connect a user to a desktop, we launch the display protocol’s native client (think mstsc.exe for RDP), and then we get out of the way. Leostream is never in the data path of the user’s connection, which is why we can support so many protocols. That does, as you pointed out, mean that the display protocol must provide a client that runs on whatever client device the user wants to use. And we must have some programmatic way to launch the display protocol’s client. Sometimes that’s via an API; sometimes it’s a simple command line interface. This is what makes our Protocol Plan form so long. We section the form up into different client devices and then indicate which protocols we can support on each of these devices. With our Leostream Connect client, we have more options for launching display protocols. If you log in through our web client, we have fewer options.
So far, that sounds like it’s primarily an on-premises enterprise solution. However, as businesses increasingly look to cloud workspace services, DaaS and SaaS based Windows application hosting diversity will become a significant challenge. One application vendor might choose to host its apps on Azure RemoteApp, and another might look to AWS AppStream for GPU support or perhaps IndependenceIT because it wants rich APIs for orchestration. The challenge of bringing all of these services together falls to the enterprise customers. They could use the Leostream Connection Broker as a unified front end for all these services…
Indeed, they could. Our Connection Broker is increasingly supporting DaaS and SaaS solutions. For example, we support DaaS in AWS right now. With the complexity of our solution comes the fact that you may not get point-and-click integration, but with our expertise we can help you get the job done.
In my experience, selection of a VDI or application hosting platform was a long-term strategic decision. With the advent of cloud desktops and Windows application hosting, do you see this changing in any way?
The key moving forward is to look for a solution that can evolve and minimize vendor lock-in. Choosing a VDI platform was a long-term strategic decision because after you went through the time, effort, and money to build it, you were tied to that stack. Leostream helps break that paradigm. We tell our customers that using Leostream allows you to future-proof your hosted desktop deployment. Do you want to investigate cloud desktops or new hardware form factors like Moonshot while still leveraging your existing VDI stack? That’s the sort of flexibility we provide.
The SaaS and DaaS markets are ripe with innovation, with many new vendors entering this field in the last couple of years, which inevitably means more clients to support. How easy or difficult is it to add support for another broker and client?
Adding new platforms and clients is reasonably straightforward for us, assuming the platform provides an API. We have a lot of practice adding platforms, so we have the process down. And because of the way we integrate with display protocols, it is very simple for us to support new options.
Leostream is, I know, a strong proponent of OpenStack VDI. I haven’t looked closely at OpenStack for VDI for a couple of years, but when I did, the overall experience was a little frustrating, more a bundle of technologies than a single cohesive product. Where you think we are with OpenStack VDI today? Is this suitable for enterprise adoption, or is it something better left to service providers?
OpenStack is definitely ready for the enterprise. In fact, many enterprises are adopting OpenStack today. Now, they just need to realize that they can use that same OpenStack infrastructure for VDI. The only extra pieces they need are a connection broker and display protocol.
And what about the Linux desktop? How much call do you see for Linux desktops, and where does that fit in the OpenStack adoption cycle? Are they linked in any way?
We see Linux all the time, likely because we are one of the few (used to be only) connection brokers that handle Linux well, and also because the industries we’re big in (oil and gas, etc.) use applications that run solely on Linux platforms. Linux is linked to OpenStack in that they are both open source, and so seem like a logical extension. The extent that OpenStack VDI focuses on Linux really depends on which enterprises and industries take up OpenStack VDI. If your users need Windows desktops, by all means, run Windows on OpenStack.
Citrix and VMware have recently got into the Linux VDI market. Do you see that as validation of efforts by specialists that have been in this market for a long time, or is it just Citrix and VMware sparring?
I think the former. Linux was a gap in their offering, and that gap persisted until they heard enough requests for support. Of course, as soon as one of them added support for Linux, you know the other had no choice.
In a similar vein, Citrix and VMware have made a big play recently around the adoption of “cloud-based control planes” to manage their environments. Do you see any real benefit in this approach, or is it too soon to tell?
It seems like a natural progression in a cloud strategy that we’re all still figuring out. So, I guess I see a little of both. There’s a benefit, but let’s wait and see if it’s a benefit the market really needs.
And how do you see this shaping Leostream’s future?
This is an exciting time for Leostream! Many of the technologies we’ve been supporting for years are gaining traction, and all the new buzz around OpenStack and DaaS plays right into our wheel well. It will be interesting to see where we are in a year or so. In the meantime, our focus is on making our customers successful, no matter what technology they want to use.