No waiting for bare-metal virtual desktops

Virtual Computer’s release of NxTop version 2.0 of this month (see continues to prove their leadership in client-side virtualization by delivering robust features to meet the needs of the corporate desktop.  The delayed release of Citrix’ XenClient and VMware’s Client Virtualization Platform (CVP) to the market has left few options for customers whose virtual desktop implementations need to address a larger offline or disconnected use case.

Client-side virtualization can be achieved using one of two methods: a Type-1 hypervisor (CVP, NxTop, or XenClient) where the operating system runs as a virtual guest leveraging a bare-metal hypervisor similar to what is used for server virtualization; or a Type-2 hypervisor (MokaFive and VMware ACE), which are called “hosted” because they are software-based, requiring an underlying operating system. A Type-1 solution gives the greatest user performance because it accesses the local hardware directly through the hypervisor and doesn’t have to share resources with a hosting operating system. On the flip side, Type-1 solutions typically need specific hardware and must be approved by the vendor in order to be supported, whereas Type-2 solutions are only concerned with the hosting operating system.

Citrix and VMware VDI projects are beginning to expand from small use cases, such as offshore developers, to mainstream desktop replacements. The one use case CVP and XenClient are working to address is the disconnected or offline user. The panacea of these projects would be to deliver a robust desktop experience, regardless where the user connects from, or even if they are not connected at all, while maintaining corporate policies and centralized management of the desktop. Client-side virtualization provides the means to achieve this.

Where Desktop and Presentation Virtualization End

The number one critical success factor in VDI pilots and proofs of concept are end user experience. The ability to work in a desktop that not only looks but feels local has been the driver for enhancements in Citrix’ HDX and VMware’s PCoIP efforts. Even with these enriched features, there are instances where “leveraging the local hardware for multimedia and other high-end computing is needed” says Thomas Reed, Virtual Computer’s Director of Systems Engineering for North America. “Hosted VDI solutions cannot compare in performance to directly addressing the local hardware, and in many cases we [NxTop] are displacing those VDI solutions.” A strength Virtual Computer sees it has over the up and coming solutions is their expansive hardware support. “The ability to use existing machines will reduce the overall costs of a company’s VDI deployment,” says Reed.

Co-existence is Key

There is no one-size fits all when it comes to corporate desktops. In my Enterprise Desktop Strategy whitepaper I discuss the need to support both physical and virtual desktops and to select processes and tools that will help manage the user environment in both. Application Virtualization and User Profile Management are required pieces of the puzzle for an operationally efficient desktop environment. Customers who have made investments in Terminal Services/RDS, Citrix XenApp/XenDesktop, and VMware View will want to continue using these solutions, and there is no reason they shouldn’t. Not every user will need an offline desktop, or even a full VDI desktop. For example, a rental car agent may have very specific applications and functions that are only needed when they are sitting behind the agent desk and the tasks are limited to rental contracts. These applications may be best hosted on RDS with Citrix XenApp because they are lightweight and do not require much local processing power. A regional manager, who may need to visit accident sites or multiple company locations, would require additional functionality that the agent does not, and may be better off with locally installed or locally virtualized operating system and applications.

Late to the Game, but still in it

It is disappointing that we have not seen production releases of offline technology from the top two VDI vendors, both of whom have seen original delivery time frames come and go. Releasing a new technology that works right out of the gate and as advertised the first time has not been a strong point for either company. With that being said, we should see a lot of lab/testing activity in 2010 while the first or second revisions are released with real production deployments in early 2011. Customers looking to address the disconnected user today can decide to deploy fully configured laptops or look to Virtual Computer’s NxTop as a viable option.

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