Quest has for many years found itself as third-place runner-up to Citrix and VMware in the VDI business. In some respects this was justified, in others much less so. Quest has neither the resources or virtualization focus of Citrix and VMware, nor does it have the same the channel depth or marketing budget of its competitors, making it too easy to paint a picture of Quest being an also ran. However, at the same time Quest has been a credible competitor to Citrix for much longer than VMware and has managed to deliver a unified VDI and RDS solution in vWorkspace – something that neither Citrix nor VMware have been able to achieve as yet. More importantly, as Citrix’s level of innovation in XenDesktop and XenApp has slowed, and VMware has focused more End User Computing resources on Horizon, Quest has sensed an opportunity and last week’s release of vWorkspace 7.5 clearly shows that it is making the most of it.
Enter vWorkspace 7.5
Quest has long had a close relationship with Microsoft, however this has been somewhat marred by lack of adequate integration with Hyper-V. Now with vWorkspace 7.5 Quest has addressed this shortcoming by offering direct integration with Microsoft Hyper-V to provide provisioning, load balancing, and power management of virtual machines. Quest is continuing its Microsoft Hyper-V-centric approach in its new Hyper-V Catalyst Components. These new features improve performance and scalability of vWorkspace when running on Microsoft Windows Hyper-V.
HyperCache – HyperCache provides IOPS savings in virtual desktop deployments by caching the most used blocks of a virtual desktop gold image in memory. Virtual desktops deployed using HyperCache will request data from memory, only retrieving requested data from disk when not found in cache. If the data is pulled from the golden image, the data is then loaded into cache for the next request. Quest claims that HyperCache can enable IOPS reduction of up to 99%, but has not yet published independent data to validate this claim. Regardless, any performance improvement that it can deliver to reduce storage IOPS loading will be passed on to its customers in the form of lower storage costs, and improved server performance.
HyperDeploy – Allows virtual desktops to be provisioned instantaneously without waiting for the golden image copy to complete. In addition, HyperDeploy uses smart copy which only copies the data that is needed. HyperDeploy is designed to support larger deployments by limiting network utilization while still allowing that instantaneous provisioning.
Quest has also introduced MAC Address Management for Hyper-V based virtual machines. The MAC address of Hyper-V virtual machines that are members of a vWorkspace computer group can be assigned by the Connection Broker. MAC address assignment prevents common DHCP and DNS issues that will arise in a Desktop Cloud where virtual machines are being deleted and re-provisioned on an on-going basis. Assigned MAC addresses are now associated with a computer’s name. and retained for 90 days after the associated virtual desktop is deleted.
Needless to say, support for VMware vSphere 5.0 is now also offered.
Of all the new features introduced in vWorkspace 7.5 possibly the most far-reaching is the new Desktop Cloud mode. As the name suggests, Desktop Cloud provides a (private) cloud desktop service delivering standard desktops on demand. By defining values for the minimum and maximum number of desktops each cloud can provide, along with the number of desktops that must remain pre-provisioned ready for use, and taking full advantage of the new support for Hyper-V power management and provisioning, Desktop Cloud provides a simple to use capacity on demand service all based on a single master image. Desktop Cloud is limited to supporting only one standard virtual desktop, however, a vWorkspace farm can have multiple Desktop Clouds to accommodate multiple standard desktop configurations. Desktop Cloud integrates directly with vWorkspace Managed User Profiles making user profile management a seamless addition to Desktop Cloud. Configuring a vWorkspace Desktop Cloud is astonishingly easy, it’s rather like hiding the power and capability of XenDesktop in a VDI-in-a-Box-like wrapper, no mean tirck if you can pull it off.
At present Desktop Cloud is only supported on Microsoft Windows Hyper-V, but apart pleading the potential consequences to strategic alliances, there does not appear to be anything to prevent quest expanding support to other hypervisor platforms in the future. Similarly Desktop Cloud is today targeted only for private cloud-based environments but there does not appear to be any reason why it would not work well in a public cloud environments as well.
Improvements across the board
Moving beyond hypervisor options and into the core vWorkspace platform, Quest has delivered improvements across the board in 7.5 Some are just minor enhancements, such as simplifying installation and administration tasks to make initial configuration both less time consuming and less daunting for inexperienced administrators. Others will become more important for larger more complex environments where Citrix XenDesktop has had a significant lead over Quest.
Context Aware Management
Quest has introduced Advanced Targets, a new feature that allows vWorkspace applications, desktops and other resources to be assigned based on endpoints capabilities and configuration. As greater use is made of BYOD, as well as mobile devices with nonstandard screens and user interface options, context aware management features will achieve greater importance
Golden image management has been greatly simplified, with single click administration to deploy a new Golden image to all virtual desktops. vWorkspace 7.5 also includes a virtual desktop optimization utility to apply in practice settings to a virtual desktop image to improve scalability and performance. User Profile Management has also seen incremental improvements to provide scheduled saving of profile changes in addition to save on log-off.
End User Experience Improvements
Bi-directional Internet Explorer redirection first introduced in Quest vWorkspace IE6 Compatibility Edition and reported here previously, has been included in vWorkspace 7.5. This allows support for multiple versions of IE to be called dependent upon a list of predefined URLs to aid in migrating away from Windows XP while retaining access to IE 6 as needed to provide support for legacy Web applications.
Also included in vWorkspace 7.5 is a comprehensive update to Web Access the vWorkspace web interface, providing enterprise-class flexibility supporting simple re-branding and completely configurable error, warning, and information messages. Tellingly, Quest has extended Web Access to provide integration with Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop Farms. Clearly Quest is looking to this as a means of easing existing Citrix customers’ pain in transitioning to vWorkspace.
The Bottom Line
From an enterprise perspective, if Quest’s HyperCache technology lives up to its promise (even if it does not achieve the claimed 99% reduction in IOPS), it will strike directly at the heart at the two biggest criticisms levied at the VDI – the high cost of storage and the risk associated with layering multiple vendors’ products into a single services stack to provide a comprehensive VDI service at a reasonable cost. It may not deliver the same write optimizing performance as specialist vendors like Atlantis Computing can offer, but when it comes to IOPS, any level of improvement is welcome, and if it can achieve this without introducing another vendor into the mix, that may well be enough of an advantage for some customers. It will be interesting to follow how Desktop Cloud develops over the next few releases. Given Quest’s current momentum the possibility of it continuing to develop Desktop Cloud into a Desktop as a Service (DaaS) platform should not be overlooked. Existing Quest partners, and service providers reluctant to pay the higher cost of a Citrix XenDesktop license may well find vWorkspace attractive as low-risk, low-cost entry into the DaaS market.
After years standing in Citrix and VMware’s shadows, Quest is sending a clear message that its is no longer willing to settle for third place. vWorkspace 7.5 has the makings of the ideal desktop virtualization platform, providing the opportunity not just to rock the boat of the desktop virtualization market place, but to leave some of its competitors baling hard to stay afloat, more than confirming Quest’s position in the top tier of desktop virtualization vendors. With vWorkspace 7.5 Quest has delivered a solution with the depth of features and functionality needed to support the largest enterprise, yet made it so easy to use that it can be deployed by almost anyone. Given the breadth of new features Quest has introduced in vWorkspace 7.5 it’s hard to understand why Quest would choose to label this a point release, unless perhaps it has bigger plans for vWorkspace 8.0.