Quest and Virtual Computer to take on Citrix XenDesktop and VMware View

“Quest Software and Virtual Computer announced a technology alliance to deliver a desktop virtualization and management solution meeting the end-to-end computing needs of large enterprises.  This technology provides anywhere, anytime access to both centralized and distributed end-user environments through the integration of Quest® vWorkspace client and Virtual Computer NxTop 3.0 enterprise platform. The combined solution will dramatically reduce the cost and complexity of deploying and managing corporate desktops, while improving desktop delivery options for stationary and mobile users”. So ran the Virtual Computer announcement just before the kick-off for VMworld. You can read the full announcement here, which joined a flurry of initiatives from Quest.

In considering desktop virtualization many solely focus on solutions provided by Citrix and VMware. Quest’s vWorkspace has the background in delivering server based computing solutions to optimize the desktop; it has enterprise implementations. Quest Software are arguably The Quiet Man of desktop virtualization. Can these announcements help provide Quest Software the opportunity to herald vWorkspace can match, if not best, features that Citrix, VMware and other VDI vendors provide? Does the alliance offer Virtual Computer a wider opportunity to demonstrate how their NxTop solution can be used to deliver on desktop management? How does this announcement change what options are available to you in delivering you desktop strategy?

A Strategy for Distributed Desktop Virtualization

Carl Eberling, Quest vice president and general manager, Virtualization and Cloud Management told VMworld attendees “Quest is known for market leadership, superior products and 100,000 global customers. You probably don’t know, however, that Quest is the largest virtualization management ISV, and market leader in data protection and monitoring with more than 20,000 virtualization customers worldwide. Our solutions for physical, virtual and cloud infrastructures include data protection, monitoring, administration, desktop virtualization, and cloud automation.

Quest Software’s goal for vWorkspace is to provide a platform where multiple vendors of distributed desktop solutions can integrate and provide a unified management experience for all classes of users, continuously or intermittently connected to the network.

Will businesses respond to solutions offered by multiple vendors rather than a single vendor and does this make desktop management too complex? Let’s consider VMware have stated their strategy intends to “free users and IT from device-centric computing and deliver a more consumer-focused cloud experience for the enterprise”. For your organization, such a strategy is an intriguing goal. If you’re going to make use of different IT services as you progress to ‘the cloud’ it logically follows those services will be from different vendors. Vendors can seek to offer a every facet of that service – but that in turn extends their delivery times and the complexity of their offering. Citrix have a more complete desktop service product range than VMware:  you can provision traditional desktops, deliver virtual desktops hosted on presentation or desktop virtualization or infrastructure, manage profiles, deliver application virtualization. Yet delivering all of these services requires a complex management environment; the development of those services is difficult to maintain (XenApp was one of the last PV solutions to support Windows Server 2008R2): and the delivery comes at a premium in terms of license cost.

Providing a framework that can be extended offers choice and flexibility. There will however, be reluctance to change.  It is a common attitude that managing fewer vendors is easier. A goal will be to highlight the cost savings in quicker delivery, better solutions and reduced license costs that having more than one supplier can bring.

Gartner’s Virtual Desktop Criteria

What makes a VDI solution ‘enterprise ready’? Gartner’s Virtual Desktop Criteria looked to identify over 100 features, including 52 that Gartner Analysts considered were  required for enterprise-scale deployments. The criteria also detail preferred (important, but not always essential), and optional (use-case driven) features.

Both Citrix XenDesktop and VMware’s View 4.5 (VMware View 4.5: Ready for the Large Enterprise) have been credited as being ‘Enterprise ready’ according to Gartner. Viewing against the same criteria, Quest’s vWorkspace was  deemed to still have some work to do: Quest Software’s announcements are clearly part of that work to help validate vWorkspace’s enterprise credentials.

One issue was “Lack of support for disconnected desktops“. VMware’s solution was the introduction of the View Client with Local Mode in View 4.5. This architecture allows View Managed VMs to be installed and run on unmanaged end-points. While a useful addition, it does not fully address how you manage those thick devices. Your VM is checked out, but what is it checked out to? Organisations will not always find a BYOC model will suit them and that devices are best owned and managed by the company: in which case how are you managing the device that hosts the checked-out VM?

Citrix have facility to provision OS services to desktops – and with the next release, the ability to provision to off-line devices. It would have taken Quest Software a great deal of time and resource to match that capability; yet Virtual Computer can and do provide a desktop management service. Why re-invent that wheel?

vWorkspace Ready for the Enterprise

Gartner’s critique was that Quest vWorkspace was not “enterprise ready”. Yet, Quest Software have a number of large scale vWorkspace deployments: so enterprises are in fact ready for vWorkspace. Matching a set of criteria allows for a comparison of features, but those criteria may not all be appropriate to your enterprise. Perhaps this validates that vWorkspace needs a bigger voice. In a move to raising the profile Quest released a ‘vWorkspace Ready’ mark in August that should be seen on devices – hardware vendors have been integrating the Quest client for a while now – and using that client to provide innovative solutions such as 10zig’s releasing a Linux thin-client running vWorkspaces recently released Linux client.

We’ve discussed in our Enterprise Desktop Strategy whitepaper that VDI is not the only desktop solution. From vWorkspaces background delivering better management for Server Based Computing their focus is on offering you the opportunity to manage your services better. Features include:

  • Support multi-hypervisors; platforms include Microsoft Hyper-V, Parallels Virtuozzo and VMware ESX.
  • Ability to deliver across different desktop types including VDI, Terminal Services and Blade PCs and manage that from a single console.
  • A choice of delivery protocols – either RDP or Quest’s own Experience Optimized Protocol (EOP) which has been engineered to minimizes the effects of LAN/WAN latency on performance
    for end users in branch offices, home offices and offshore locations and also accelerate screen updates, images and multimedia content for an effective user experience on different connections and devicesl
  • Support for Microsoft Differencing Disks, NetApp FlexClone, and VMware Linked Clones technologies

And this feature set will grow. With the deal with Liquidware Labs the access to the Stratusphere Fit and UX will extend the existing to include assessment and monitoring capabilities allowing visibility into user and application usage, hardware and software inventory, and monitoring of virtualization and physical services in your environment.

What Does Virtual Computer Get?

Virtual Computer beat both Citrix and VMware to deploying a serviceable client side hypervisor. The question is, can they keep ahead of the game and actively get CIOs to consider that client hypervisors can be a viable desktop management platform, not simply a BYOC solution.

The next release of Nxtop has some interesting features. Improved management, wider hardware support – but also the ability to allow self-install, and to deliver a secure thin client – NxTop Connect, which includes the vWorkspace Client.

The Virtual Computer announcement means that Quest can offer a client-side hypervisor solution to help their customers manage their ‘traditional’  desktops and laptops. Virtual Computer have an opportunity to talk directly to Quest’s extensive enterprise customer list. It will be interesting to see if Quest also look to support a deployment method such as View’s off-line mode. Both have their merits, and giving customers a choice that is unavailable with Citrix and VMware would set Quest apart.

Would that remove opportunity for Virtual Computer? The inclusion of NxTop connect evidences that Virtual Computer understand businesses rarely have a ‘one size fits all’ requirement. Working with data off-line is useful, but so is being able to connect to data and applications hosted in the data centre.

If You Build It, Will They Come?

Customers rarely decide to buy one technology over another purely because of the inclusion, or exclusion of a feature.  Citrix customers have typically followed Citrix through its various Presentation Virtualization solutions sticking by them even while they didn’t have a VDI solution and muddling through without the capability to manage ‘traditional’ devices. VMware customers will more likely gravitate to VMware View and consider the tight integration with the hypervisor a benefit and to virtualize the desktops a logical extension of what was likely a successful server virtualization project. “Trade-In” deals make good advertising copy but too much change can be a barrier as license costs savings are consumed in migration costs.

Citrix’s XenDesktop and XenApp environments require different farm configurations – and if you want to manage XenApp on Windows Server 2008R2 you will need a different product from your Windows 2003/2008 servers. XenClient’s Release Candidate has a server synchronizer that is separate again from XenDesktop. Citrix can offer a desktop solution that has a range of services – but it can be a complex and expensive environment to license and manage. VMware has improved View in 4.5 but the management of data and application delivery outside of the LAN is still problematic. Off-line mode is here, but remote access relies on RDP, PCoIP – which VMware considers gives the ‘best’ user experience – is still not focused on delivering applications to branch offices, home users and offshore locations. Here, vWorkspace’s wide platform support, simple management and optimized remote protocol EOP are going to be of an advantage in giving customers a reason to change.

Quest Software is in a situation where it has an impressive feature list for vWorkspace, and it is strategically partnering to offer existing and prospective customers a more complete end-to-end solution than it could deliver itself. The customer benefits in a flexible and cost-effective solution that is shown from the start to not rely on a single vendor. Going forward, this perhaps is the most important benefit. As businesses look to what “cloud services” can offer, the facility to work with vendors to pick the right solution and then allow the business to manage their service in an efficient and productive way is going to be in greater demand.

Will Quest and their partners be able to shout loud enough, and how will their strategy for enticing loyal customers away pan out?