RES Virtual Desktop Extender – the missing piece in the VDI puzzle?

A common barrier to desktop virtualization projects is that the new virtualized desktop is not always able to support all of the business applications. There can be a variety of reasons for this:

  • Scalability issues – the applications could be too resource intensive to run on centralised servers.
  • User Experience –  the need to access the application via a remote protocol reduces the user experience.
  • Resource Requirements – the application requires direct interaction with hardware attached to the user’s device.
  • Legacy Support – the virtualised desktop needs to support a legacy application that cannot be virtualized – perhaps the software is incompatible with the virtualised desktop OS – for example the hosted desktop is Windows 7, but the application requires Internet Explorer 6.

This presents organisations with a difficult choice – do they hold of migration to a virtualised desktops or, do they migrate some of their estate now, and hope to migrate completely later? When deploying centralised applications to remote devices, the best user experience comes from ensuring that the application is ‘seamlessly delivered’ i.e. the application window display and user interaction operates as if the application were running on the local device. To overcome these barriers, an ideal solution would be to allow existing devices to launch their centralised hosted desktop and incorporate access to locally installed applications seamlessly into the user’s desktop experience – to reverse that seamless application mode so that the local application appears to be running wholly and completely within the hosted desktop environment.

RES Software have announced that their Virtual Desktop Extender – an enabler for reverse seamless technology – will be available as a stand-alone product in early 2011. Virtual Desktop Extender is a component of Worskspace Manager and works with Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp, as well as VMware View and any other desktop virtualization solution that works with Microsoft Remote Desktop Services Remote Display Protocol (RDP); allowing support for reverse-seamless operation across all these platforms.

Will RES Software’s announcement act as a catalyst for more hosted desktop deployments? Is there an advantage in having this feature as a product in its own right? Are there other technologies can that can offer similar function and if so how does Virtual Desktop Extender compare?

If you love someone, set them free

said Richard Bach. It is unlikely Mr Bach’s words were the primary driver for the decision to make Virtual Desktop Extender (VDX) a product in its own right, but it is likely that the decision will be of benefit to customers and RES Software going forward. VDX has been a component of Workspace Manager suite (the new name for what was RES PowerFuse) but shortly after it was confirmed that RES had been granted a US patent for the technology in October 2011, RES Software announced that Virtual Desktop Extender will be a stand-alone product.

This may appear as a brave move for RES. Workspace Manager sits in crowded market competing not only against functionality inherent in hosted desktop products such as Citrix XenDesktop and Quest vWorkspace but against offerings from companies such as AppSense, Liquidware Labs and Scense. With its US and European patents, VDX would continue to give Workspace Manager a unique selling point. However, by marketing VDX as a separate entity, RES can better target non-RES customers who are experiencing issues enabling but might have an existing product that competes with Workspace Manager.  At the same time, when it is competing for new accounts RES Software can point to VDX as a benefit for choosing other RES products. For customers looking to overcome barriers to their hosted desktop deployment, the $14.95 per seat price of VDX will be an investment that has a very quick return as it can remove delays and complexities in delivering a user experience that keeps users happy and productive.

Can there be only one?

With this technology being such an enabler for VDI, is VDX the only option for customers? Reverse seamless was a feature being developed by Citrix as part of their Project Alice initiative and recently Ericom announced that their PowerTerm product would include reverse-seamless functionality which has been in development for some time. However, given RES now have the technology patented not only in Europe, but in the US it is unlikely that any other vendor will be able to deliver a reverse-seamless solution. What alternatives would this leave?

Seamless application publication is a feature typically found in Presentation Virtualization (PV) solutions such as Citrix XenApp, or Quest vWorkspace. Thus, one solution could be to deliver the applications using PV and run local desktop environment. However this is a very different environment to a virtualised desktop and ultimately a completely different solution. It could be considered if you were starting your project, but it would be an expensive addition to implement if you’re part way through.

In our article on publishing different Internet Explorer versions we discussed the use of Microsoft’s MED-V in supporting legacy environments, or you could consider utilising a Type-2 client side hypervisor such as MokaFive. Here you would need to ensure that there wasn’t an issue with client side resource requirements, the license cost for such a solution is likely higher, the environment that is hosting these legacy applications needs to be managed.

The release of Virtual Desktop Extender delivers a solution that cannot be readily delivered with alternative technologies and affords RES a unique market position. RES Software may well benefit from desktop virtualization service providers offering VDX as part of a more comprehensive solution. Alternatively, RES could simply license Virtual Desktop Extender. A question here would be “do RES target every vendor but Microsoft or, will Microsoft look to incorporate VDX into their core Windows offering for Microsoft’s Software Assurance licensing buying customers?

The Silver Bullet?

VDX can and does resolve difficult issues in VDI deployments: VDX technology has been used by RES customers in its guise as a component of Workspace Manager. But, wandering into the office holding a clutch of licenses and declaring that all will be at peace implementing the hosted desktop roll-out may well be premature. In enabling this function, you can allow the  roll-out of VDI and reverse publish local applications to desktop yet this means you still have to manage and maintain that local desktop OS that is hosting environment. RES Software will likely point out the benefits of their Automation Manager (formerly Wisdom) product set which allows you to provision desktop environments. Depending on your environment may want to consider solutions that allow devices to be managed centrally, but delivered locally: vendors such as Citrix, Double Take, MokaFive, RingCube,Virtual Computer and Wanova all have products to assist in that respect. Also, consider that this solution is only available for Microsoft desktops,  although to be fair that is going to be a fleeting consideration for the majority.

It is rare an enterprise desktop solution can be delivered using only one deployment method. It is more likely that a combination of solutions will be employed to provide a comprehensive, secure and well-managed environment. Virtual Desktop Extender’s functionality allows wider access to hosted desktops. That said, organisations need to ensure that the management and maintenance of that legacy environment isn’t overlooked so that it impacts user experience and security.