Ulteo Open Virtual Desktop v4.0 is available for download, with significant enhancements for enterprise deployments and better integration. It offers a flexible presentation virtualization alternative—particularly useful for Linux desktops and also for integration of desktop applications into web-based architectures.
Our posts on Ulteo have consistently been among the most-read posts on this site, so we know there is a lot of interest in an open source alternative to presentation virtualization and virtual desktop. Ulteo has a unique proposition in this area, with the key differentiating features being that it can deliver applications on both Windows and Linux desktops, and can be a pure open source solution all the way from the browser through to the desktop it is presenting (unless, of course, the desktop is Windows).
If you want to deliver Java-based applications, OpenOffice, Acrobat, or even a specific version of Firefox or Chrome, there is no reason to license Windows on the desktop you are presenting. These applications work perfectly well on Linux and can be delivered by Ulteo OVD. If there are some Windows-only applications in the mix, Ulteo can deliver those too, and the user doesn’t need to know there is a difference. They appear in the same desktop or seamlessly on the user desktop, browser, or device. Furthermore, they all operate within the same user profile and can share files with each other (and even with the local desktop if that is in the same profile), because Ulteo, under the covers, provides the necessary glue via SMB. The whole thing can plug into your Active Directory, if you feel so inclined.
Red Hat and Canonical don’t get involved with Windows desktops, and there really isn’t an alternative to Ulteo for mixed Windows/Linux deployments. That is not to say you necessarily need Linux desktops in the mix: Ulteo may be a cost-effective alternative to Citrix or VDI for serving out purely Windows desktops in a number of scenarios. However, please don’t just include Ulteo in an RFP so you can beat up VMware and Citrix salespeople over price. Ulteo is a much smaller vendor, and it wouldn’t be fair to waste their time like that, nor would it be fair to the quality of their solution.
Ulteo is offered in both Community and Premium editions, with the latter offering additional functionality. In practice, commercial deployments are going to require the support that comes along with the Premium edition, which is offered on a subscription basis.
I looked at (and had hands-on experience with) both OVD Version 2 and OVD Version 3 for TVP. I haven’t yet had hands-on experience with v4.0, but it is now available for download in release candidate form. The story with Ulteo OVD has been one of steady incremental feature enhancement. At any particular moment, it won’t necessarily feature-match what Citrix or VMware is offering, but over time, features become available that provide similar functionality, in as far as it makes sense in a Linux or combined Linux/Windows scenario. We can give a few examples of this:
- User and group management is through either Active Directory or OpenLDAP using an OpenLDAP API from a session manager running on Linux. In OVD v3, the API calls to AD were a significant bottleneck during morning “login storms” in large-scale deployments. In v4.0, this issue has been resolved through more parsimonious use of the API. Furthermore, as new features are added to AD (e.g., Recursive User Groups in 2008r2), Ulteo adds support (in v4.0).
- To deal with streaming video, etc., Microsoft has RemoteFX, Citrix has HDX, and VMware has PCoIP. In v2, Ulteo used virtual network computing (VNC) to deliver Linux desktops, and that really was rubbish. In v3 it used remote desktop protocol (RDP) for both Windows and Linux desktops. In v4.0, Ulteo has made its own optimizations to the RDP protocol, in a way similar to Microsoft RDP/RemoteFX. Ulteo’s enhancements work on its own clients but are dependent on its own RDP stack, which is only used on Linux, so if you want to stream video from a desktop application in Ulteo, do it from a Linux application—there are many that will do it, and you won’t have to license Windows Server. Of course, you won’t be able to buy a thin client device with native support for OVD’s enhanced RDP; it only works with Ulteo’s clients.
- RDP supports a steadily increasing number of desktop devices of which, at any moment in time, Ulteo’s various clients each support a select number. For example, version 4.0 has support for smart cards on the client.
- OVD user profile management has steadily improved between versions 2, 3, and 4.
So at any one time, you may find that a particular feature you are used to is or is not supported; it may be supported for Linux, or for Windows, or for both; and it may be supported in certain variants of the client but not in others. This makes it slightly more of an intellectual challenge to work out if and how you can deploy OVD. The other thing to bear in mind with OVD is that is genuinely open. There are APIs all over the product, and you can go in and look at how it all works. You needn’t necessarily think of it as a monolithic thing; you can be more creative about how you use it, and you can integrate it in flexible ways.
This leads us to consider another possible use case for Ulteo for organizations that have a long-term vision that doesn’t involve a huge project delivering the same old desktop applications over VDI or Citrix; for which presentation virtualization isn’t strategic—it’s a necessary evil; and in which the bulk of the application investment is in web applications. You can use OVD to deliver the one or two legacy Windows applications that you can’t (or can’t cost-effectively) replace with web applications, and you can use OVD’s integration APIs to have all the applications behave seamlessly together.
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