VMware doesn’t have a Client Side Hypervisor solution – so what?

One announcement that is unlikely to be made at VMworld in 2010 is the release of VMware’s Client Hypervisor. While VMware may have got accustomed to dominating the world of server virtualization, its attempts to become the de-facto virtualization vendor on the desktop haven’t  gone quite as well. Despite it being nearly two years since announcing its “vClient initiative“, VMware has yet to announce a delivery date for the proposed client side hypervisor component. Citrix, on the other hand, is proudly touting XenClient. Other vendors, such as VirtualComputer are actively promoting their products.

Its likely Citrix will  have beaten VMware to delivering a Client Hypervisor. While XenClient is currently a Release Candidate version, Citrix announced that the v1.0 will be released with XenDesktop 4 Feature Pack 2 in September 2010.

Is the lack of Client Hypervisor (CHv) a problem for VMware in delivering  a complete desktop solution to customers? Indeed, is the CHv technology viable for business use now? And when (and if) it is a viable technology, where should a CHv be considered in your desktop strategy? What could a Client Hypervisor be used for?

What is a Client Hypervisor?
A Client Hypervisor (CHv) allows you to run in a virtual machine that is installed directly onto the user’s device, rather than on a server inside your data center. This approach enables you to have centralized management of desktops, while potentially giving users a better experience than existing desktop or presentation virtualization technologies. This is because server based computing solutions require applications run on remote servers and have the application view presented to the user using a remote display protocol. Indeed, the data centre infrastructure required is far less with a CHv based solution than say, VDI: potentially making the option cheaper. However, currently not all client desktops/laptops support the ability to install client hypervisors. This means that new client devices may be necessary for your CHv solution – and the associated cost.

Client Hypervisors  have been considered as enabling “Bring-Your-Own-PC” (BYOPC/BYOC) models by letting user machines host one environment for personal applications and a separate desktop environment for work applications. However, an important fact to note here is that current CHv solutions need to have specific hardware – your Apple Mac user is going to be disappointed; they need to have some grunt to run multiple operating environments; and importantly, you’ll need to replace the existing operating environment, install the CHv, then restore the user’s home environment in a virtual machine. CHv are not an easy enabler for BYOC.

A more effective BYOC solution would be  to use a service that sits within the device’s existing OS. VMware offer ACE – or there are products from the likes of MokaFive’ – services better focused for use in a BYOC as they install with minimal impact to the device’s existing environment. In an enterprise BYoC is one use case. VMware have stated they’ll deliver a BYOC solution. Then we have the question, does delivering a BYOC service give you a ‘complete virtual desktop solution’. I’d suggest not.  BYOC is a function sure, but delivering on that alone is not enough when you consider what the vision of vClient was about.

Enabling a Universal Client

Consider that you have a device – you’re not overly concerned about what that device is, your laptop, the company’s laptop, a desktop at a partner organization’s offices, or a device in an internet cafe. You need to work with your company’s data – because that’s the most important thing you do. To do that, you need applications to be available: and its likely that those applications in turn need other applications to allow you to manipulate your data. Those applications need a particular operating environment.

The operating environment, applications, data – that’s your workspace. What if that workspace is a movable entity – you can use it on a laptop while on a train, access it from a different laptop (because you’re not on a train, but your laptop is…), access it from a PC while in a hotel… or in you home-office..

Consider having the facility to host a workspace on a device if you need to work off-line or to host that workspace on a server in a data-center should you need more resource, or you’ve been caught without your laptop device and you’ve only access from (say) a smart-phone.

The components of your workspace have been synchronized in the background to allow you to work on the most recent data, with the most up-to-date applications. You may have different workspaces. You may have a personal workspace, a company workspace, a client workspace – all available to you in from one device, or from any device you use.

Consider when you buy a laptop for home use, that the personal workspace can be managed for you. The security updates are available to you, you can add applications as needed, your data is automatically backed up. If you damage the device, or want a new device that workspace is available to you quickly without you spending hours backing up that data.

A Client Hypervisor can be used to deliver these scenarios. The CHv allows the OS to be independent on the device: it has an advantage over solutions that are built onto an OS because it is an core operating environment in itself and can work, and be managed when the workspace operating system fails. But, a hypervisor is of little use in isolation. As VMware likely discovered, having a client side hypervisor is one part of the puzzle – how the data is managed and maintained is more complex – but the more important.

Team the CSHv with a management service and you can service not only the deployment of the images, but manage application access and the synchronization/backup of user data. With the management and data transfer component you enable delivering a flexible desktop environment.

Currently there are barriers to such a universal client. First and foremost not all devices support CHv: both Citrix and VirtualComputer are working hard with hardware vendors to extend the range of devices supported, VirtualComputer for example, should have AMD support later in 2010. No CHv based solution currently supports transitioning a workspace at the level that we’ve suggested: here the synchronization of user data from the device to the data center is key and complex. Perhaps VMware believed that RTO’s Virtual Profiles would deliver a complete user data synchronization solution and then realized it did not. For there is the rub, mobility and agility are key concepts not only for consumers – but for many businesses – and that agility will encompass environments that are not always on-line.

Laptop Sales.. Recession? What Recession?

Laptops are increasingly seen as the device of choice. Sales of laptops rose by over 40% in 2010 Q1 according to Gartner. You may think that is due to a surge in demand for Apple’s iPad – but Gartner does not include sales of tablet devices like the iPad in its laptop sales figures, as they are not a replacement for traditional laptops and netbooks.  Granted, about a fifth of those laptop shipment were for netbooks but, the netbook sales growth has slowed in some regions, thanks to aggressive price cuts of regular notebooks and buyers beginning to understand the limitations of the form factor, according to Gartner.

There is clearly a demand for mobility. The ability to share and work with information, be it browsing through the latest postings on your social network – or submitting your latest blog post on the latest transport delay can be achieved on a number of devices, but the screen and keyboard size of a laptop makes that form factor the best for a number of tasks.

And this isn’t simply a benefit for Joe Public. There are a number of advantages for businesses in enabling a more mobile workforce. By promoting mobility a business can:

  • Reduce need for expensive office space.
  • Increase productivity – by allowing people to work when and where it is convenient, reducing commute time, allowing for better work/life balance.
  • Simplify deployment – rather than maintain multiple desktop and laptop devices, all users receive similar equipment.
  • Reduce cost of implementing business continuity and disaster recovery strategies.

But, you may ask – does VMware need to offer a CHv solution when it has View – users can have laptops but then use those to connect to their data center desktop and achieve the same goals. Sure.. and then again what operating environment are those laptops running to access the VDI environment?

Virtualising Applications & Data
Desktop and presentation virtualization can be utilized to deliver core applications and data securely to mobile devices. However, both solutions rely on remoting technologies to deliver access. This gives two core problems:

1. How do you maintain and manage the end device’s environment?
2. When that remote connection isn’t available – what do you do?

vClient set the goal to be allowing users off-line access to their desktops while also providing centralized management that can handle every desktop the same way. A BYOC model achieves this to an extent: it provides for “off-line access” and some  “management of the deployed environment”. But, what about the core environment?  BYOC absolves the organization from directly managing the device’s own OS – but BYOC brings about a number of other questions. Managing that core environment is important, vital outside of a BYOC model. According to VMware managing such an environment is “not an easy computer science problem to solve“. Quite valid. Building a client hypervisor is more complicated than creating server-based technology because of issues with audio, USB devices, Webcams, wireless networking and Bluetooth. But a CHv is just one component.

Building a service around CHv does offer you the ability to maintain and manage distributed environments from a centralized location. It can be done, VirtualComputer have achieved it with NxTop for instance. Granted not for all devices and not all hardware: it is after all, “not easy to do”.

The difficulty such management solutions have is differentiating from existing provisioning services such as Citrix Provisioning Services, Double Take’s Flex which we’ve discussed previously, Wanova’s Mirage or Symantec’s Altiris.

I’ll have to buy the White Album again..
Was the resignation offered by K in the move Men in Black when he was faced with a new technology that could fit even more music into. A common barrier to a new technology, such as CHv, is that the change from an existing environment to the new can be cumbersome and costly. Projected savings in better management and business agility are lost in the change process.

To differentiate, there needs to be a more rounded desktop management capability than simply being able to deploy an image. The CHv is a means to an end, not a product.  At the moment, for instance, VirtualComputer use a Hyper-V to help create and manage images: but this could change – it could almost as easily be a different format, or even a standardized one. In conjunction with a CHv to offer greater agility there needs to be functions to:

  • Manage the configuration and updates to the core CHv engine
  • Managing creation and deployment of OS images
  • Managing application delivery either directly or via integration
  • Synchronize user data to and from the end device

Is there an issue if VMware does not deliver on this? From their perspective there’s a good deal of development required, there’s need for investment in marketing that solution. Will the company be able to generate a return on that investment? It is unlikely that they’ll generate large revenue from the deployment of the CHv itself, which they don’t have yet, so then revenue would have to come from the development and deployment of greater desktop management services. You could argue they don’t have those either – which is why vendors such as Quest and UniDesk have such a willing market – they have tools than can be used to help you manage your virtual desktop delivery more efficiently and effectively.

vClient not delivered…yet

Client virtualization is an emerging part of the desktop virtualization market, it does not yet have widespread adoption. In terms of VMware delivering desktop virtualization services the focus seem to have shifted from the vision of vClient (which was innovative) to relegating CHv as a ‘BYOC’ tool.

What do your users need to help them work effectively? If they’re based in the office and you want to reduce downtime, deliver applications quickly and keep data secure – a centralized environment is going to deliver. Yet, that centralized environment, be it desktop or PV virtualization, can be expensive to implement. It is possible to deliver desktop services cost effectively and still utilize centralization concepts. You could consider solutions stream desktops: Wanova’s Mirage product takes the concept of separating operating system from applications and user data and delivering but does so without the need for a CHv. Yet, with a CHv you can not only deliver existing images into off-line environments or manage end devices, but you can deliver multiple workspaces: it is useful for delivering workspaces during mergers or de-mergers, useful for companies wishing to provide desktop outsourcing services as well as testing and validating different  environments side-by-side. And, importantly a  tool you can make use of now with solutions such as VirtualComputer’s NxTop.

An organization will typically have need for a desktop service that is not tied to being delivered while the user is on-line. There is a growing demand for more mobile clients. The ability to work on-line or off-line is going to increase. Only delivering an on-line desktop solution is not a “complete” offering.

Is VMware’s lack of Client Hypervisor (CHv) a problem? Not in the short term: but continuing to see the use of CHv as a niche service for a specific instance falls short of the vision of VMware being a company offering a complete desktop virtualisation service.  Providing and continuing that functionality is a more complex task than delivering  server virtualisation. However, CHv is a technology that is viable for business uses now beyond BYOC. Ideally, (for CHv vendors and users) support for devices will be wider and new devices will ship with the functionality integrated into the device: maybe this is what VMware are waiting for and they’re currently focused on developing improved desktop management functions.

Centralizing desktop services is not just about delivering a hosted virtual desktop infrastructure. Managing and maintaining the end devices is equally important, especially as IT departments look to make better use of agility not only in the sense of “responding to business needs quicker” but in “allowing users to work wherever they need to”.