Virtually Speaking: The Desktop, Revisited
The virtual desktop is It. Again. Yawn. Not only is this pesky concept of the virtual desktop not going the way of thin-clients and dumb terminals before it, but the ecosystem around it appears to be growing! The virtual desktop is becoming hot, hot, hot. Will semantics or strategy separate it from similar technologies of yore?
Perhaps this is because the vendors have gotten smarter in how they approach the situation. Rather than trying to be all things to all companies, this latest crop is going after niches. The combination of VMware's Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) with Sun Microsystems' Sun Ray system is synergistic, and Pano Logic's strategy of deploying virtual desktops where PCs have not yet gone demonstrates an understanding of the less than spectacular history of the technology.
While the desktop inspires cynicism, the Cult of the Mac often annoys. Not because of the technology so much as the unwavering and unquestioning fan base that follows it everywhere.
Couple the two together, as was the case this week what with it being Apples Worldwide Developers Conference and all, and the perfect maelstrom of irritation brews: On Monday, VMware announced the next version of Fusion, its Mac-based desktop virtualization environment, will support Leopard Server.
This is one party to which VMware, often wearing the crown of being virtualization market leader, is late. Parallels has been the established player in this market since its inception. Mac loyalties run deep, and VMware despite its reach will likely face an uphill battle as it challenges Parallels.
This week, after a five-month long beta, Parellels stamped its Parallels Server gold. The hypervisor-based server virtualization solution enables users to run multiple copies of Mac OS X Server on a single a Mac Pro or Xserve.
It is now in VMware country.
Going Thin With ThinApp
It should be no surprise that VMware is busying spreading itself around the desktop market. Last week, it released VMware ThinApp 4, an application virtualization solution that enables a user to run multiple versions of virtually any application on any Windows operating system without conflict.
ThinApp is based on the Thinstall technology, which VMware picked up in its acquisition of the company earlier this year. The application virtualization solution is agentless, which basically means no additional software or clients are required on the PC for it to run, Jerry Chen, VMware senior director of enterprise desktop products, explained to ServerWatch.
What ThinApp does do is application packaging, delivery and management by enabling plug-and-play applications using an enterprises existing systems and management tools. It packages applications into familiar formats (e.g., .MSI or .EXE) that can then plug into infrastructure for software license management, deployment, audit and compliance.
The main enhancements to version 4 are Application Link and Application Sync. Application Link "lets two apps from separate bubbles communicate," Chen said. This free-flowing communication between interdependent virtual applications allows interdependent applications to communicate with one another from environments as diverse as Java, .Net, IE, and Office.
Application Synch, meanwhile, facilitates Internet-based updates of applications by streaming byte-level updates to users' critical applications inside and outside the enterprise using HTTP/HTTPS, as well as on managed and non-managed PCs running virtualized applications.
While VMware and Parallels position themselves to duke it out over the Mac desktop, they are far from alone.
Not a Two-Horse Race
Ceedo is but one other player. Earlier this month, the company announced that after three years in the consumer space, it would be taking its application virtualization solution into the enterprise space.
Ceedo Enterprise is a virtualization product designed to enable IT administrators to create, deploy and remotely manage desktop workspace environments.
Like ThinApp, Ceedo Enterprise is agentless. It is also proven, albeit in less demanding environments. Still, 4 million devices is nothing to sneeze at.
This is perhaps where the similarities end. Ceedo is very device heavy. Although updates can be packaged and pushed out remotely, an encrypted hard drive and Ceedo appliance (a USB device) is required for the initial rollout.
Thus, Ceedo is about streaming from the outside, and operating system (Windows) integration is more about server and storage, and less about actual virtualization layers. Therefore, it is not surprising that Opher Dubrovsky, vice president marketing and business development, told ServerWatch he anticipates Ceedo being used in conjunction with other virtualization products.
"Ceedo fits both the world of the virtual environment as well as working on a PC. A lot of times Ceedo could be a great migration path. Take what you have and work with it," Dubrovsky said.
Ceedo Enterprise is available for purchase. Clients are $89 per seat perpetual license, with discounts are available for large-volume purchases.
Despite the proliferation for solutions it remains unclear which, if any will take hold. Given the breadth of choices and the narrowness of their respective targets, it's a pretty safe bet that more than one will make it through the gantlet.
Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been following the virtualization space since 2001.