Enterprises are taking it upon themselves to pursue client virtualization with the technologies they have at hand as they wait for players such as VMware and Citrix to come out with bare-metal client hypervisors and for clear market leaders to emerge.
Intel Corp. is collaborating with Citrix Systems Inc. and VMware Inc. on bare-metal desktop hypervisors, and experts believe that a beta of VMware's client hypervisor will appear at this month's VMworld in San Francisco.
Bare-metal desktop hypervisors would eliminate some of the drawbacks of VMware's Virtual Desktop Infrastructure by giving users offline access and the ability to use graphics-intensive applications. Such apps are bogged down by bandwidth problems when using VDI.
As for presentation virtualization, which is being used for client virtualization with such products as Citrix MetaFrame and Microsoft Terminal Services, not all Windows applications work properly in this model. That drawback is another factor pushing vendors to create bare-metal client hypervisors.
In the meantime, some companies are reusing server virtualization technologies to virtualize clients until client hypervisors run directly on the bare metal of a device. This separates the virtual machine from the underlying operating system so administrators don't have to deal with OS patches, for example. This is different from existing client hypervisors such as Microsoft Virtual PC and VMware ACE that still interact with the underlying operating system.
"When [our customers] try to deploy client virtualization technologies like Citrix XenDesktop or VMware View, some applications require local access to hardware and just don't work using these technologies," said Bob Menning, practice lead of the application delivery team at systems integrator Inacom Information Systems in Appleton, Wis. "They might have 10 applications they want to virtualize, but only five that they can [using VDI or presentation virtualization] so they are sticking with what they know -- server hypervisors to create virtual machines on desktops."
Reuse of existing technology investments is being driven by uncertainty surrounding which vendors will turn into the front-runners in the desktop virtualization space. New players are emerging all the time, such as Neocleus Inc. and Virtual Computer Inc. in the bare-metal client hypervisor space alone.
"There is no clear winner in desktop virtualization, and another problem [customers] are having is figuring out how many products they will have to buy to support and create a solution," Menning said. "They don't want to spend hundreds of thousands on a solution only to find out a vendor they are already using is coming out with one for $50,000."
Many enterprises are looking at hybrid client virtualization approaches, which experts at Burton Group Inc. say will be the endpoint virtualization approach of choice as enterprises attempt to meet varying end-user needs.
A large airline is looking at several client virtualization technologies in which some endpoints will become thin clients with centralized access to applications residing in the data center through presentation virtualization or VMware View, said the airline's director of IT security and compliance, Ken Hehl. Users that require more personalization and a richer interface would have a bare-metal client hypervisor on their end device of choice.
Security concerns are pushing the organization to desktop virtualization, Hehl said. "We consider our internal network a hostile environment because pilots connect to our network from hotels and, despite our firewalls, we get all sorts of malware. And then there are partners and crew members who bring in iPods and USBs," Hehl said. "Our goal is to get all of the data off the endpoint, or better protect the data when it is on the desktop."
Like many companies, the airline is unsure whether such needs would be met by VDI, bare-metal desktop hypervisors, Terminal Services or a combination of several virtualization technologies.
It is difficult to find many large desktop virtualization deployments for a variety of reasons: the immaturity of the technologies, the overload of choices and how they can be deployed alone or in concert, and the need to assess users' needs before a choice can be made.
But making a business case for desktop virtualization is also proving to be hard.
"The ROI for server virtualization -- consolidation of servers and the resulting cost savings -- is a no-brainer. But it is much harder to prove ROI for desktop management problems, which many organization are looking to virtualization to solve," said Richard Jones, an analyst at Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group.
A survey of 500 mid-to-large enterprise at the end of 2008 found that 21% were using VDI in production. The primary business driver was security management, but Mark Bowker, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group Inc. in Rockville, Md., said desktop management dilemmas also top the list.
"IT is being asked by the business how they can improve logon times, desktop security, backups on the desktop or how to give offshore developers access to applications," Bowker said. "Then there are mobile workers asking for access to their desktop environments while not connected to the corporate LAN."
This in turn is creating interest in bare-metal client hypervisors. Users do not have to be connected to a corporate LAN since the user's personal image and the corporate image can reside side by side on the user's endpoint of choice, he said.
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Christina Torode, Senior News Writer