When it comes to the desktop, it’s clear that virtualization has a huge role to play. But is the desktop best served by VMware’s server-based virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) model? Some people don’t think so.
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At Virtual Computer, a new startup in Westford, Mass., the thinking is that for desktops, the virtualization layer belongs directly on the client, in the form of a bare-metal hypervisor. There the hypervisor brings management benefits like simplified provisioning and patching of images, but without of the mobility and performance limitations of VDI, said Doug Lane, Virtual Computer’s director of product marketing and management.
When VMware announced its intention to deliver a client hypervisor for “offline VDI” this fall, the company tacitly acknowledged VDI’s shortcomings, according to Lane. Meanwhile, the company is still focused squarely on delivering the desktop from the server.
“With VMware, offline VDI is the niche case,” he said. But when Virtual Computer looks out at the enterprise, it sees a preponderance of laptops and thick clients. “Our model starts there, and we think that server-hosted desktops are the niche case.”
To that end, Virtual Computer is developing NxTop, a PC management suite pronounced “nextop.” It consists of a Xen bare-metal hypervisor called NxTop Engine optimized for laptop-class hardware and that runs Windows virtual machines. Those are managed by its NxTop Control console from which administrators can configure and provision images, set up access and protection policies, and the like. NxTop is currently in beta and is scheduled to ship by the end of the first quarter of 2009.
Without making a stake in the ground and validating one strategy over another, Gartner senior research analyst Terry Cosgrove agreed that there several issues with hosted virtual desktops (Gartner-speak for VDI). “Hosted virtual desktops are an immature, adolescent technology” that won’t be ready for mainstream use for a number of years, he said. In the meantime, “there’s a place for alternative architectures to achieve the same thing – centralized management and control, but that gives users some autonomy.”
Cosgrove also said that several stealth-mode startups working on VDI alternatives will emerge over the next couple of months. There is also speculation that Microsoft and/or Citrix are developing client hypervisors of their own, and questions about which tack laptop OEMs like Dell and Lenovo will promote. One thing is clear, though: With laptop sales now exceeding desktop sales, those OEMs “are highly motivated to have a solution that will not prohibit the sales of laptops,” Cosgrove said.