VMware Inc.'s ACE 2.0 desktop virtualization tool entered into its final public beta today before it becomes generally available in the second quarter, giving IT managers a novel and secure way to extend the corporate desktop outside the firewall.
ACE, which stands for Assured Computing Environment, allows for the creation of a secured virtual machine (VM), which is then deployed within ACE Player. New in ACE 2.0 are 'Pocket ACE' – the ability to store a VM on portable USB storage devices, better hardware support and performance, a universal print driver and management features such as full VM encryption, copy protection and expiration dates.
"ACE gives you really intelligent control over virtual laptops," said Jerry Chen, VMware director of enterprise desktop platforms. For example, let's say an employee wants to work from home and access company resources. "As an employer, you don't manage their home computer," Chen said, making it difficult to enforce the availability of, say, anti-virus software. But by giving the employee an ACE player and an ACE VM, the employee can run "a VM that [the employer] has complete control over," Chen said.
Michel Labelle, manager for network and terminal support at Terminal Systems Inc. (TSI) in Vancouver, has been using ACE 1.0 to extend TSI's enterprise resource planning (ERP) application to international partners such as steamship authorities, railways and trucking companies, as well as to employees working from home.
"We give them a choice," Labelle said of the container terminal operator's 400-plus partners. Configure your desktop with the necessary Java and ActiveX controls and come in over the VPN, or run this VM in an ACE player.
"If the partner chooses to run ACE on their workstation, we just run our software in it, and they don't have to change their overall infrastructure," Labelle said. From an IT perspective, "we know that the users are coming in working with a secure version, and there are no VPN issues – everything is part of the locked-down image," he said.
With ACE 2.0, Labelle is looking forward to better version control of the VMs, and support for USB 2.0. "As we move to IP phones, we do a lot of video conferencing. USB 2.0 is much, much faster – it is difficult to carry voice and video over USB 1.0." Labelle also expects he will take advantage of Pocket ACE features and give traveling staff members a memory stick pre-loaded with their desktop VM.
ACE vs. VDI
ACE is but one of VMware's many desktop-oriented products, each subtly different from the other.
VMware ACE and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), for example, are "two halves of the solution to the same problem – the management of desktops," Chen said. But whereas VDI is appropriate for "enterprise PCs that are always plugged in, always connected," ACE is a better fit for "PCs that aren't necessarily powered on and connected to the network" – e.g., "disconnected laptops, 3rd party PCs, home computers, untethered consultants," Chen said.
With ACE, "you don't always need to be powered on and connected to the network," Chen said.
VMware also offers VMware Workstation, largely a developer's tool, and the free VMware Player akin to the ACE player, but without any of ACE's rights management features.
Desktop virtualization is a key area of focus for VMware. Speaking on a conference call last month announcing the VMware IPO, VMware President Diane Greene said that the desktop virtualization opportunity "could be bigger that the server virtualization opportunity," because of its manageability, for one, but also for reasons as "far flung as avian flu preparedness."
Pricing for ACE 2.0 has not been announced. VMware charges $99 per desktop for ACE 1.0.
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