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VMware’s “rookie” Seminar too lightweight

With virtualization adoption teetering on mainstream, I am sure it is difficult for VMware to find the balance between what to explain about the technology and what is considered common knowledge.

Judging by a show of hands, a lot of what the 40-or so IT admins who attended VMware Inc.’s Virtualization Seminar Series at the Hilton Hotel in Providence, RI Tuesday morning heard was the latter. The seminar was a low-level look at VMware technologies on the market and those coming down the pipeline. It also had some case studies supporting virtualization, and a snore-inducing spiel from their sponsor, data networking company Brocade.

The case study that seemed to be of most interest to attendees was about the technology team at IntelliRisk Management Corporation (IRMC), a company with call centers and clients all over the world, deploying VMware’s Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).

Using VMware’s VDI, IRMC was able to centralize its global data center operations by giving their employees access to applications, operating systems, etc. via virtual desktops.

One unimpressed system administrator at the seminar asked, “And this is different from Citrix how?”

Peter Marcotte, VMware’s Systems Engineering manager, said the good old server based computing (SBC) environments from Citrix Systems, Inc., where each user connects to a remote desktop running on a Microsoft terminal server and/or a Citrix Presentation Server, doesn’t offer the kind of flexibility VDI does. He also said applications don’t run as well in SBC environments as they do in isolated virtual desktop machines.

Independent Technology Analyst and Blogger Brian Madden wrote an analysis of VDI and SBC that weighs their pros and cons and when to use each.

Madden wrote that VDI offers better performance from the users’ standpoint, it doesn’t have application compatibility issues, and offers better security than traditional SBC.

In the case of IRMC, they deployed virtual desktops and can add a new PC image in less than 10 minutes. All of the virtual desktops can be managed from one location through VirtualCenter. After deploying VDI, IRMC saw an annual return on investment (ROI) of 73%, with a payback period of 1.37 years, the case study shows.

On the flip side, Madden wrote that SBCs have the maturity advantage — it’s been around for a decade — and it is easy to manage.

“With SBC you can run 50 to 75 desktop sessions on a single terminal server or Citrix Presentation Server, and that server has one instance of Windows to manage. When you go VDI, your 50 to 75 users have 50 to 75 copies of Windows XP that you need to configure, manage, patch, clean, update, and disinfect. Bummer!” Madden blogged.

Of course, VMware’s Marcotte didn’t mention that Citrix announced its own VDI product, Citrix XenDesktop back in October 2007 to compete with VMware’s VDI offering.

The seminar was helpful to some people I am sure — there were questions here and there – but overall I am a bit annoyed because by definition, seminars are supposed to teach us something and I’m not sure this one accomplished that.

Additionally, I, unlike most attendees, who either left or used the time to catch up on emails via Blackberry, sat through Brocade’s commercial for their Advanced Fabric Services, expecting a “Live Customer Testimonial” to follow as scheduled, but that part of the program never happened.

Hearing an actual user talk about their experiences with virtualization is far more helpful to other users than seeing vendor slide presentations. Users could have asked about snags during deployment, positive results and gotten some good advice.

Hopefully other VMware seminars include the Live Customer Testimonials; it would make the time more worthwhile for attendees.

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