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VMware goes beyond RDP with more remote presentation protocols

In an effort to improve multimedia performance of virtual desktops, VMware will support many new remote presentation protocols but, unfortunately, not Citrix ICA.

In recent weeks, Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMware Inc. has moved its Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) story forward, announcing that in addition to the ubiquitous Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), VMware View (the new name for VMware Desktop Manager) will support four new protocols for delivering a desktop to a remote device: Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Remote Graphics Software (RGS), Sun Appliance Link Protocol (ALP), Teradici PC-over-IP and Wyse TCX.

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This new multiprotocol approach strives to maximize the end-user experience of multimedia and address the limitations of individual protocols like RDP, according to VMware. For better or for worse, though, Citrix ICA is not on the list of supported protocols and probably won't be anytime soon.

"We are taking a multiprotocol approach," said Raj Mallempati, product marketing manager of VMware's Enterprise Desktop Group. "If a customer wants to use HP thin clients, no problem, [VMware] View will use RGS; if they want to use a Sun thin client, it will use ALP. The idea is to make sure the end user has the best graphics solution for their environment."

ICA is a huge competitive advantage for Citrix; Citrix will never license ICA for use in a non-Citrix solution.
Brian Madden,
independent analyst

While widely supported (Microsoft bundles an RDP client in every desktop OS), RDP is far from perfect. "The challenge of RDP is multimedia," Mallempati said. With Wyse's TCX extensions to RDP, for instance, "you can really listen to the song, you can really view the video. The multimedia experience is significantly enhanced."

Providing a good end-user experience is particularly important in a VDI scenario, said Brian Madden, an independent analyst. It's not like in the good old days of Citrix Presentation Server (or XenApp) and Microsoft Terminal Services, where end users typically access only a few applications remotely. With VDI, "you're outright replacing their desktop. You can't just say, 'Oh, well, it doesn't work well for some applications.'"

But what about Citrix?
One protocol that VMware has yet to add to its stable is Citrix ICA , which is supported by a variety of thin clients and is widely perceived as the best remote presentation protocol on the market, Madden said.

VMware, said Mallempati, would happily license ICA "one, if our customers need it, and two, if there is a willingness on the part of Citrix," Mallempati said.

But anyone implementing VMware VDI shouldn't hold his breath for ICA support. Despite what a Citrix spokesperson described as "a well-established licensing program for ICA, allowing our partners to use the protocol for building their own clients," Madden said he highly doubted that Citrix would ever license ICA to VMware. "ICA is a huge competitive advantage for Citrix; Citrix will never license ICA for use in a non-Citrix solution," he said.

Or, as the Citrix spokesperson said, "The ICA protocol remains a critical component of XenDesktop, as well as XenApp, and allows XenDesktop to provide the best performance among all desktop delivery products on the market."

The next-best thing?
With the VMware-plus-ICA combination seemingly off the table, IT architects will have to explore whether any of the new remote presentation protocols truly meet end-user performance requirements.

For the most part, many of the new protocols are designed to work with proprietary hardware (Sun ALP, for example, is designed for the company's own Sun Ray thin clients). However, work is also afoot to improve software-only remote presentation protocols, such as the next generation of Teradici's PC-over-IP. Time will tell whether those deliver good-enough performance for VDI.

In the meantime, "it doesn't cost VMware anything to add these [protocols to View]," said Madden. "What's the expression? If you throw enough mud at the wall, maybe some of it will stick."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director. And check out our Server Virtualization blog .

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