As promised, VMware Inc. has updated its Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) suite, VMware View 3, which becomes generally available today. The release demonstrates the Palo Alto, Calif.-based firm's commitment to advance its desktop virtualization story, but the release still omits some of the far-reaching features previewed at VMworld this fall, such as the client hypervisor.
Generally speaking, VMware's goal with View 3 is to solve what it has dubbed "the desktop dilemma," said Raj Mallempati, VMware's group product marketing manager: that is, "meeting user requirements while also providing what IT wants." Specifically, VMware's dilemma is how to "give users access to personalized desktops that can follow them around on any device while giving IT the ability to manage disk images in a streamlined fashion and with lower cost."
And while some of the features of VMware View 3 take aim at customization and improve user functionality along the way, other untested functionalities prompt one observer to say that VDI may still be too immature for broad-based use.VMware View functionality
The central component of VMware View is its connection broker, formerly VMware Desktop Manager (VDM), which has been re-branded as View Manager. The newest version includes three new features. View Manager's new Unified Desktop Access enables users to access multiple different kinds of sessions -- for instance, virtual desktops and Terminal Services -- from a single interface. Virtual Printing allows users to print to any device without having to install a printer driver; the technology is based on a universal printer driver that also compresses the print stream to speed it up. Finally, Multimedia Redirection employs the TCX technology VMware licensed from Wyse Technology Inc. to provide a better multimedia experience for users working from a thin client, Mallempati said.
View Manager plus VMware Infrastructure ships as part of VMware View 3 Enterprise Edition and costs $150 per user. But for another $100 per user, IT shops can upgrade to View 3 Premier Edition, which adds several noteworthy – if untested – technologies.
For one, View 3 Premier includes Offline Desktop, or the ability to check out a virtual desktop from a centralized server and run it locally on a laptop, regardless of whether the user is connected to the corporate network, said VMware's Mallempati. When the user logs back on, the virtual desktop is checked back in and only the differences are uploaded back to the server, he explained.
Unfortunately, Offline Desktop is still an unsupported, experimental feature. "We want users to evaluate it and make sure the process of check in/check out is fully tested before we officially support it," Mallempati said.
Premier Edition also includes View Composer, which uses the company's Linked Clones snapshot technology to quickly copy virtual desktop instances from a master image.
According to Brian Madden, a blogger who writes extensively on VDI, View Composer "is a big deal." With it, shops can dramatically reduce the amount of storage required to store their virtual desktops. Likewise, View Composer also enables on-the-fly creation of virtual desktops as a user logs in, which reduces the preparation work administrators must do to get the environment up and running, he explained.With View Composer, VMware also negates one of the main advantages Citrix has with XenDesktop: the inclusion of its Provisioning Server operating system streaming technology, Madden said. "They're very different technologies, but in the context of VDI, they have the same effect: you can have a whole bunch of VMs [virtual machines] without consuming a lot of disk space, and you can boot a VM on demand."
View 3 Premier Edition also includes another interesting, if untested, feature: ThinApp application packaging and deployment software. With ThinApp, applications are packaged and run independent of the host operating system, according to VMware, including the patch level.VDI: Still too immature for the mainstream?
Going forward, this kind of application virtualization functionality is critical to making VDI mainstream, Madden said. "To really get the power of VDI, you need to go where you're sharing desktop images," Madden said. "The problem with everybody sharing the same disk image, though, is when a user wants to run different software. Then you're back to having two images to support, patch, etc. With ThinApp and competitive technologies like Microsoft Application Virtualization (formerly SoftGrid), or Symantec Software Virtualization Solution (SVS), formerly Altiris, "you separate out the baseline image, then use [ThinApp] to load the applications on the desktop that [the users] need."
But there is a kink in the plan. For whatever reason, not all applications lend themselves to being virtualized, Madden said. "It only takes one application to prevent you from deploying the technology across the board."These sorts of caveats leave pundits like Madden with the nagging feeling that VDI isn't fully baked. "It's like with the Apple Newton," referring to the company's mid-1990s-era personal digital assistant (PDA). "Yes, there were people that legitimately used it, but what they really wanted was an iPhone; they just didn't know it yet. That's where we are with VDI."