VMware sets sights on Citrix, virtual desktop

VMware Inc. has updated its desktop virtualization software, adding new management capabilities for virtual clients, including the ability to clone virtual PC images. According to one Info-Tech Research Group analyst, VMware’s continued venture into the new frontier of virtual desktop management illustrates its desire to keep pace with rival Citrix Systems Inc.

The virtualization giant rebranded its line of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) products on Tuesday by announcing the availability of VMware View 3. From an IT managers’ perspective, the product aims to simplify application deployment and reduce the amount of storage required for virtual desktops.

The launch is part of the company’s vClient initiative, a desktop virtualization roadmap it unveiled at September’s VMworld 2008 in Las Vegas.

Raj Mallempati, group product manager of desktop products at VMware, said the product’s VMware View Composer tool is the most notable addition to the company’s virtual desktop management suite and will reduce the amount of storage needed for virtual machines (VMs) by about 70 per cent.

“On traditional centralized virtual desktop solutions, each VM is a unique container, and full disk storage is expensive,” he said. With VMware View, Mallempati added, the IT manager can create clones that link back to a master image.

Instead of having a bunch of 20GB virtual desktops that require lots of SAN-based storage, for example, IT managers will only have to deal with one master image and a lot of smaller 25MB clones, he said.

With each virtual client split into operating system, applications and user data, IT administrators will also have an easier time updating and patching desktops, with changes made to the main images easily sent down to the user level.

“You can patch the OS disk without impacting the user personalization disk,” Mallempati said. “In the traditional world, they would have to patch each desktop individually. And these upgrades are never 100 per cent successful because people are sometimes disconnected or on the road with their laptops.”

John Sloan, senior research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group, said one of the disadvantages of VMware’s VDI compared to Citrix’s offerings was that VMware users had to create a virtual hard drive for each virtual PC they provisioned. He said that, with many large Canadian enterprises starting to think about virtual desktop deployments over the next few years, VMware is wise to continue its focus on desktop management.

“If you’re looking at reducing your desk-side support costs, and are moving towards a thin client environment, you’d want to look at (VMware View),” he said.

Another key piece of VMware View is Offline Desktop. The company is dubbing it as an “experimental feature” that allows mobile workers the ability to download a VM to their PC or laptop when not connected to the Internet.

Sloan warned IT managers to treat this functionality almost like a beta feature until VMware has worked out all the kinks and can fully support it.

“Right now, with Offline Desktop, the user has to check in and check out the images, but eventually we want to make sure that’s all seamless,” Mallempati said.

A final notable feature is called myView, which allows organizations to virtualize their employees’ physical desktops, giving users a personalized view of their applications and data via any computer or thin client device. VMware View is available now through the company’s sales department or its team of 20,000 channel partners.

It comes priced at US$150 per concurrent connection for a scaled down version and US$250 per concurrent user for the full-fledged edition. The cheaper option does not come equipped with VM Ware View Composer or ThinApp, which simplifies updating and patching applications and provides additional storage reduction for VMs.

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