Citrix targets laptop security with new XenDesktop

Citrix Systems Inc.’s next version of XenDesktop will automatically encrypt corporate data on employee-owned laptops and include a bare-metal client hypervisor.

The enterprise and platinum editions of XenDesktop 4 Feature Pack 2, due for release the last week of September, will include both the previously announced XenClient bare-metal hypervisor and XenVault, encryption software designed to protect corporate data on laptops used by contractors or employees who bring their own computers to work.

Citrix has gotten out ahead of rival VMware by releasing its bare-metal hypervisor, which is installed directly on desktop hardware, rather than on top of an operating system. This type of virtualization software (also known as a Type 1 hypervisor) is supposed to offer greater security because it isolates a user’s business desktop image from both the machine’s hardware and the user’s personal applications and Web browsing.

XenClient, by placing desktops in a secure virtual machine installed directly on a laptop, will give users the benefits of offline access while allowing IT to centrally manage user machines, Citrix says.

XenVault, meanwhile, enhances the security of laptops running VMs by automatically saving any data created by corporate applications in an encrypted folder on the user’s laptop, according to Sumit Dhawan, a Citrix vice president who announced the new software in a conference call this week.

Citrix is making the announcement a few days before VMworld, the virtualization conference hosted by VMware.

VMware promised to release its own bare-metal hypervisor in 2009, but still has not done so. VMware admits “it’s not an easy computer science problem” to solve, and has not made any further promisesabout when it might release the bare-metal platform.

Citrix CTO Simon Crosby took delight in criticizing VMware for not getting a bare-metal hypervisor on the market.

“It’s clear VMware’s aspirations to deliver a Type 1 hypervisor have failed,” Crosby says. “It’s harder to get onto a piece of hardware than it is to add a Type 2 hypervisor to an existing operating system.”

However, VMware is likely to make further announcements about its desktop virtualization strategy during VMworld next week.

Crosby also says Citrix is having more success selling its server virtualization software to desktop customers. As recently as two years ago, 90% of XenDesktop buyers were using VMware’s ESX virtualization technology on the back end of their server-hosted desktop deployments.

Now, Crosby says about 50% of Citrix’s XenDesktop revenue comes from customers using Citrix XenServer in the data center, with the rest split between VMware and Microsoft’s Hyper-V.

As for XenClient, the software will be available both as a part of XenDesktop and in an already available standalone “express” edition that has the same functionality and can be used for up to 10 desktops free of charge.

Online support will be available for the standalone version, but more extensive support will only be available to customers who use XenClient as part of the XenDesktop virtualization platform. Pricing for XenDesktop 4 as of last November ranged from $75 to $350 per desktop user.

XenDesktop allows a variety of desktop virtualization scenarios, including server-hosted desktops, blade PCs and even desktop access from the Apple iPad.  

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