Virtual machine software maker VMware Inc. has unveiled a front end to its ESX Server virtual machine technology that lets IT managers create “virtual desktops” for users on a server.
Desktop Manager 2, announced Wednesday, is an add-on to Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMware’s Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) product that allows users to access their virtual machines using conventional PCs, though companies are more likely to use this for thin clients, according to one industry analyst.
“The device that the user is using to connect to that desktop is usually a thin client or dumbed-down PC,” said Mike Rose, associate research analyst for enterprise virtualization software at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. “That’s one of the reasons people go to this kind of infrastructure is that there’s not much the users can do to affect their desktops so it’s a real security play.”
Security features include two-factor authentication through SecureID from RSA Security Inc. of Bedford, Mass., said Jerry Chen, VMware’s senior director for enterprise desktop. When a user tries to log on, Desktop Manager will authenticate the virtual machine running on ESX server. If the person has no virtual machine, then VMWare’s software could create the virtual machine and let administrators manage it.
“If I want to fire you or you do something really bad, I as an administrator can go to this virtual desktop and disconnect you automatically from that virtual machine and basically prevent you from doing anything really bad,” Chen said.
VDI also has an optional secure sockets layer feature, so traffic between the end points and the virtual machines are encoded.
Desktop Manager works on both Windows and Linux clients. Although Apple clients can connect to the system, this is on an “experimental basis,” Chen said, adding VMware does not provide tech support for Mac implementations.
VDI is available in two bundles, both of which include two of VMWare’s back end applications, ESX Server 3.5 and VMWare’s VirtualCenter 2.5. The starter edition, which lets administrators create up to 10 virtual desktops, has a list price of US$1,500. The VDI Bundle 100 Pack, which can create up to 100 virtual desktops, starts at US$15,000. Customers can buy additional licences in multiples of 10 for either version for $150 per concurrent user.
“It’s a very significant announcement and significant product for VMware in that it really extends the reach of their product,” Rose said, because until now, VMware’s virtualization technology was able to host virtual desktops but without a component that connected users from remote desktops.
“It didn’t allow you to manage the connection between those users and their virtual desktops sitting on the server,” Rose said.
The ability to manage the connection lets IT administrators provision desktops very quickly, Chen said, adding it reduces the time and effort involved in providing support to desktop machines.
“Managing a PC is pretty problematic,” Chen said. “You have to provision new PCs, every PC has a different image from different vendors and different models. Repairing hardware is expensive. Hard drives break. You need to upgrade the memory. You need to send an IT guy from the headquarters down to the person’s cubicle to try to fix things.” VDI also lets users setup USB peripherals, such as printers and storage devices, to users’ virtual desktops.
“If you want to connect a remote printer to it or a remote storage device, we can plug that into our client software and remotely tunnel this printer to a virtual desktop running on the server,” Chen said.