VMware: Windows 7 will propel virtual desktop sales

SAN FRANCISCO – Microsoft Corp.’s launch of Windows 7 next month may be the biggest gift it could have given its rival VMware Inc. in its quest to dominate the desktop virtualization market, according to executives at this week’s VMworld 2009.

Although VMware did not announce a new version of VMware View, its software for bringing virtualization to PCs and laptops, it claimed more than 7,000 customers have adopted it across one million seats, and formed a partnership to integrate RTO Software Inc.’s Virtual Profiles into the product.

VMware also expanded its partnership with Dell Inc. this week, whereby Dell will bundle VMware View as an option on selected server and client platforms.

Raj Mallempati, group product manager for VMware’s desktop business unit, told ComputerWorld Canada about 30 per cent of the company’s pre-sales efforts are now centered around creating proof-of-concepts with customers around desktop virtualization, even though VMware doesn’t expect the market to really take off until next year. Changes in the operating system sector, however, could accelerate the momentum.

“From what we’ve been hearing, about 70 per cent of customers just skipped Windows Vista entirely,” Mallempati said. “In the meantime, Microsoft will be winding down support for Windows XP. A lot of (those enterprises) are now evaluating 7 and looking at a forklift upgrade. We think virtualizing those desktops is the most effective transition.”

VMware has licensed Terradici Corp.’s PC over IP (PCoIP) protocol to make virtual desktops resemble the same PC-like experience to which employees are accustomed. This is crucial, Mallempati said, in order for IT departments to effectively move client hardware into a virtual environment.

“You should have the ability to print to the local printer. The sound quality if you’re using Skype should be the same,” he said. “It should be as close to a native PC as possible.”

Getting to that point means VMware has to help do some decoding with PCoIP to make some server-side changes that optimize the performance on a virtual desktop. In a session with VMworld attendees this week, VMware CTO Stephen Herrod suggested virtual desktops could even help deal with the issue of consumer devices entering the enterprise. Employees could be given a CD with the virtual image to install and would ensure consistency in terms of configurations and policies. This would enable “employee-owned IT,” he said. “What if Microsoft takes care of a big chunk of the provisioning issue by providing a thin client option itself?”

Warren Shiau, senior associate with research firm The Strategic Council, said there could be big benefits from desktop virtualization in terms of time and costs within IT departments that could be reallocated. The question is whether enterprises would go completely in that direction, or whether some users with specific needs have traditional PCs and the rest who only need a few key applications are given virtual desktops. “It may not be critical if those users don’t have the one-to-one experience on a desktop,” he said. However, splitting up the user base that way “creates its own management issues,” he added.

Mallempati pointed out that Microsoft will not be the only OS player, given Google Inc.’s recent announcement to launch its own Chrome OS later this year. That could provide more traction to the idea of a virtual desktop, as could the increased use of Google Apps and other Web-based software.

Desktop virtualization will also create opportunities for service providers to offer a new kind of managed service, something VMware CEO Paul Maritz alluded to when introducing Telus Communications Corp. during his keynote speech earlier this week.

“It will reach the point where users won’t care about the device, they just want their applications and the ability to get information out of them,” he said. “All 500 million PCs can and should be virtualized.”

VMworld 2009 wraps up Thursday.

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