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Virtualization Update: Virtual Desktops, New Software

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More on virtualization: Virtualization Vendors: VMware vs. Microsoft vs. Citrix

In my last update on virtualization, it was all about the server side of things. The second half of 2010 has seen more development on virtual desktops, along with some interesting twists on improvements to virtualization infrastructure.

The end of 2010 hasn’t seen many new products from the three major virtualization vendors (Microsoft, Citrix and VMware) but more key acquisitions and filling out some gaps in their offerings. We’ll get to those in a moment.

Two new Citrix-related announcements worth noting are Xen Client v1, which makes it easier to deploy virtual machines on laptops; and Citrix’s relationship with Cisco on VDI, which makes it easier to deploy XenDesktop across enterprises. Xen Client only runs on a very limited number of laptops at the moment, however.

Two updates fromVMware are vFabric and vCloud Director. vFabric combines the Spring Java development environment (which VMware manages for the open source community) for a lightweight app server and load balancing and other infrastructure needs so that you can move things between various cloud instances. vCloud Director can be useful for managing multiple virtual machines in the creation of a virtual datacenter and setting up pre-configured app services and infrastructure.

We’ll talk about these in the context of four major trends that we’ve seen over the past few months.

1. Hybrid public/private clouds continue to get better.

First, the notion of a hybrid cloud is gaining traction. The concept of having part of your virtual infrastructure out on a public hosting provider and part inside your datacenter isn’t all that new. But what is new is that many vendors are looking for ways to help IT manage these mixed environments.

Microsoft is trying to capture some of this market and has a great starting place for more information here, including a list of hosting providers that support Hyper-V.

There are more and more providers that make it easier to get start with hosting multiple instances or collections of virtual machines. One that I particularly like is Skytap, where for $500 a month you get started and set everything up in a Web browser. Vyatta has virtual firewalls and other network infrastructure gear to help secure the hybrid configuration. Appistry has its CloudIQ servers that can help you scale up or down, and GoGrid is just of many hosting providers out there that can specifically help with hybrid management.

And even Intel has its Hybrid Cloud offering. It is in limited beta for providers to offer up a server designed for managed services providers to deploy on a customer premise. It includes a variety of options, including firewall, VOIP PBX, virtual storage and management tools.

If you are going to make the move into a hybrid could, some of the things to look for include:

• Can you use VPNs to connect?

• Can you segment your network into VLANs easily?

• Is there any role-based and granular access controls?

• Are both Linux and Windows virtual server instances available?

2. Win 7 means that thin is in.

As Windows 7 becomes more popular – and it’s already installed on more corporate desktops than Vista – it presents new challenges for IT managers who want to preserve legacy Web and Microsoft applications.

Win7 comes with Internet Explorer v8, which doesn’t run many of these older apps. One way to postpone upgrading these apps is to make use of applications virtualization, by which a thin virtual layer of the older app is temporarily installed on the Win 7 desktop.

There are five vendors who have solutions in this arena, including Microsoft’s App-V, Citrix’ XenApp, InstallFree 7Bridge, Symantec Workspace Virtualization, and VMware’s ThinApp. (See the chart below.)

Each has made improvements in the past year on their solutions, but getting this to work is somewhat involved. Each product may or may not require its own agent to be pre-installed on each desktop to deliver the virtualized layer.

Some products don’t work with any directory services, or don’t completely isolate the virtualized app from the rest of the desktop operating system. And getting the virtualized app packaged to be delivered to each desktop is a multiple-step process that can also be vexing.

But once you get all this together, however, you can associate particular Web sites to be opened with particular browsers, much the way a file type association works to always open .DOC files in Microsoft Word.

Product comparison chart of Application Virtualization Solutions:

Application Virtualization Solutions; Microsoft, Citrix, Symantec, VMware

3. Thin provisioning and reduplication are now essential.

Thin is also in when it comes to storage. As virtual machines proliferate, they begin to consume massive gobs of storage space. One of the problems with virtualized storage is that you can provision a lot of empty space on your physical hard drives that never gets touched by any of your VMs.

A typical scenario can have a terabyte of storage allocated to a virtual network, and only a few hundred gigabytes actually used for the applications after you partition the drive with logical and physical volumes and add in operating system requirements. The challenge: you want to provision your virtual drive to have room to grow, but you don’t want to deal with adjusting the size of your virtual disks when the demand arises.

Another issue is that virtual machines can create a lot of duplicated files used by common operating system and applications. Making backups of these files can be time consuming if you have to backup all the duplicates.

There are a number of thin provisioning and dedupe products on the market now, including Virtsto One for Hyper V installations, Symantec Pure Disk and Sepaton. Look for these features to become more prominent in the coming year.

4. Acquisitions continue.

To support hybrid clouds, the major vendors have been buying key enabling components. August was a particularly active time, when Citrix bought VMLogix, and VMware bought Tricipher and Integrien. Expect a lot more of this kind of activity to happen in 2011.

Tricipher offers unified security authentication in the cloud, so a single Web sign-on can authenticate you across multiple Web sites. This makes it easier to deploy hybrid cloud solutions if you can pass security credentials among the various sites. Integrien provides performance analytics software for infrastructure and real-time applications. VMLogix provides automated setup and tear down of multiple machine configurations and automation tools that can be used with multiple hypervisors from Citrix, Microsoft and VMware.

As you can see, there are lots of innovative things happening in the virtualization space that make it easier to create more complex and secure virtual environments.

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