VMware does the desktop

Company is best-known for its virtualization products that relate to server infrastructure. But with View, it's making a more systematic push into tech for clients.

Gordon Haff
Gordon Haff is Red Hat's cloud evangelist although the opinions expressed here are strictly his own. He's focused on enterprise IT, especially cloud computing. However, Gordon writes about a wide range of topics whether they relate to the way too many hours he spends traveling or his longtime interest in photography.
Gordon Haff
3 min read

When I put together an overview of VMware's virtualization portfolio in May of this year, my focus--like the company's--was on their products that establish a virtualized infrastructure, and then manage and automate virtual-machine life cycles on top of that infrastructure.

It's not that VMware didn't have desktop products. In fact, its first product, still popular among developers, was VMware Workstation. And in practice, it has the default back-end server virtualization used for virtual desktop infrastructure installations. I went on to write that:

For many companies, this desktop portfolio would be an enviable product lineup in its own right. However, it's not at the core of VMware's strategy. VMware's primary focus is, rather, on back-end infrastructures, not the client.

This reflects, in part, where the most interesting use cases lie and, not incidentally, where there's the most money to be made. It's also a function of where computing is headed--into the data center and into the cloud.

VMware was clearly doing work behind the scenes to amp up its presence in virtualization related to clients. However, it remained a work in progress and largely out of the limelight--more a set of point products and solutions than a systematic capability.

That's now largely changed. With its VMware View announcement on December 2, the company now has both a fairly complete set of client-side virtualization products and a more structured approach to organizing the portfolio.

Before getting into what VMware View is, it's worth noting what it is not. It's not an umbrella for all VMware work related to clients. Thus, products such as VMware Workstation, VMware Fusion (desktop virtualization for the Mac), and VMware ACE (which extends corporate resources to unmanaged PCs) remain an independent set of products for now.

That said, an experimental "offline desktop" capability that VMware announced as part of View dovetails with virtualization on the desktop (using a new client hypervisor project still under development), so it wouldn't surprise me to see further integration over time.

Rather, View is focused on delivering virtual desktops (and applications) hosted on back-end virtual infrastructure to client devices. VMware describes View as a renaming of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), though it also rolls in both other existing products and new ones. In addition to the aforementioned "offline desktop," View covers three primary areas:

VDI: This is a combination of VMware Infrastructure--that is, the software services running in the data center to create and manage the virtual machines that are being delivered to the desktop--and View Manager. Manager is the renamed Virtual Desktop Manager, the "connection broker" tool that handles tasks such as connecting the right client to the right virtual machine.

Application virtualization: ThinApp is the result of VMware's acquisition of Thinstall in January 2008. It can be thought of as a complement to VDI. Whereas VDI delivers a complete operating-system image (along with all its applications) to a client device, application virtualization delivers a specific application to a client, whether virtual or physical.

Storage optimization: View Composer is a new product that uses "Linked Clone" technology to create virtual desktops and propagate updates from a single master. One of the reasons that this type of software is important in VDI installations is that typical desktop images contain many of the same files. VMware estimates that Composer will typically reduce storage requirements by about 70 percent.

Overall, VMware remains more server-centric than client-centric. In a sense, it's a mirror image of Citrix in this regard, reflecting differences of historical focus. Prior to acquiring XenSource, Citrix was solely about delivering applications to clients (as was its close partner, Microsoft).

VMware, on the other hand, really made it big by enabling companies to consolidate servers and thereby reduce the number of physical boxes they had to buy. However, there's an ever-increasing interest within IT shops in moving away from traditional approaches to deploying and managing desktops. So, if you're a serious virtualization player--and VMware's the biggest such--you pretty much have to make a serious client play.

And VMware is doing so.