VMware's Executive Blog
Fri, 21 Apr 2006
Introducing Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
Posted by Jerry Chen
Today VMware announced the Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Alliance, which may mark an inflection point in desktop virtualization. First, let me give some background and history on Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, or what we usually abbreviate as VDI (you can imagine that we use a lot of three letter acronyms that start with the letter "V"). The interesting thing about VDI is that it is largely a customer driven solution. As early as 2002 I've seen customers use VMware virtual infrastructure software to host desktops in their data centers. Basically, an administrator creates a desktop virtual machine (e.g. Windows XP) and runs it on a server in the data center. The actual desktop end user connects to the virtual machine using a remote display protocol, most commonly RDP. Users can connect to their desktops from any device that supports RDP, including thin clients and even regular PCs. All you need is a network connection and you can access your desktops. VDI essentially turns your entire desktop into a hosted application like Salesforce.com. More and more applications are moving from client hosted to server hosted, and VDI extends that paradigm by transforming a PC into a hosted application.
The most frequent question I get about VDI is "How is this different from terminal services or thin client solutions of the past?" The major difference between VDI and these other offerings is the fact that users now are accessing their own individual PC environment instead of accessing a shared application environment. With Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, users interact with a real desktop that looks and behaves like their normal PC. An added benefit of using virtual machines is that each and every user is isolated from each other resulting in improved security.
There are probably two common ways to set up Virtual Desktop Infrastructure:
Static Desktops. In its simplest incarnation, Microsoft Windows XP desktop virtual machines run on VMware virtual infrastructure and are accessed remotely from a PC or thin client using RDP. This is the basic or static one-to-one; every user accesses the same desktop virtual machine by initiating an RDP connection to the same IP address.
Pooled Desktops. In a more sophisticated deployment, users log into a portal, are authenticated and then assigned to a virtual machine from a pool of generic virtual machines. In this setup, a system admin would create a batch of desktops or groups of different desktops and then assign users to a group based on pre-determined business rules. For example, a developer would log into any one of a thousand developer virtual machines while a marketing manager would log into a different virtual machine build with different applications.
These more complicated offerings are a major area of emphasis for the VDI Alliance. VMware is working with the different members of the Alliance to create tested and integrated offerings for customers to deploy for their desktop hosting projects.
Virtual Desktop Infrastructure gives customers increased control and flexibility of their PC environments. PC management and maintenance becomes easier because it eliminates the need to walk to a user's cube to troubleshoot a problem and it enables PC upgrades with a click of the mouse by increasing the CPU and memory resources to a virtual machine. I've spoken to a couple of customers who are planning a major desktop and OS refresh and are planning on repurposing their old PCs as dumb clients and moving the desktop to a virtual machine on the server. By turning their old computers into effectively VDI terminals, they can extend the life of their IT assets while still upgrading their users to a new virtual computer running on Virtual Desktop Infrastructure.
How does Virtual Desktop Infrastructure compare to our other desktop products like VMware ACE, VMware Player, and VMware Workstation? These three products run virtual machines locally on a user's laptop or desktop. In comparison, VDI runs a desktop virtual machine on the server. In particular, ACE is the perfect complement to VDI. VMware ACE creates a secure desktop virtual machine that runs on a laptop or desktop while VDI creates a desktop virtual machine that runs securely on the server. One VDI Alliance partner called VDI "ACE-online." Enterprises can now use virtual infrastructure to manage online and offline users.
Why does Virtual Desktop Infrastructure make sense? The two major benefits of VDI are centralized management and security. Desktops today are the most underutilized and difficult to manage IT asset in the enterprise. The average PC sits idle for most of the day and there are gigabytes of sensitive data sitting at the edge of the network, unprotected on PC hard drives. By centralizing all of these computers into the data center, an IT administrator can increase utilization and improve security. Add in the power and flexibility of virtualization such as VMotion technology to manage resource demands, and you have a very compelling management solution.
The major VDI use cases that I see from customers:
Whatever the use case for Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, it's amazing to see how enterprises are beginning to use virtualization to solve problems beyond server consolidation. As more of our customers begin to standardize on virtualization they are leveraging VMware virtual infrastructure to solve other pressing IT problems such as PC management. I don't think it will be long before we see companies benefit from the value of virtualization from the desktop to the data center.
Mon, 10 Apr 2006
Posted by Jack Lo
There was a flurry of press releases around virtualization this week at LinuxWorld. The topic is certainly very hot (although the firefighters who showed up at the show weren't there for virtualization, they were there for the smoke at the Unisys booth.
I was really excited to see a growing recognition that virtualization is a lot more than just server consolidation. Virtualization isn't just about carving up your server to run multiple OSes and save money. There are so many amazing things you can do with virtualization, and it's fun to see others realizing the kind of impact that virtual appliances can have.
I did hear a lot of discussion about how the virtualization hardware from the CPU vendors will greatly improve performance. I guess it's natural for people to assume that HW will be faster than software. But the misconception is that HW support will make everyone's virtualization software faster than VMware's. The first-generation hardware assist is more of a functionality enabler -- it makes it easier for people to write an x86 virtual machine monitor. Also, all vendors, including VMware, can take advantage of the performance features of the new HW. But it's still really hard to make a high-performance vmm like VMware's.
One of the most entertaining sessions at LinuxWorld didn't really have anything to do with virtualization, though. There was a panel on "The Death of the Enterprise Software Business Model: How Startups are Leveraging Open Source to Change the Model". Marc Fleury from JBoss was quite the crowd pleaser with his humor and potshots at Microsoft, IBM, and Sun. All of the panelists held the view that open source software is a superior model to proprietary software. But time will tell... A couple of their key points were that 1) open source make it really easy for customers to try before they buy, and 2) open source software is high-quality because developers are much more careful, knowing that the whole world is watching the code they write. These are both valuable outcomes, and VMware users and Community participants are getting those same benefits through VMware's free Player and Server products, and a strong code review process both in the Community Source program and in our internal engineering organization.
Sun, 02 Apr 2006
Freedom of Choice
Posted by Diane Greene
This blog, (my first), is a way of discussing the important but technically complex virtualization space. I spend a great deal of time thinking about this part of the industry and there are two virtualization competitive struggles going on right now, whose outcome is going to profoundly affect users and vendors.
First is the specification of the virtual machine format. Is it going to be a license-free industry standard? If it is not and one company owns the license, they will have a defining control point over virtualization. The disk format of a virtual machine and the libraries that use that format will define how people provision, patch, recover, and otherwise manipulate their virtual machines. Microsoft is today pushing a standard called VHD that has a Microsoft license as a requirement for full access. VMware has offered a specification, VMDK, that is freely available and has no license requirement.
The second area is the question of whether virtualization should be tightly integrated into the operating system or instead a separate wholly independent layer. Tight integration comes at the unfortunate cost of giving up bias-free choice of operating system and thus software stack (i.e. OS and application program).
The use of this freedom of choice can be seen clearly in hardware appliances like firewalls, routers, cell phones, DVRs, and set-top boxes. We judge an appliance by what it can do, how well it can do, and how much it costs. The underlying software does not matter and the appliance designer has the freedom to choose the best possible software stack for their appliance. They can take an OS written from scratch, customized from open source, or a 20-year-old kernel that happens to match their needs.
Virtualization brings the appliance model to modern computing environments in the form of virtual appliances. You can now select the ideal bundle for your requirements and then run it anywhere that has a compatible virtualization layer. Many VMware customers use this paradigm today within their companies to run mixed environments with hardware independence.
Some operating system vendors like Microsoft are saying that OS/Virtualization integration will mean fewer moving parts and a single point of customer contact. While intuitively appealing, this is not true if you stop and think about how virtualization is changing how we use and support the operating system.
Again, the appliance market best illustrates this. Appliance designers have the freedom to choose the best OS for the job and we see them utilizing a wide range of OSes (e.g. Windows, Linux, FreeBSD, Solaris, customOS, etc..). This rich usage happens without increasing the moving parts, there is a virtualization layer tied to the hardware and there is an appliance/virtual machine that is a transparent bundle of OS and application. This new bundle model reduces the customer viewed complexity (e.g. there is no OS from the customer's perspective). This also leaves the OS support problem to the appliance/virtual machine maintainer, this person will increasingly be someone other than the end user. This is similar to the software as a service (SAAS) trend.
The ideal scenario for the customer is for the virtualization layer to be something that comes with the hardware and supports, through an industry standard interface, all virtual machines. The virtual machines can include any operating system that is built for the underlying hardware architecture such as, in the case of x86, Windows, Linux, Solarisx86, the new MacOS, BSDUnix, and Netware.
Virtualization's breaking of the one OS per computer bond has given us the ability to choose software solutions based on relevant metrics such as functionality, reliability, security, and price. Tying the OS to the virtualization jeopardizes this benefit.
I was thinking about holding off talking about standards and open interfaces until next time but they are an integral part of the discussion, thus here is an addition on that. Standards, specifications, and open interfaces are what will make it possible for the entire industry to fully leverage virtualization on the x86 platforms. There should be complete transparency and unconstrained availability (standards, open interfaces) of the interfaces between the hardware and the virtualization, the virtualization and the operating system, and the format of the virtual machines.