VMware Spruces up Desktop Offering

VMware on Wednesday released Virtual Desktop Manager 2 (VDM2), a new management and control layer for companies virtualizing their desktop environments on its Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) software.

Along with Citrix Systems and Microsoft, VMware is betting companies that are already reaping the considerable benefits of virtualizing applications and operating systems in their datacenters will eventually take the next step and use the technology to manage their desktop environments.

“It’s what customers are asking us for,” Jerry Chen, senior director for VMware’s Enterprise Desktop group, told InternetNews.com. “Now that people have standardized on virtual machines for server workloads, they’re finding a huge amount of value in taking the same tools and training to manage desktop workloads.”

VDM2 lets companies manage multiple desktop images running on virtual and physical servers in their datacenters. It takes all the computing required for an organization’s desktops, laptops and thin clients off the hard drive on the edge of the network to virtual servers where administrators can manage hardware upgrades, monitor application use and secure data access from one central location.

Having the ability to capture 40 or 60 desktop images on a single server sounds great, particularly when these desktops can easily be moved around on virtual machines hosting other application workloads, but so far only the earliest of adopters have embraced desktop virtualization.

“It’s absolutely in its infancy stage,” Michael Rose, an analyst at IDC, said in an interview with InternetNews.com.

Rose said few people are deploying server-hosted virtual desktops. “No one is going to roll out 100,000 virtual desktops tomorrow,” he said. “It’s still very early.”

VMware said end users are showing more and more interest in desktop virtualization but declined to provide specifics on just how many customers are using its VDI offering.

“It’s a real solution,” Chen said. “We have several customers doing strategic deployments, some with several thousand seats.

Chen predicts the adoption rate will be “very rapid.”

IDC’s Rose is actually in the process of gathering data on just how many VDI users are out there. Right now, he estimates it’s in the “tens of thousands” in terms of total seats.

“Though it definitely has its place within specific-use cases, it’s still a tiny number,” he said. “It’s not ready for large-scale deployment, but what we’re seeing is the beginning of the evolution of the desktop.”

As with any emerging technology, several obstacles prevent desktop virtualization from taking flight.

According to Rose, today’s applications can host 40 to 60 desktops on a single dual-core server, which is good but not great.

“The costs have to reach parity with those associated with a distributed desktop environment,” he said. “We think that figure will increase to about 100 desktops by the third quarter of 2009, which makes it cost-effective for large-scale adoption.”

Rose said performance issues, especially for desktop environments loaded with data-heavy graphics applications and tools, and licensing issues with Microsoft still need to be resolved.

“The licensing and performance issues will be addressed in the next 12 to 24 months,” he said. “People are just starting to wrap their hands around all of this.”

Complexity is also an issue. With companies using so many different hardware and software products and employees telecommuting from around the world, securing the network and making sure everyone has access to the appropriate applications and peripherals is no small feat.

“Client virtualization is much newer technology with multiple types and value propositions,” Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester Research, told InternetNews.com. “It’s not as simple nor as easy as server virtualization.”

And, for now, business expectations are modest.

While announcing VMware’s fourth-quarter and year-end results, CEO Diane Greene said the company was “not anticipating the desktop opportunity to be huge” in 2008.

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