VMware Shores Up Its Position

One day ahead of the opening of arch-rival Citrix’s annual application delivery conference in Houston, Tex., VMware, the major player in the virtualization market, has unveiled moves that will further strengthen its position.

It is attacking the thin client, rolling out professional services, and teaming up with Sun Microsystems to extend its reach.

“Our announcements are focused on the Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and working with the ecosystem,” Jerry Chen, VMware’s Senior Director of Enterprise Desktops, told InternetNews.com.

That bit about ecosystems is important. Up until now, VMware’s dominant position in virtualization has been unquestioned, but with Microsoft’s HyperV hypervisor slated for rollout in the second half of the year, Microsoft teaming up with Citrix, and with Citrix teaming up with independent vendors, VMware (NYSE: VMW) needs to hustle if it wants to remain the 800-pound gorilla in the marketplace.

“It was a VMware-only game for quite a long time, but now Citrix has significantly upped their game,” Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Mark Bowker told InternetNews.com.

Citrix is making much play of its ties to Microsoft. “Our architecture is open and we collaborate with Microsoft, our ties with them are deep and strong, we have compatible virtualization and a vibrant ecosystem and we intend to sock it to VMware,” said Simon Crosby, chief technical officer of Citrix’s virtualization and management division.

Any time Microsoft looms on the horizon, vendors get twitchy. Sun and other major vendors, which were once either prime targets to work with VMware or had partnered with VMware already, are “planning to work with all the virtualization vendors and see how the market plays out,” Bowker said. “The market’s going to significantly change over the next 12-18 months.”

Citrix is a prime mover in that change: “There are a ton of ecosystem vendors who have great feature sets, who are not VMware now, and who are keen to work with a third party who wants to see them succeed,” Crosby said.

VMware’s announcements

To VMware, the most important of its rollouts is a new suite of professional services that help IT departments implement, manage and optimize virtual desktops using best practices based on VMware’s methodology.

“Just best practices for installing virtual machines is one one-thousandth of our offering,” Chen said. “There’s a bunch of intellectual property and knowledge you should have before you roll out — what to do with storage, integration with Microsoft Active Directory, things to think about when doing a deployment, and VMware best practices and solution best practices.”

That’s critical because “virtualization is the Wild West; there are no defined best practices,” said IDC analyst Michael Rose.

The roots of VMware’s professional services offering lie in its January 2008 acquisition of Foedus, an integrator specializing in desktop virtualization, and VMware has put its best practices into writing and based its desktop professional services around Foedus’s approach,” Rose explained.

The professional services launch is essential to VMware; Microsoft is breathing down its neck, having recently acquired Kidaro, which provided desktop virtualization solutions for enterprises. Kidaro’s virtualization technology will be combined with the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack for Software Assurance, going head to head with VMware’s Ace virtual desktop management product.

VDI reduces physical maintenance because end users “can get more RAM or CPU” themselves instead of having to approach systems administrators, and, when used together with VMware’s Site Recovery Manager (SRM), allows desktop virtual machines to be backed up like servers rather than having to “reimage your desktop and ensure your settings are restored,” Chen said.

Citrix’s Crosby isn’t impressed by VMware’s virtual desktop management capabilities. “All VMware does is deliver pixels, and, when the end user says he can’t see his desktop, VMware can tell you it’s running in the data center but doesn’t know where it’s going,” he said. “We can see the performance of the delivered desktop, sense and manage it, and provide single sign-on security.”

Client certification will “enable customers to choose from a wide variety of officially certified devices” so enterprises are not tied to a specific thin client, VMware said.

Right, Crosby said, but “for the end user, if it’s supposed to be the equivalent of a PC that was on his desk and now is on the data server, can he print from it, plug in his CD, does it feel like a PC? Unless you do that stuff, don’t bother to come to the game.”

The third part of VMware’s announcement is its tie-in with Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: SUNW), using the Sun Ray Server Software wide-area network (WAN) solution. Sun Ray’s Appliance Link Protocol (ALP) outperforms other display protocols when delivering virtual desktops over networks with high latency, and Chen said this “deepens VMware’s relationship with Sun.”

Yes it does; but love is fleeting — while Sun is going to market with VDI market leader VMware now, “we’ll support HyperV and Sun’s xVM when they come out as well,” Craig Bender, senior engineer with Sun’s desktop software group, told InternetNews.com.

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