by Bernard Golden

VMware Spreads Its Wings, Users Benefit

Dec 17, 20085 mins

Two big pieces of news last week: VMware expanded its desktop virtualization strategy and released a set of management APIs for its ESXi (free) hypervisor. Here's what it means to you.

Last week brought several interesting announcements from or about VMware that position it for a renewed VDI push as well as provide more options for VMware management options.

The biggest news was the company’s announcement of VMware View, an update to its desktop virtualization product. The release contained a couple of interesting aspects. First, VMware’s product now includes desktop cloning from a master image. This means that instead of having a full image copy for each virtualized desktop, the system contains one “golden” image, from which new virtual instances are created as needed. When a user makes some changes (saves some data, etc.) to a specific virtual desktop, those changes are captured and stored in a difference file.

Cloning offers two important benefits. The first benefit of cloning is that storage is vastly decreased; instead of, say, 2 GB per desktop, it’s 2GB for the master, plus the collection of difference information for the universe of virtual desktops. Clearly, once you get into significant numbers of desktops, the storage savings can be huge. The second benefit is, perhaps, even more important. After all, the cost of storage is plummeting, so maybe the storage savings don’t impress you. But another benefit of the master/dynamic desktop creation is that the arduous task of keeping desktops up-to-date by applying patches, keeping virus definitions current, and so on becomes much simpler when only one image must be kept current. Given the well-known challenge of desktop management, ease of system administration may be the greatest benefit of dynamic desktop assembly.

A second interesting element of the new VMware View is that it includes an experimental capability to allow desktop checkin/checkout. This allows a desktop to be sourced from a centralized server (a la cloning, described just now) but rather than the desktop executing on a server, it is sent down to a desktop device, where it is used just like a traditional locally-based desktop. This is functionality that is discussed extensively in the virtualization world, cited as important for workers that are mobile. The scenario often presented is an employee needs to work at home or on the road, where connectivity is not good enough to allow interaction with a remote server. I have to say that, while this sounds convincing, I’m not sure I believe in it. After all, if the connectivity isn’t that good, wwill it be sufficient to transfer an entire desktop? Moreover, it seems like keeping the difference files straight in this scenario could be challenging. This seems like a “last mile” issue, hinging on the bandwidth available in the Internet. I won’t say this is a non-starter, but it remains to be seen how it will be applied in the real world.

But VMware accomplished much more than the release of View last week. It also announced the acquisition of Tungsten Graphics (actually, this was announced on Monday, December 15), a company offering desktop graphics acceleration. In its discussion of the acquisition, posited that the company was bought to incorporate its technology into the desktop checkin/checkout functionality described above. A common issue with desktop virtualization is that the abstraction from hardware diminshes graphics performance, so Tungsten’s functionality might ameliorate this issue. It’s early days, but graphics performance is something that needs to be addressed for desktop-based virtualization to be widely adopted.

Finally, and interestingly, VMware released a set of management APIs for its ESXi (i.e., free) hypervisor. Heretofore, the APIs were only available via a vCenter passthrough arrangement. Certainly, that was unattractive for a free offering, but, more important, it governed the innovation that could be brought to bear on the product. Now, with a set of direct APIs available, new management products can be created, including, possibly, one or more open source ones. Certainly, the record of innovation by open source development offers the potential for some very interesting management options for ESXi. Supposedly, CIM agents for ESXi are also available, making it possible to manage the product from any CIM-compliant management infrastructure (CIM is a standard from the DMTF designed to ease management interoperability). However, in poking around and researching this, I came across a posting that said the APIs would be locked down in the next release of ESXi, so perhaps this availability was a mistake, not an initiative. It’s always hard to put the horse back in the barn, though, so it may be hard for VMware to back away from the API availability in the future. We’ll see.

All in all, an interesting week. The world of virtualization keeps heating up. Competition in the market continues to pay end user benefits, with more to come.

Bernard Golden is CEO of consulting firm HyperStratus, which specializes in virtualization, cloud computing and related issues. He is also the author of “Virtualization for Dummies,” the best-selling book on virtualization to date.