Virtualisation in 2010: VDI and the cloud gain traction

Virtualisation expert Mike Laverick delivers a 2010 wrap-up of the market's biggest players, covering VMware vSphere, Citrix XenDesktop and Microsoft Hyper-V.

It's that time of the year when we look back at technology inroads made in 2010 and look forward to what is to come. In this article we'll cover VMware vSphere, the cloud and Microsoft service packs. Great strides in virtual desktop technology were made this year – with VMware Inc.'s release of its View platform and Citrix Systems Inc.'s XenDesktop platform.

For many shops, the release of these two platforms will be regarded as a significant milestone in virtual desktop maturity. Both received a stamp of approval from research and advisory company Gartner Inc. in terms of their core enterprise features. However, both vendors clearly have a lot of work to do to make the grade elsewhere. Citrix needs to streamline and simplify the setup and configuration process, and VMware needs to push out its virtual profile offering and resolve the PC over IP (PCoIP) incompatibility with its security server.

Have virtual desktops gone mainstream yet? Apparently not, because even though many businesses have run proof-of-concepts this year, only a small number of them went on to perform large-scale deployments.

It does feel like a Rubicon has been crossed, with many businesses considering some form of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solution and fewer VDI skeptics than in the past.



 Technology departments remain anxious about virtual desktop image management and potential storage performance bottlenecks as they scale up their environments. Nonetheless, it does feel like a Rubicon has been crossed, with many businesses considering some form of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solution and fewer VDI skeptics than in the past.

I predict there will be a renaissance in traditional server-based computing as companies begin to realise that VDI is not without challenges, and there is life in the old terminal services dog yet. Perhaps we will even see VMware enter this market, which it has so far left to Citrix XenApp and Microsoft RDS.

A break in the clouds for 2010
Also big news this year was the cloud. It currently seems more than just a flash-in-the-pan marketing term. The cloud has moved on from being a parlour game -- as in How do you define a cloud? -- to discussions about how the cloud would work and how to slot it into existing business processes.

At this year's VMworld, VMware released the vCloud Director platform, followed swiftly by vCloud Request Manager, the self-service portal for provisioning, software license tracking and standards enforcement suite for managing vCloud Director. Many end users wanted to see what VMware would do before making a move, so this was the first time they thought about the cloud, even though such private cloud software from VMware's competitors has been around for some time. As a 1.0 product, some thought adoption would be slow, and VMware did not help the situation by limiting vCloud Director to only Oracle and IBM DB2 platforms.

At 2010 VMworld, VMware reported Verizon's decision to join the VMware cloud provider programmes. I hope in 2011 we will see support for MySQL and Microsoft SQL versions of vCloud Director that will encourage more customers to dip in their toes.

VMware's per-VM licensing
The other significant switch this year was VMware's move to per-VM licensing for its products. The process was timed to put private customers on an equal footing with public cloud vendors. The idea is to allow an easier, more transparent comparison of private cloud VMs and public cloud VMs. Well, that's the theory at least; there is a rumour that those very same public cloud vendors will soon be on a licensing model that is based on the amount of physical memory each host has.

Microsoft's Service Pack 1 for Hyper-V
Meanwhile, Microsoft has been busy. Perhaps the biggest news is software that that has been in beta for most of 2010 – the long awaited Service Pack 1 for Hyper-V. It will add a dynamic memory feature and support forRemoteFX .

Microsoft hopes this will answer two holes in their offering: (1) a quality graphical protocol that will eclipse Microsoft RDP and (2) greater server-consolidation ratios.

On the cloud front, Microsoft appears to be really pushing its Platform as a Service offering in the form of the Azure Cloud that allows for a .NET- and Microsoft-enabled development environment. This year, the company decided to co-opt some of its closest OEM partners to offer public clouds with the likes of Hewlett-Packard. So I expect to see VMware and Microsoft marketing engines going head-to-head on this front, with VMware offering its Java-based SpringSource solution against Microsoft Azure.

It's hard to see how they compete directly, given that most developers and companies decide strategically around a particular programming language or they inherit applications that have already been developed in that environment. It's a brave company that decides to switch from Java to .NET or vice versa. As time goes by, I think the industry will see VMware's acquisition of SpringSource in the same light we now view EMC's acquisition of VMware. By acquiring it, the company also acquired a million-strong user base from which to sell other VMware solutions.

The other significant switch this year was VMware's move to per-VM licensing for its products. The process was timed to put private customers on an equal footing with public cloud vendors.



 For this reason, it's unlikely we will see true multi-vendor virtualisation environments. VMware customers will stay loyal to VMware for the time being, as there is not yet enough momentum around Microsoft Hyper-V or Citrix XenServer to usurp the market leader. However, I suspect we will see more use of Citrix XenServer as some customers choose Citrix XenDesktop over VMware View. Most of these users will likely be existing Citrix customers that decide strategically that they must stay with a combined Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop solution and that don't find XenDesktop's integration with vSphere robust enough.

Indeed, some customers might see a siloing of their desktop environment as a positive thing. They'll keep their VMware estate running mainly on virtual machine servers separate from their Citrix estate running mainly Citrix XenApp and virtual desktops. Companies without an existing Citrix affiliation will probably adopt VMware View. In the news this year was Citrix's release of XenClient – a hypervisor for the PC. My general point here is I don't think large-scale multi-vendor virtualisation will take off; it will happen for specific projects, such as virtual desktops.

Citrix gained kudos this year by releasing both a beta and general availability (GA) of its client hypervisor XenClient. In the meantime, VMware's own client hypervisor remains a work in progress, with VMware currently pushing its own "Local Mode" desktop as the preferred option. I suspect that VMware will have some kind of technology preview of its client hypervisor in the coming year to silence some of the criticism from Citrix aficionados.

Right now, the client hypervisor remains an interesting footnote to the year, but if virtual desktops have yet to become mainstream, it's hard to see how a client hypervisor can do so.

VMware vSphere
By this time next year, I think we will have a brand new version of VMware vSphere. For some people, this will come as a surprise, given that in the past there's been about a three-year gap between one VMware major product release and the next. But I don't think it will surprise anyone that the new version of VMware ESX will address more CPU and memory -- and as consequence the virtual machine will address more CPU and memory too. With the release of the new version of VMware ESX and VMware vCenter, expect to see a new version of the services that sit on top of them -- such as View, Site Recovery Manager and vCloud Director.

Some of the new releases will be maintenance ones that allow for their continued operation on the new version of VMware vSphere, but it's also an opportunity for the product management teams at VMware to slip in additional functionality that might have missed this year's round of GA dates. I wouldn't be amazed to see that View finally gets its virtual profile feature back, after it was removed during the beta programme.

In the case of Site Recovery Manager (SRM), I expect to see big changes. It's no secret that VMware will be adding host-based replication functionality to ESX, mostly to benefit the SMB market. Currently, SRM's requirements lie outside of the SKUs that most SMBs would consume, and I wouldn't be surprised to see some kind of "vSphere Essentials" offering that would also include a copy of SRM. VMware's recent switch to per-VM licensing should keep the cost down.


Mike Laverick

Mike Laverick is a professional instructor with 15 years of experience with technologies such as Novell, Windows and Citrix and has been involved with the VMware community since 2003. Laverick is a VMware forum moderator and member of the London VMware User Group Steering Committee. In addition to teaching, Laverick is the owner and author of the virtualisation website and blog RTFM Education, where he publishes free guides and utilities aimed at VMware ESX/VirtualCenter users. In 2009, Laverick received the VMware vExpert award and helped found the Irish and Scottish user groups. Laverick has had books published on VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3, VMware vSphere 4 and VMware Site Recovery Manager.

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