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VMware removes bare-metal virt from View

PC market not ready for naked hypervisor

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If you've been wondering why the bare-metal client hypervisor that was expected with VMware virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) software, View 4.5 has been delayed, wonder no more: it has been dumped.

View 4.5 had been originally expected in mid-July, and VMware had even started briefing some analysts and reporters back at the end of May before it changed its mind. But in a question and answer session following the company's financial results report for the second quarter, VMware COO Tod Nielsen (a former Microsoftie like his boss, president and CEO Paul Maritz), waxed poetic about VMware's hopes for VDI and tossed off a comment about View 4.5 shipping in the third quarter.

The VMworld conference hits San Francisco from August 30 through September 2, and now seems the likely rollout for View 4.5.

Nielsen didn't say much about View 4.5's features, but tried to put it into a slightly different context. "Many customers are not looking at a traditional product, feature, and cost/benefit analysis, but are rather asking larger questions about how they are going to manage users in a dramatically changing world defined by mobility, ubiquitous computing, and increasing end-user demand and expectations."

That sure doesn't sound like a new client-side, bare-metal hypervisor.

Just before the call ended, an analyst asked VMware point blank about the client-side hypervisor and some personalization features that have been rumored to have slipped out. It was then that Maritz piped up.

"We are providing client-side — big client-side — functionality with our offline View capability, which comes as part of 4.5," Maritz explained. "The feedback that we got from our customers is the market is not ready yet for a bare-metal, naked hypervisor. So instead we are supplying essentially a Windows-within-Windows hypervisor, which gives us much better coverage over the installed base in particular. The challenge with the bare metal hypervisor is: 'how do you address the installed base?' So we made that change based on customer feedback."

So scratch the bare-metal PC hypervisor, which VMware has been working on since September 2008 and which it said would be called Client Virtualization Platform, or CVP, when it first copped to its existence in February 2009.

That was only a month after VMware's main rival in desktop virtualization, Citrix Systems, launched its XenClient bare-metal hypervisor for Intel's vPro desktops. XenClient was supposed to come to market around the end of 2009, but in May of this year it was only available as a product preview.

Citrix has not said when XenClient will be delivered, but has said that XenClient was necessary because some customers want the same kind of rock-solid isolation that a bare metal (or type 1) hypervisor gives compared to a hosted (or type 2) hypervisor. VMware's Workstation PC hypervisor is a type 2 product, and View serves up PC images over a network from a cluster of servers running VMware's ESX Server hypervisor — also a bare-metal bit of code.

The real problem seems to be that there are myriad different PCs that need to be supported with a bare-metal hypervisor — too many for it to be a profitable business, perhaps. With a hosted hypervisor such as VMware Workstation, the hardware compatibility is the problem of Microsoft and its Windows, or a commercial distributor with its Linux, which provide the host environment for the hypervisor.

This is why Citrix limited its XenClient to Intel's vPro machines: to simplify the set of iron it needed to support. And that relatively small installed base of vPro machines is probably why Citrix is not rushing to get XenClient out the door.

All the arguments that Citrix and VMware made about needing a bare-metal hypervisor for PCs still stand, of course. Many customers want to have isolated partitions on their machines with different personalization and security settings, allowing users to mix personal and business applications on the same machine without jeopardizing security in the biz apps.

End users want to work offline, which network-based VDI solutions don't allow. And they want the higher performance and better security that a bare-metal hypervisor can bring, since it is not running atop another operating system, which eats CPU cycles and memory and which has its own security issues. ®

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