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VMware sees Mirage, buys up company

Virty giant eats Wanova for VDI flavouring

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Virtualization juggernaut VMware gobbled up four year old VDI vendor Wanova today, giving the virtualization juggernaut another weapon to fire at Citrix.

VMware pretty much still owns the x86 virtualization racket among enterprise IT shops, despite heroic efforts to dislodge it by Microsoft, Citrix Systems, and Red Hat, but the company is in a pitched battle with Citrix to virtualize and control corporate desktops and stream them to all kinds of devices.

VMware already has its View virtual desktop infrastructure stack, which is a broker that rides atop a server virtualization hypervisor that can host virtual PC images on that server and beam them out over the network to a thin client or to a full PC that is made to act like one. The idea behind centralizing PC images back in the data center is not that it is cheaper – no one believes that buying expensive servers and SANs to host PC images is cheaper in terms of hardware than buying PCs themselves – but that VDI makes it less costly to support those PC users over the long haul and also makes the PC infrastructure more resilient.

The problem with View and similar VDI brokers is that you have a one-to-one relationship between a PC image on the server and a user. Wanova figured out that it probably made sense to virtualize the PC image itself, breaking it into bits that users can change and bits that they can't and then reassembling that image on the fly for users.

Wanova's Mirage has three layers, in fact: the base OS and app layer that doesn't change, another that includes user-installed applications and machine-specific data where the OS runs, and a third layer that has all of the personal settings and user data and files. The top two layers change with each user, but the bottom layer doesn't.

Equally important to VMware is the fact that Wanova streams and manages physical PC images, meaning you don't have to have a hypervisor when you use the Mirage tool from Wanova to create and manage the Windows stacks on your PCs. You can, of course, beam a PC image down to a hypervisor if you are using something like VMware's Workstation for PCs and Fusion for Macs. (Fusion allows for Windows to be loaded on a guest partition atop its hypervisor and run on a MacOS machine.)

Wanova was founded in January 2008 by Ilan Kessler and Issy Ben-Shaul, who worked together to build wide area network services firm Actona Technologies, which specialized in backup over the WAN and which was subsequently acquired by Cisco Systems back in June 2004 for $84m. Wanova came out of stealth mode in August 2009 when it raised $13m in Series A funding from Carmel Ventures, Greylock Partners, and Opus Capital. The company got another $10m infusion last August from the same three venture capitalists.

VMware has not divulged the financial terms of the acquisition, but a spokesperson for the company says that the deal is expected to close sometime in the second quarter. Wanova has around 50 employees and all of them, including the founders, are moving over to the end user computing unit at VMware.

Since the deal has not closed, VMware is not providing much insight into how Wanova will be woven into the View VDI stack and integrate with the Horizon app manager (which can be a broker and access controller for VDI images as well as for applications running on corporate networks and out on the cloud) and the Workstation and Fusion hypervisors for PCs. Obviously, just being able to offer customers a physical PC that is centrally managed with a gold image is a big deal for VMware. But there are obvious synergies with View and its ESXi backend, particularly for having a few gold images for different types of users instead of a complete Windows stack for each user.

There is no reason why the golden image approach could not be used for server images. Just like the Mirage tool can isolate user data from the underlying operating system data that does not change, it could be used to dice up a server image and keep gold images for the core OS and then replicate only the specific app, user access, and configuration bits that a specific running server needs to be unique on the network.

There is also no reason why VMware could not support MacOS and Linux clients directly, in theory, much as it does for Windows XP and Windows 7. "As part of our due diligence, we found that the underlying technology is fairly independent of the Windows operating system and is applicable to other operating systems," Phil Montgomery, senior director of product management for end user computing, tells El Reg.

Of course, getting Apple to allow VMware to carve up a MacOS instance into such slices might be tricky, but VMware has been able to convince Apple to let it virtualize Mac PCs and allow Windows to run side-by-side in the Fusion hypervisor. It would be interesting to see if Apple catches the VDI bug. It may even license Mirage from VMware if it does, or anoint VMware Mirage the tool of choice to do such VDI to physical clients. ®

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