Project Horizon: VMware's plan to restitch the desktop
Your cloud identity
VMworld VMware has released new versions of its View virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and its ThinApp application streaming software, while promising some sort of consumer "cloud identity" offering sometime next year.
View 4.5 offers support for the FIPS 140-2 security protocol required by the US government for protecting sensitive data and support for a wider variety of devices, which you can review here. VMware also says that View 4.5 includes the first "enterprise-grade" offline VDI capability.
But as Raj Mallempati, director of enterprise desktop marketing at VMware, concedes, this functionality is rather familiar. It previewed with View 3.0 back in December 2008 and was further enhanced with View 4.0 in November 2009.
With this offline capability, you get and download a virtual machine image for the first time on a PC, and then after that, each time you have a network connection, only the changed data on the VM image is moved back and forth between the PC and the central servers where the VDI images live. (Presumably the software is good enough to know what to do when both sides change at the same time).
Mallempati says that the encrypted, hosted hypervisor that runs atop Windows or Linux with View 4.5 is acceptable for employees who own their machines and contractors. Citrix invented the encrypted XenVault directory for PCs precisely because it says contractors and employees who own their PCs don't want to install a VM with a corporate operating system and application image on their machine. They just want to have applications streamed down to their machines and IT managers just want the data secured.
View 4.5 supports Windows 7, of course, and VMware is pitching its VDI wares as a means of cutting the cost of migrating older Windows machines to Windows 7 – by as much as 50 per cent over deploying Windows 7 on new machines, according to Mallempati.
The big enhancement that comes with the ThinApp 4.6 application streaming software that is often paired with View is that it can package up a virtualized instance of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6 browser, which has been sent to the graveyard because it is more insecure than a teenage boy, and deploy it on 32-bit and 64-bit Windows 7 PCs. There are a bunch of other smaller feature tweaks, which you can read about here.
View 4.5 will be available on September 9. It comes in two editions. View 4.5 Enterprise Edition includes vSphere 4 for desktops (that's the hosted hypervisor), vCenter 4, and View Manager 4.5, at a cost of $150 per concurrent user. View 4.5 Premier Edition adds the offline access feature to View Manager and tosses in ThinApp and View Composer; it costs $250 per concurrent user. ThinApp 4.6 is available now if you want to buy it separately, and prices start at $5,000 for a perpetual license.
One of the things that VMware was expected to launch today at the VMworld virtualization and cloud extravaganza this week was a bare-metal hypervisor for PCs. But as El Reg already told you in July, that isn't going to happen. At least not with the VMware View 4.5 released today. And maybe never.
"The desktop is being pulled apart and into the cloud," explains Mallempati. By which he means that end user computing is bigger than any particular type of desktop, notebook, netbook, smartphone, or handheld device or any one operating system. End users have a multitude of devices, but they still want to access their applications and data from them, and they want to do work even when they are not connected to the Internet and tunneling back into the corporate network.
And that means the virtual desktop infrastructure that VMware has been championing is too hairy to be combed over with a new release of VMware View sporting a bare-metal PC hypervisor - and one very likely with a limited hardware compatibility list, like the XenClient bare-metal PC hypervisor announced last week by rival Citrix Systems.
What customers want, says Mallempati, is a "consumer cloud experience" across all their devices and applications that maintains corporate security and service level agreements, no matter how you flit across public and private infrastructure. That, in a nutshell, is what Project Horizon is all about. And it is probably the best reason yet for why Red Hat should buy Novell or at least its security and identity management products.
Project Horizon is a set of software that will establish your "cloud identity" for accessing applications running on PCs, being streamed down from corporate servers, or running in SaaS-mode on somebody else's infrastructure, like Salesforce.com. The way the application and its related data gets provisioned for the user will therefore change as the end user's device changes. Project Horizon, says Mallempati, will have a self-service portal for applications and a single-sign on for those applications, regardless of where they are running.
While VMware won't admit this, the software will no doubt make heavy use of VMware View VDI and ThinApp application streaming, and will very likely come about as the merging of these two projects with some cloudy access management thrown in. What VMware has said is that ThinApp Factory will automate the packaging and updating of native applications, which is how you know VMware's ThinApp is involved. It is also very likely that the Zimbra email and collaboration software that VMware acquired from Yahoo will play a part as well.
Hodge-podging for desktop virtualization is not just vogue right now, it is the only way to cope with the problem because of the diversity of end user devices and needs. Citrix has thrown everything including the kitchen sink into its XenDesktop virtualization tools, which now include a bare-metal hypervisor (albeit for a ridiculously small number of Intel-based PCs); a secure, encrypted, and remotely nukable encrypted directory for running applications on contractor and user PCs; VDI streaming over corporate networks; and the traditional application streaming that has given Citrix purpose for the past decade and a half.
Other than these general capabilities, VMware is not saying much else about Project Horizon. VMware will not say how it will be productized – will it be a feature of View or ThinApp, or a separate access control and provisioning program that spans the? - but it has confirmed to El Reg that whatever it is, it will ship sometime in 2011. ®