Virtually Speaking: Living in a Virtual World

by Amy Newman

From the desktop to the server room, do myriad new product releases reflect a material world going virtual?

Amy Newman

Back in the '80s Madonna sang of living in a material world. If you listen to vendors hawking their virtualization technology wares, it's easy to believe we'll soon be living in a virtual world.

Whether this virtual world will begin with desktop and end at the storage server, remains to be seen, but this past week, it certainly seems a possibility.

Now that virtualization is deemed a viable server room architecture, the buzz has, not surprisingly, resulted in vendors already in the market expanding and new vendors entering.

In the case of VMware, it was a week for separating and leveraging.

As planned, EMC on Thursday took one more step toward setting its VMware subsidiary free. VMware filed an S-1 Registration Statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering (IPO) of Class A Common Stock of VMware. Approximately, 10 percent of its Class A Common Stock is expected to be offered in the IPO, which according to reports, is expected to net the company $100 million.

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VMware is arguably the x86 virtualization kingpin. Separating from EMC — which acquired the company, not spawned it — gives further credence to virtualization's staying power as well as VMware's sustainability and value.

Thinning the Desktop

Many many levels down, outside the server room, the desktop picked up a few new options for going virtual in the past two weeks. The virtual desktop isn't all that new. Remember thin clients? At its core, the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is the same concept.

If you haven't yet seen the acronym VDI, you will soon. Vendors may disagree on how the technology should work, but they agree on the terminology.

This time, the offerings come from Virtual Iron and Zeus Technology.

Virtual Iron, together with Provision Networks, released a server-hosted VDI solution. Using this approach, server-based virtual machines host individual desktops, or rather, their virtual equivalents.

End users can customize their virtual servers so that every time they connect, they see the same desktop, Tim Walsh, director of product marketing, told ServerWatch.

Intellectually, thin-client workstations make a lot of sense, yet only a small percentage of end users are using them, and generally for vertical applications. According to Walsh, of the companies using thin-clients, only between 7 percent and 10 percents of their seats are set this way. The usual inherent thin-client advantages apply with this VDI solution, with fewer of the downsides found with thin-client terminals.

One key advantage Virtual Iron VDI has over a typical terminal server is that theoretically any PC can be a virtual desktop. This makes it well-suited for remote workers or anywhere where systems are shared and people move around (e.g., call centers).

Meanwhile, Zeus Technology, best-known for its traffic management software and load balancer also released a solution for the virtual desktop set: ZXTM Virtual Desktop Broker (ZXTM VDB), a connection broker for VDIs.

ZXTM VDB is designed to provide secure remote access to desktops running in virtual environments. Users connect to virtualized servers via a thin client or a computer with remote desktop protocol capabilities.

Administrators can define "pools" of desktops and assigned users based on security and resource requirements. Because Zeus' gateway architecture offers only a single point of entry, rogue users cannot bypass the connection broker and directly attack the desktop.

Other key features in ZXTM VDB are automatic reconnection, connection draining and availability monitoring.

ZXTM VDB is available in software form for Linux-based servers as well as for a variety of hardware appliances.

The desktop has always been a tricky market to change and penetrate, just ask any of the Linux players that have been trying to do so for close to a decade. Virtualized servers may be a no-brainer for many at this point, but this is far from the case on the client side.

There will no doubt be situations where a virtual desktop is superior to a thin-client and vice versa. Having options only makes it better.

On the Server Side

Back in the server room, BladeLogic and SWsoft served up two offerings this week.

BladeLogic went virtual, releasing Virtualization Manager, a new module for its Operations Manager suite of data center automation products.

Virtualization Manager enables the functionality of the other modules in the suite for virtual servers, Vick Vaishnavi, director of product marketing, told ServerWatch.

From a single interface, admins can set and follow a unified policy to browse, provision, patch, audit, remediate, administer and manage both physical and virtual servers.

In this regard, a server is a server is a server. Vaishnavi noted, however, that although they are managed the same, an admin can identify whether a server is a virtual machine as opposed to a physical box because the VM would show up as an attribute.

Other key features of Virtualization Manager include native support for tasks such as provisioning, deleting, starting and stopping virtual machines with built-in auditing capabilities; granular, role-based access control that can be managed at the virtual host, virtual machine or configuration level; and rules-based auditing.

Virtualization Manager supports only VMware at this time, Vaishnavi said.

The product is available for immediate purchase. Early customers, according to BladeLogic, include cars.com and the International Monetary Fund.

While BladeLogic was helping enterprises already virtualized get more organized, SWsoft was bringing more organizations into the virtual fold.

It announced Virtuozzo Enterprise Starter Pack, a turn-key offering of software and support for businesses exploring operating system virtualization. Priced at $1,198, Virtuozzo Enterprise Starter Pack is designed to enable new users to try out operating system virtualization technology.

The Virtuozzo Starter Pack for Windows or Linux allows up to four virtual environments, thus making it ideal for a small server consolidation project or a pilot deployment. In addition to a full-featured version of Virtuozzo, it contains a single or dual CPU server license, a management toolset for the starter pack server, and one year of silver-level support and maintenance.

It is available for immediate purchase.

Four vendors, four complementary yet competitive solutions — perhaps the idea of a material virtual world is not at all an oxymoron.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been following the virtualization space since 2001.

This article was originally published on Friday Apr 27th 2007
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