VMware is accustomed to dominating the world of server virtualisation, but its attempts to become the de facto virtualization vendor on the desktop haven't gone quite as well. Nearly two years after VMware announced its "vClient" initiative to give customers a range of server-hosted and client-hosted virtual desktop options, VMware has failed to deliver one of the initiative's key technologies.
While VMware offers server-hosted desktops with VMware View, its virtual desk infrastructure (VDI) product, the company announced in September 2008 that it would also deliver "Client Virtualisation," also known as a bare-metal desktop hypervisor.
Client hypervisors allow desktops to run in a virtual machine installed directly on a user's laptop, rather than in a server inside the data centre. The approach allows centralised management of desktops, while potentially giving users better performance than VDI technologies that require applications to run on remote servers.
Client hypervisors may enable "bring-your-own-PC-to-work" scenarios by letting user machines host one desktop for personal applications and a separate desktop environment for work applications.
By January 2009, rival Citrix announced that it was working on its own client hypervisor. At the time, a VMware spokesperson projected that VMware's client virtualisation, still in development, would be released in the second half of 2009.Both Citrix and VMware struggled to deliver client hypervisors within their self-imposed timelines, but Citrix beat VMware to the market in May of this year with XenClient.
VMware's bare-metal desktop hypervisor is still under wraps, and no release date is being specified. "It's not an easy computer science problem to solve," acknowledges Bogomil Balkansky, VMware's vice president of product marketing.
Gartner has speculated that developing all the necessary drivers needed by PC users is a challenge, as is persuading PC vendors to ship and support client-side hypervisors. When asked if VMware will deliver the client hypervisor in 2010, Balkansky says "we don't have a timeline."
Balkansky seems to indicate that development of PCoIP, VMware's protocol for allowing remote access to workstations and servers from thin clients, is taking precedence over work on the bare-metal hypervisor. "On the desktop side, we've been focusing our attention on the user experience with the PCoIP protocol," he says.
VMware's 2008 announcement describes the company's forthcoming client virtualisation in glowing terms, saying it "runs on laptop and desktop computers and provides a robust layer that tightly manages user devices cost-effectively while providing a PC-like end-user experience. Client virtualization will also provide a centralised management solution to administer, deploy and update applications and operating system images across desktops and laptops."
The 2008 announcement also touted VMware's forthcoming offline desktop technology for accessing server-hosted desktops even when a client device isn't connected to the Internet. Offline Desktop has popped up in VMware View, but only as an "experimental" feature.
Building a client hypervisor is more complicated than creating server-based technology because of issues with audio, USB devices, webcams, wireless networking and Bluetooth, Citrix has said.
While client virtualisation is an emerging part of the desktop virtualization market, and may not gain widespread adoption for a year or two, VMware's failure to deliver a client hypervisor before its rivals could prove costly.
While VMware has become the virtualisation vendor of choice for enterprises on the server side, results in the desktop market have been mixed. According to analysts, more businesses use Citrix's desktop virtualisation technology than VMware's, but VMware has more users than Citrix when measured by deployed seats. The market is expected to grow considerably over the next few years and will be a major point of focus for both Citrix and VMware.