Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and Virtual Desktop Manager (VDM): Extending virtualization to

In this tip, you'll learn about the options and technologies for extending virtualization to the desktop in a VMware environment.

Many shops that have now completed their server consolidation projects and are now happily running VMware ESX for some or all of their servers are now looking at how to leverage the benefits that VMware – particularly VI3 (Virtual Infrastructure 3) – to the desktop. Extending virtualization to the desktop is gaining lots of interest because of the cost of and challenges in managing desktops in IT environments, such as whether, when, how to migrate to Microsoft Vista; dealing with patches and updates; addressing the constant struggle over desktop software management; and so on.

In this tip, I look at the options and technologies for extending virtualization to the desktop in a VMware environment.

VMware's Virtual Desktop Infrastructure or VDI allows you to host virtual desktops on your back-end ESX infrastructure so that your end-users can connect from a thin client or browser over the network to their own virtual desktop, hosted as a virtual machine. The software that manages the connection is known as a connection broker or connection manager. VDI has supported a variety of connection brokers from various vendors, including Leostream, Provision Networks, Citrix , Propero Networks and others.

VMware Virtual Desktop Manager (VDM)
In addition to supporting third party brokers, VMware wanted to offer a VDI option that was a complete VMware solution, and so they acquired Propero Networks which had created a VDI product. Now, VMware offers its own VMware-ized version, newly released as Virtual Desktop Manager (VDM). In addition to the connection broker capabilities, VMware describes VDM as the first piece in the puzzle of a bigger management offering, hence its new name.

VMware continues to partner with other connection broker vendors and sells the overall benefits of VDI as well as those of VDM. VDI's benefits are extensions of VI3, bringing features like high availability of VMware HA, load balancing of DRS, and management/provisioning tools like Virtual Center, templates and the new Update Manager.

The initial release of VDM is intended to deliver a VMware solution for Microsoft Windows XP and Vista virtual desktops from browsers and thin clients that support embedded XP. Other connections option such as connecting to Citrix Presentation Server published application or PC/workstation blades, support for CE devices, and support for additional thin clients are not yet included, but are in the long term plan, according to VMware.

What's inside VMware VDM
VDM includes multiple components:

  • Client -side access device support – This includes generic USB support. Initially a limited number of devices are certified, but additional devices and capabilities will come over time.
  • Security Manager -- Its primary function is to setup and run an SSL VPN tunnel. It also keeps a connection alive even if the physical connection fails.
  • Connection Manager/Broker -- It maps and connects users to a VM (virtual machine) virtual desktop or a pool of VMs. It integrates with VMware Virtual Center and Microsoft Active Directory for authentication and connection options.
  • VDM agent – The VDM agent runs inside the guest operating system (OS) VMs running on VI3, installed through VMware tools and would be put into templates.
  • VDM console – This is a separate console for managing user policies and rights. It's not very granular today, but will expand over time, according to VMware.

It's still early for VDM, and even for VDI itself, and not many users are running it yet. Particularly in large environments, scalability is still an open question. However, the benefits of central management over the distributed PC population can be significant, and the potential for delivering virtual clients as a key piece of a forward-thinking desktop delivery strategy holds great promise.

About the author: Barb Goldworm is president and chief analyst of Focus Consulting, a research, analyst and consulting firm focused on systems, software and storage. Barb has spent 30 years in various technical, marketing, senior management and industry analyst positions with IBM, Novell, StorageTek, Enterprise Management Associates and multiple successful startups.

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