VMware Details Virtual Appliances, Desktops At VMworld

VMware executives spent much of their time at VMworld explaining the workings and benefits of virtual appliances and virtual desktop PCs.

VMware this week said it is launching a program to market and certify virtual appliances, and the company has made a collection of more than 300 virtual appliances available for downloading.

Srinivas Krishnamurti, director of developer products and market development at VMware, defined virtual appliances as preinstalled, preconfigured applications packed with an operating system inside a virtual machine.

Virtual appliances offer a faster time to deploy than software applications or hardware appliances, and they can be deployed on any hardware, Krishnamurti said. Management also is easier than with other applications or hardware because the operating system bundled as a part of a virtual appliance is a small part of the entire appliance and is easier to secure, he said.

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For ISVs, virtual appliances allow an improved out-of-the-box experience because the application is fine-tuned for the bundled OS, Krishnamurti said. ISVs also face lower development and quality-assurance costs and bring their customers faster deployment cycles, he said.

While virtual appliances are complete application and OS bundles, they are still open to some level of customization by end-user customers for such functions as patch management, Krishnamurti said.

Still, Krishnamurti admitted there are a number of gray areas that have yet to be fully defined in terms of virtual appliances.

One of those involves the handling of licenses. This is not yet an issue, since most virtual appliances are Linux-based, but that may change, Krishnamurti said. "OS and application licensing will evolve over time," he said. "Nothing has been locked down yet."

There's also the question of who supports the application and the OS within a virtual appliance if they come from different vendors. "The whole concept of a virtual appliance is that the ISV is providing the whole stack," Krishnamurti said. "Patches are handled by the ISV. You have to trust the ISV to give you a stack that works in your environment."

In the end, Krishnamurti said, VMware expects demand from customers to drive ISVs to move quickly into bundling more virtual appliances.

"A lot of ISVs are starting to use them for evaluation," he said. "Then customers say, 'I like what I see, and I don't want to manage another box.' That will push [the ISVs] to come out with virtual appliances."

One VMware partner, Zeus Technology, Mountain View, Calif., used VMworld to introduce its first virtual appliance, the Zeus Extensible Traffic Manager Virtual Appliance. It's a virtual appliance version of the company's application traffic management software, and it runs on VMware's ESX Server 3 datacenter infrastructure. Trial versions are available for download, Zeus executives said. VMware also touted the manageability and security of virtualizing desktop PCs using its Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), which the company introduced in April.

Jerry Chen, director of virtual desktop solutions at VMware, said that virtualizing desktop PCs by moving the operating system and application to a centralized server can help outsourced call centers, offshore developers and other large users of standardized desktop PCs increased security and flexibility.

That flexibility comes from the ability to build and distribute virtualized desktop PCs and take them away quickly and without the need to purchase more equipment, Chen said. "If you need 100 to 300 new PCs for the holiday season, do you really want to buy them?" he said. "Or can you provision them with VDI, use them and then delete them when they are not needed again?"

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure also can help large companies consolidate their desktop PCs, Chen said. Another benefit comes from improved disaster recovery, since virtualized desktop PCs can be recovered to an alternate data center if there is a problem with a company's primary data center, he said.

Although the Virtual Desktop Infrastructure can help customers decrease the need for desktop PCs in many situations, Chen said thin clients based on operating systems such as Citrix's Presentation Server may be more suitable in other situations. Citrix Presentation Server gives users access to centrally deployed applications from remote locations using any device or connection.

Citrix is better for situations where customers run a few applications that do not work well with each other, or for applications that have poor resource control, Chen said. Also, a lot of applications require physical PCs or thin clients, such as those used by call centers that need individual IP addresses, he said.

On the other hand, in cases where running multiple PCs or thin clients off a centralized application through Citrix Presentation Server results in users impacting each others' operation, VMware's Virtual Desktop Infrastructure is more suitable, Chen said.

Hewlett-Packard on Wednesday introduced its HP Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, which leverages VMware's Virtual Desktop Infrastructure to improve desktop PC management and cut the costs of deploying IT resources. The new infrastructure supports dozens of virtual PCs on a single HP ProLiant server or BladeSystem server blade using existing network switches and WAN infrastructure.

At VMworld, NEC introduced its US100 thin-client computing device with the VMware Virtual Desktop Infrastructure preinstalled. The palm-sized device, which can be placed on the desktop or mounted behind a display, was developed in collaboration with thin-client manufacturer Wyse Technology.

Also at the event, Provision Network, Reston, Va., unveiled its Virtual Access Suite, a framework using VMware's Virtual Desktop Infrastructure to turn desktop PCs and applications into on-demand virtual services.