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Native management tools for VDI: VMware vs. Citrix and Microsoft

Solution provider takeaway: Solution providers need to know the native management tools available from desktop virtualization vendors so they can best address their customers' desktop and application virtualization needs.

As server virtualization moves into the mainstream, the next logical development is desktop virtualization -- commonly referred to as

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virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). VDI is an architecture that virtualizes users' desktops. In many cases, IT departments are actually jumping ahead to desktop and application virtualization even before they complete their server virtualization plans as they strive to improve their efficiency.

This trend toward VDI provides new revenue opportunities for value-added resellers (VARs), systems integrators (SIs) and other service providers. To take advantage of the growth potential in this emerging market, service providers need to know why these technologies are creating such strong interest in the IT community. They also must have the knowledge and understanding of these technologies and their related management tools so they can help customers evaluate their requirements and analyze which technologies and tools will best fit their needs. That way, they can help them develop their future desktop and application strategies.

Since virtualized desktops need to interact directly with end users, VDI requires a broader collection of tools. These tools can create, host and manage virtual machines (VMs) and deliver the virtualized desktop to the end user.

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Several VDI offerings are currently available in the marketplace, and there are several tools needed to deploy and manage them effectively. The best-known companies providing VDI today are VMware Inc., Citrix Systems Inc. and Microsoft.

In the first of a two-part series on desktop virtualization management tools, we will take a look at the native tools available for the management and deployment of VDI products.

Native management for VMware

Best known for its server virtualization technologies, VMware is also a leader in the VDI market.

The current release of VMware VDI comes with VMware Virtual Desktop Manager 2, which provides:

  • management of connections between remote users and centralized virtual desktops;
  • deployment of individual desktops for each user, as well as creation of persistent and nonpersistent desktop pools;
  • protection of sensitive data, using SSL tunneling to ensure that all connections are encrypted;
  • integration with Microsoft Active Directory, to control access to centralized desktops using the existing directory services infrastructure;
  • a high level of fault tolerance for the VDI with connection redundancy;
  • and support for strong authentication with RSA and two-factor authentication.

VMware also has Assured Computing Environment (ACE) 2.5 for dealing with enterprise-wide deployments that include difficult-to-reach, employee-owned systems and third-party PCs.

VMware ACE lets IT administrators design and deploy PC environments to desktops, laptops and portable media devices. The policy-based management of ACE lets administrators configure, control and establish the security parameters for a virtual machine, including all the software needed for an easy and secure desktop deployment.

After deployment, the ACE Management Server lets admins track, modify and deactivate ACE clients at any time. Common uses include the deployment of virtual laptops, sandbox environments and legacy operating system support, as well as training and education.

ACE lets administrators use VMware Workstation 6.5 to create, package and deploy hardware-independent, IT-managed PCs within a secured virtual machine and deploy it to a physical PC or portable media device, such as a USB flash drive.

VMware ACE delivers easy control and management of virtual desktop images from a centralized console. It supports dynamic policy updates, including the ability to activate or deactivate a virtual desktop at any time. It also includes the new Virtual Rights Management technology that lets admins apply policies to virtual machines and govern access to the VM.

VMware ACE runs only on Windows 2000, XP and Vista systems, and it works only with VMware products.

Native management for Citrix

Citrix XenDesktop comes in five editions: Express, Standard, Advanced, Enterprise and Platinum. (Express and Standard are primarily for evaluation and entry-level applications.) It works with XenApp -- Citrix's application virtualization product -- to dynamically assemble a new virtual desktop with a personalized set of applications and settings every time a user logs on. The products separate the OS from the applications and user settings, which makes it easier to create, provision, personalize, monitor, support and update desktop images centrally from the data center.

The integrated native tools give IT personnel the means to manage all aspects of the XenDesktop VDI environment, including:

  • creating on-demand desktops by dynamically assembling a virtual desktop each time a user logs on;
  • on-demand image provisioning, which creates and de-provisions virtual desktops and optimizes system resources;
  • application delivery;
  • desktop storage optimization, which lets many virtual desktops boot from a single desktop image;
  • virtual machine infrastructure, which provides a 64-bit paravirtualization-based hypervisor for scalable hosting of virtual desktops;
  • desktop assignment, which can create pools of virtual desktops for groups of users and dedicate a specific desktop for individual users;
  • management of virtual desktop connections and session status;
  • high availability and failover;
  • secure remote access, which lets remote users access their virtual desktops from outside the corporate firewall;
  • desktop performance monitoring;
  • WAN optimization;
  • desktop support, which lets help desk reps see users' screens and chat with them to resolve problems;
  • and the EasyCall feature, to enable simple click-to-call voice communications.

XenDesktop also supports desktop appliances, heterogeneous clients -- including Windows XP Embedded, Linux and ThinOS -- and blade PCs, which is advantageous when a client requires high-performance, dedicated computing resources and secure remote access.

Citrix XenDesktop has out-of-the box integration and interoperability with any VM infrastructure, including Citrix Xen, Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware ESX. That ensures there is no vendor lock-in as technologies and standards evolve, according to Citrix.

Native management for Microsoft

Microsoft's VDI is in Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V. It includes Remote Desktop Services (RDS, formerly known as Terminal Services), the new Remote Desktop Connection Broker and System Center Virtual Machine Manager.

The System Center Virtual Machine Manager allows for the deployment, provisioning and management of virtualized desktops. As with other VDI vendors, Microsoft also separates the OS from the applications in the VM. Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V) and Windows Server 2008 Terminal Services RemoteApp handle dynamic application deployment.

App-V dynamically delivers desktop applications, which are never installed on the client on demand. Windows Server 2008 Terminal Services RemoteApp, on the other hand, virtualizes the presence of specific applications in a virtualized desktop.

In larger deployments that require connection brokering capabilities to handle authentication and VM pool assignments, Microsoft is teaming with Citrix to provide the necessary components for a scalable end-to-end solution.

For the Vista platform, Microsoft has Windows Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktop, which is a special licensing option in Vista for VDI.

As you can see, the various VDI vendors provide some fairly good management and deployment tools for deploying, managing and maintaining their products. In the second part of this two-part series, we will take a look at third-party offerings that go beyond the basic tools in these VDI solutions and can significantly enhance resellers' virtualization support services to their customers.

About the author

Joseph Ortiz is a senior analyst at Storage Switzerland LLC. Prior to joining Storage Switzerland, Joseph ran his own consulting firm, providing professional services for data protection processes. His 28-year background in the industry includes a stint as lead technical engineer for several VARs and IT systems integrators, as well as engineering roles at two data protection software manufacturers.


This was first published in December 2008

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