Citrix, Microsoft and VMware dominate the already noisy virtual desktop market, so it's is unclear whether start-ups with a different approach will be able to break through to IT shops.
But one vendor that is trying to make a name for itself is RingCube Technologies, Inc.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based company released its Workspace Virtualization Engine (WVE) 2.0 this week in advance of the Citrix Synergy 2009 conference in Las Vegas. This new version increases the number of Windows services and subsystems that it virtualizes, so that it then can virtualize more applications, the company said.
RingCube's architecture packages the user's desktop, including applications, data, settings and system resources from Windows, and encapsulates it into a container. The container only replicates a small subset of Windows -- not the entire OS. All containers on a server share the same copy of the OS, compared to an architecture that uses an OS for each virtual machine (VM). The application runs faster because it isn't running on a separate OS.
Plenty of applications, particularly custom apps developed in-house, don't work as expected or at all in a virtual world they clash with the OS. By only virtualizing aspects of the OS, the company said it has mitigated this problem and can virtualize more applications.
Because WVE 2.0 expects that Windows is already running on the system, the VM package is relatively small, said Chris Wolf, an analyst at Burton Group. "[On the other hand,] you do need an OS and it's a specific OS," he added. But since the VMs can run without individual copies of Windows, IT shops don't need additional Windows licenses.
"It's a big differentiator now," added Matthew McCormack, an analyst at IDC, the Framingham, Mass.-consulting firm. "[Dealing with] licenses is time consuming and most companies are not equipped to barter with Microsoft. The fact that it can help with that and it has a fast solution is key."
Workspace Virtualization Engine 2.0 features
WVE 2.0 adds a handful of new features for IT managers. There is a virtual network component called vDeskNet, which lets the virtual workspace separate and isolate network traffic from the host PC, including VPN clients running in the virtual workspace. Virtual User Management lets the virtual workspace possess a unique set of user accounts separate from the host PC. Any vDesk users in the virtual workspace can join or add an Active Directory domain independent of user authentication and the host PC's authorization rights.
The Virtual Security Store offers a separate storage area within the virtual workspace where certificates, for example, are kept separate from the host PC, the company said.
The software is available now and sells for $200 per user. It works on XP SP1 and Vista SP1 and higher and runs on Windows Server 2003 and 2008. It's scalable up to about 5,000 users per server, the company said.
Whether RingCube can cut it in the competitive virtual desktop market will depend on how high it can raise its profile against big players like VMware and Microsoft. Most other vendors' virtual desktop strategies involve streaming data from a data center as well. "If everyone is running thin clients, there isn't much of a future for RingCube," IDC's McCormack said. "But I would argue that you will always have thick clients to manage."