Four desktop virtualization vendors you don't know, but should

This week, Brian Madden explores four of the lesser-known, smaller vendors in the desktop virtualization space that you may not know, but should.

There are 104 companies (that we know of) in the desktop virtualization space. On both SearchVirtualDesktop.com

and BrianMadden.com, a lot of time is spent talking about the "Big Four": Microsoft, Citrix, VMware and Symantec. Companies like Quest Software and Red Hat challenge us to expand that to the "Big Five" or "Big Six." But that still leaves about a hundred smaller vendors in the desktop and application virtualization space.

This is where the really interesting stuff is happening -- with these small vendors -- because the big companies can't truly innovate since they have to protect whatever it was that got them big. Microsoft, VMware and Citrix were all really innovative and disruptive when they got started, but now they're just big companies trying to out-maneuver each other. Case-in-point: Neocleus and Virtual Computer are two start-ups who were the first to ship client hypervisor-based solutions. Even today, they're still the only two companies actually shipping this stuff.

In this week's column, I'll explore four of the coolest smaller vendors in the desktop virtualization space: MokaFive, Atlantis Computing, Kaviza and RingCube.

MokaFive
MokaFive offers a turnkey desktop virtualization solution in which the virtual desktops run locally on the client device. There are a ton of VM platforms out there, and MokaFive can leverage whichever one you want. Such as VMware Workstation or Fusion, Virtual Box, Parallels, etc. MokaFive adds centralized management and enterprise features to those existing platforms. For example, they extend them so you can run VMs from USB sticks, or so that you can push out central disk images and delta "updates" to users regardless of where they are. MokaFive "gets" the layerization concept, allowing you to update a disk image for a client while preserving the user's preferences.

MokaFive's challenge, in the past, was that they've worked with "Type 2" virtualization platforms, where the virtualization engine ran on top of an existing client OS. However, with the wave of client hypervisors coming out, MokaFive's solution will become very compelling going forward.

Atlantis Computing
Atlantis Computing is a start-up software vendor that virtualizes the disk I/O subsystem of a hypervisor. As you know, hypervisors today work by enabling the running VMs to mount a disk image, which is a single VMDK or VHD file. In large VDI deployments, you have to do all sorts of voodoo to make copies, or clones, to ensure that each running VM has its own VMDK or VHD file.

Atlantis works via a virtual appliance that creates a virtual mount point (NFS, iSCSI, or CIFS) that a VM connects to where it mounts a VHD or VMDK file. But in the case of Atlantis, that VHD or VMDK file isn't actually there! It's literally created on-demand from a database, built block-by-block for that user! I could spent hours writing more about what this means, but needless to say with Atlantis, you get incredible throughput without the need for a SAN, and you get a really badass image management system that beats anything the "Big Four" offer out of the box. (For those interested in more about how Atlantis works, check out the BrianMadden.com article "Brian Dump: Atlantis Computing hopes to solve the "file-based" versus "block-based" VDI disk image challenge."

Kaviza
Kaviza is another software company who says "VDI is too complex." You need your VMs, a connection broker, a web interface, load balancers, databases, etc. And if any one of those components fails, then your whole environment goes down.

Kaviza installs natively on server hardware, building on top of the free embedded ESXi, to create a virtual "grid" that supplies VDI desktops. You can start with a single server and their solution can start serving desktops right out of the box. But they really shine when you add more than one server. You can add additional servers just by loading the Kaviza software and pointing them to the existing grid. The Kaviza system figures out everything else. They ensure everything is redundant, and they build as much of all the components that you need. When you run out of capacity, just buy another server with ESXi on it, install the Kaviza virtual appliance and stand back -- the grid auto-magically grows and configures itself.

RingCube
The fourth interesting start-up is RingCube, with their "vDesk" solution. RingCube has an interesting Type 2 VM technology where you can run a fully-isolated VM using the existing Windows file bits that are already on a Windows client. Instead of a VM being maybe an 50 MB player plus another VM disk image that's several GBs in size, you just download a single file that's maybe 30 MB. When you run that 30 MB file, it leverages the instance of Windows that's already running on your client and boots up another copy of the same bits in a VM. The recent version of vDesk even lets you join the VM copy to a domain while the native host is in a workgroup.

All four of these start-ups offer really compelling stuff. And just think, there are another 95 companies in the desktop and application virtualization space that we haven't even talked about yet! Fun times!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Brian Madden has written several books and over 1,000 articles about desktop and application virtualization. Brian's blog, Brianmadden.com, receives millions of visitors per year and is a leading source for conversation, debate and discourse about the application and desktop virtualization industry. Brian is also the creator of BriForum, the premier independent application delivery technical conference.

This was first published in May 2009

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