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IBM passes over Citrix and VMware, partners with Virtual Bridges

IBM gave Virtual Bridges serious clout by making VERDE 5 its VDI offering. But it may not matter, since IT pros think Citrix and VMware for virtual desktops, not IBM.

Last week, we learned that IBM chose Virtual Bridges VERDE 5 to power its desktop virtualization offering. Virtual Bridges is playing up the fact that it beat out both Citrix and VMware as IBM's partner, but I wonder, were Citrix or VMware really ever in the running?

The IBM product costs $150 per user, per year, not including hardware. Instead, you get Virtual Bridges VERDE 5, which provides virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and client-based desktop virtualization, and IBM's Smart Business Platform, which is where the "self-configuring, self-managing and self-protecting features that enable easy installation and management and continuous backup and recovery" comes from. (Whatever that means.)

This is interesting because Virtual Bridges signed a deal with IBM in 2009. At first blush, these deals seem similar -- if not the same. I asked Virtual Bridges CEO Jim Curtin about the similarity between the two deals, and he pointed out that there are actually quite a few differences.

First, the current agreement creates an IBM part number that's fully backed by IBM. The company is doing the selling and support, and IBM stands behind it 100%. The agreement from a few years ago was just a reference bundle rather than a sellable product.

Another big change is that since the new agreement is based on the current version of VERDE, IBM can actually use this for Windows 7 desktops. The old agreement from 2009 was about creating a Microsoft-free bundle for delivering Linux desktops.

Finally, this new virtual desktop offering is being driven by IBM's Smart Business Group, which is focused on small and midsized businesses (SMBs) and has a multimillion-dollar marketing budget to reach that market. There's a whole part of IBM's website dedicated to the Smart Business Virtual Desktop, which is powered by this Virtual Bridges deal, so the offering is live now.

So I guess the big question is "Will this matter?"

I guess it depends on your perspective. For Virtual Bridges, this is definitely a really, really good thing. VERDE is based on Linux and KVM, and the company's history is deeply tied to IBM. And while Virtual Bridges has a decent product -- Gabe Knuth and I reviewed an older version during Geek Week: VDI Challenge 2010 -- it was really hard for it to get mindshare against Citrix and VMware. (Citrix "owns" the remote desktop in most customers' minds, and VMware "owns" virtualization in most customers' minds, so there's nothing left for Virtual Bridges.) And, of course, IBM has a huge marketing budget and presumably wouldn't resell a product that was total crap, so its validation gives Virtual Bridges instant credibility.

This is also good from IBM's perspective. With a single agreement, the company has a turnkey virtual desktop offering complete with VDI, client virtual machine and USB stick-based desktops that's not based on Microsoft infrastructure, so it fits well within its environment. IBM didn't have any VDI offerings, so they're now part of this growing market.

So it's good for Virtual Bridges, and it's good for IBM. The only remaining question is, "Is it good for the industry?" Or, more specifically, will it actually make a difference?

My guess is this will make as much impact on the industry as anything IBM does. It won't shift the landscape or give Citrix or VMware a run for their money in any big way. But it's one of those things we might forget about until we learn that IBM is doing millions of dollars of business in virtual desktops. After all, IBM had about $100 billion in sales last year. Can you name a single product? So even if this offering only represents 0.01% of IBM's sales, that's still $10 million worth of virtual desktops to SMBs, which instantly vaults Virtual Bridges to major player status in the industry.

Read more from Brian Madden

Brian Madden is an independent industry analyst and blogger, known throughout the world as an opinionated, supertechnical desktop virtualization expert. He has written several books and more than 1,000 articles about desktop and application virtualization. Madden'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. He is also the creator of BriForum, the premier independent application delivery technical conference.

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