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VMware vies for virtual desktop dominance with View 4.5

VMware's View 4.5 won't be out until later this year. But sources said the VDI software has better management and tighter integration with ThinApp.

The upcoming version of VMware's VDI software will better integrate its desktop and server virtualization software and expand the role of its ThinApp application virtualization software, all in an effort to extend its server virtualization dominance to the desktop.

Both Citrix Systems and VMware launched new versions of their desktop virtualization products in 2009, but some experts said that XenDesktop 4 has more to offer and View 4 needs improvement.

In View 4.5, which is due out later this year, VMware will tout simplified yet more robust management features, higher virtual desktop consolidation ratios and improved integration between View and ThinApp, its application virtualization technology, according to some familiar with the company's plans. VMware was unavailable for comment.

One of the biggest improvements in Version 4.5 is that ThinApp will not only virtualize desktop applications, but server enterprise applications as well.

Todd Knapp, chief technology officer of Providence-based IT consultancy Envision Technology Advisors, said what the company plans for ThinApp is "huge." Though he could not provide specific details because of a nondisclosure agreement, Knapp said ThinApp "marries what Citrix has done with application virtualization to what virtual desktops can deliver."

With View 4.5, users will be able to package desktop and server applications in ThinApp virtual machines (VMs). This allows applications to run independently of Windows or other operating systems, eliminating app conflicts. It also eliminates operating system co-dependency -- which is what VMware intends with its "Virtual Datacenter OS" strategy.

"If this [ThinApp] feature were to be delivered in the next version of View, it would allow developers to do all of their cross-testing using different version of applications -- Internet Explorer Versions 7 and 8, Mozilla, and whatever else -- on one physical desktop," Knapp said.

One source privy to information about the next version of View said that users will also get the more robust management interface and better scalability that they want.

With View 4.5, users will be able to put more virtual desktops on VMware's ESX for higher consolidation ratios. Doing this also lowers the total cost of ownership for VMware View, which is considered an expensive product.

Telegraphing approval for View 4.5 on Twitter
VMware partners who previewed View at a recent VMware partner event lauded the improvements on social networking sites such as Twitter. Belgium-based virtualization consultant Gert Van Gorp tested the VMware View 4.5 Technical Preview version and tweeted, "What an improvement. Citrix, watch out."

Tony Wilburn, a desktop virtualization consultant at Betis Group Inc., an Arlington, Va.-based IT services company, worked with the alpha code at the conference and said he likes what VMware has done for View.

"The interface seems easier to use, and the [Common Access Card] integration will help them get further into the federal space," he said.

Knapp said most of the major improvements were made between Versions 3.5 and 4.0, and "everything in the next version of View takes the product to another level."

IT shops that buy vSphere get some View, too
Since there isn't a dominant desktop virtualization vendor, Citrix and VMware are doing whatever they can to claim the top spot. VMware claims that it has sold 1 million seats of View, though that is not necessarily the number of seats that are in use.

Some say VMware's aggressive sales approach and new features in View will bode well for the vendor's market position. For starters, the next version of View isn't due out until later this year, but the sales campaign is already under way. Taking a page from Microsoft, VMware will use a freebie strategy to seed its huge server virtualization customer base with View seats; anyone who buys a vSphere server package will also receive a 10-pack of View Premiere.

Presumably, vSphere users who get a handful of View 4.5 seats for free will invest in more seats instead of buying the software and licenses for an outside product such as Citrix XenDesktop 4.

But this strategy is geared toward companies that have not made a product decision yet. "If a company already has XenApp and XenDesktop, will they scrap it to move to View? I doubt it, even though the trade-in program that VMware offers will tempt some," Wilburn said.

Since relatively few companies have already deployed desktop virtualization, VMware is aggressively going after those that have not.

"The free seats with qualifying purchase, the 'VMware Express' traveling to major cities, and the fact that View is on the Enterprise Plus platform show that VMware sees the desktop as the market for 2010," Wilburn said.

Knapp agreed. "This year is the battle for the desktop, and if Citrix loses this war, they are out of business," he said.

Microsoft added to its arsenal of desktop virtualization technology with its Remote Desktop Virtualization Host for Windows Server 2008 R2 recently as well. It entered the release candidate phase in mid-2009, but the product is in the shadow of Citrix and VMware. Remote Desktop Virtualization Host is a Remote Desktop Role service built into the server.

Knapp said Microsoft isn't yet considered a contender in desktop virtualization. "Microsoft has no ammo when it comes to virtual desktop computing," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

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