Though VMware's View 5 adds more components that IT pros need to deliver virtual desktops, it does not match the features that rival Citrix Systems offers with XenDesktop 5.5. VMware depends on third-party vendors to fill the gaps.
Citrix upped the ante on XenDesktop this week when it added, at no extra cost, the application personalization software it acquired from RingCube Technologies, Inc. in all editions of XenDesktop 5.5.
VMware View 5 -- which is expected to launch during VMworld 2011 next week -- won't bundle in a comparable user-installed app tool. View customers, however, can get that capability through Liquidware Lab's user personalization and configuration management software, ProfileUnity 5.0, sometime later this year.
The persona management software company already provides many View customers with the profile management capabilities that have been missing in View. As previously reported by SearchVirtualDesktop.com, VMware View 5 will include persona management. It will also include improvements to PCoIP for virtual desktops delivered over a WAN, among its enhancements.
Liquidware Labs' user application personalization
Liquidware Labs will introduce FlexApp (code named AppSnap) as part of its profile management product ProfileUnity in November. FlexApp delivers "follow-me" user-installed applications and settings for non-persistent virtual desktops. This is similar to the new Personal vDisk feature in XenDesktop 5.5.
With that feature, VMware View 5 users can install applications on their stateless virtual desktops. It encapsulates the apps immediately, and redirects them into a virtual disk using Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) or Virtual Machine Disk Format (VMDK) format. The apps are snapped in when the user logs on. When using VMDK mode, end users can also run those apps offline using View Local Mode.
The ability to handle user installed applications this way is a game changer, according to Brad Maltz, CTO for International Computerware Inc, an IT consulting firm. He has already demonstrated an early version of FlexApp to his VMware View customers.
"User-installed applications is the problem child of most VDI environments," Maltz said. "It prevents you from standardizing. I've had customers that said with this feature, they can seriously consider virtual desktops, because now they can standardize their environment."
One problem with end users installing apps is that IT pros using VMware's linked clones need to keep the drive as agnostic as possible. If users install apps, linked clones break, Maltz said. FlexApp avoids that issue not by virtualizing applications, but by redirecting user installed apps to a centrally managed file share.
One big advantage here is that it removes the disk IOPS of the user installed app from the main virtual machine image and shifts those IOPS onto a separate user-specific VMDK. Or, it completely removes them from the disk I/O path by streaming them from a VHD over the network. This means IT can isolate IOPS from user installed applications that may have an unknown performance impact, according to Liquidware Labs.
The ability to support user-installed applications isn't new. Unidesk also supports user-installed applications through its Composite Virtualization layering technology. With UniDesk, when users install applications, it captures those apps in personalization layers that IT delivers separately from operating system and application layers. IT maintains all user-installed applications and settings in those layers.
Citrix's Personal vDisk and Liquidware Labs' upcoming FlexApp feature make managing user-installed apps simpler, Maltz said. With FlexApp, for instance, the applications simply install into the VMDK or VHD without IT intervention.
Unfortunately, FlexApp isn't bundled in with View, so customers have to pay for and manage a third-party platform to get this feature. But Maltz said many View customers already use ProfileUnity and it's a low cost product.
While the user-installed application feature is nice to have, it is advanced and many customers are still struggling just to get VDI up and running at this point, said Ian Song, an analyst at IDC, the Framingham, Mass. market research firm. But adding this capability is a step in the right direction, he said.
Currently ProfileUnity with FlexApp is $49 per user with the VDI essentials desktop transformation bundle, though pricing may increase next year. Profile Unity and FlexApp also supports XenDesktop.
Demonstrations of FlexApp will be shown at Liquidware Labs Booth 748 at VMworld 2011 from August 29 through September 1, 2011.