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How VMware Horizon View stacks up

VMware View's storage features, ease of use and manageability help it stand out against other VDI software candidates.

VMware Horizon View is a feature-rich virtual desktop infrastructure software platform that gives organizations the ability to deliver a robust end-user experience while helping to improve IT efficiencies -- when approached correctly.

As an integrator, I have designed and implemented VMware Horizon View since 2009 and have personally witnessed the evolution of this product. VMware Horizon View 5.3 hits the mark as an enterprise-ready virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) platform with a rich feature set, an easy-to-manage administrative interface and solid stability. VMware Horizon View is part of the company's larger Horizon Suite for end-user computing.

Features and capabilities

Following are some of the features and capabilities that make VMware Horizon View an industry-leading product:

Linked clones. A linked clone is a copy of a virtual machine (VM) that shares virtual disks with its parent VM. This allows for significant storage savings because each virtual desktop image is a fraction of the size of the master image.

ThinPrint/location-based printing. ThinPrint is an OEM product that allows VMware View soft clients (View Client) to present printers to the virtual desktop. The printer drivers and devices must be configured and connected to the client device, and the printers can be local or network connected.

PC over IP (PCoIP). The PCoIP remote display protocol technology compresses, encrypts and rapidly transports image pixels to PCoIP end-user devices. From a user's perspective, there is no difference between working with a local computer loaded with software and a zero client receiving the image of the software running via PCoIP. Because the protocol transfers images only, in the form of pixel location information, no business information ever leaves the data center.

End-user experience features. Horizon View now supports hardware accelerated 3-D graphics with the Virtual Dedicated Graphics Acceleration feature based on Nvidia GPU technology. It also includes unified communications support with Microsoft Lync. There is also third-party support for other UC vendors. Finally, it comes with Windows 8 support with the multi-touch capability on compatible devices, as well as clientless HTML5 access.

Storage features

VMware Horizon View takes advantage of many functionalities of the vSphere hypervisor. The storage features are one of the significant differentiators between it and other VDI software.

SEsparse Disks for linked clone desktops. This allows for more efficient use of disks, filling the blocks with real data and allowing reclaimed disks to be used by View Composer.

VSAN. VMware VSAN allows the organization to use a local server disk and present it to the vSphere cluster as shared storage. This feature is meant to lower TCO.

View Composer Array Integration (VCAI). VCAI allows organizations to take advantage of native network-attached storage snapshot or cloning features' capabilities reducing CPU consumption and network bandwidth.

View Storage Accelerator. View Storage Accelerator helps reduce storage performance bottlenecks by leveraging vSphere host memory and caching the most commonly read blocks, reducing the read hit on a storage area network.

Advantages and drawbacks

Horizon View excels because of its ease of use and manageability. An administrator will only have to work with two interfaces, VMware vCenter and View Administrator. Since View Administrator is a Web-based interface using the Adobe Flex platform, it is attractive and simple to use with well-defined and well-placed configuration options.

Horizon View is also compatible with the vCenter virtual appliance and the Web-based vSphere Client. A VMware customer will appreciate the tight integration between View and vSphere. It also integrates with ThinApp for application virtualization and Horizon Workspace, with single sign-on pass-through to the desktop from the Workspace portal.

Even with these features, there are a few drawbacks to certain functions. Features such as persistent disks for profile redirection as well as View Persona (the user profile management tool) are lacking in fine-grained controls and stability. There are third-party products that address these needs much better than what is offered natively through Horizon View.

VMware considers Horizon View to be the Switzerland of VDI products, but this can be both an advantage and a drawback as the amount of advanced engineering and third-party integration can sometimes be lacking -- whereas Microsoft or Citrix architectures allow for more custom engineering.

Use cases

Determining your business use case is critical to a successful Horizon View implementation. Most organization will start their VDI journey with training rooms, conference rooms, kiosks, etc. Since 2009, I have seen the level of maturity in Horizon View rise and have witnessed many organizations solve even more complex, unique business use cases with Horizon View.

Call centers. Call centers typically provide a very repeatable workflow and desktop image. Most often this use case is deployed in a nonpersistent linked clone model, providing a new desktop for every logon. This can help IT efficiencies and guarantee a quality end-user experience.

Contractors and developers. Contractors and developers can use their own hardware, work offsite and still get a good end-user experience, while IT can lock down network and image access to provide better control over the resources accessed.

Remote access and mobility. Horizon View has native remote access features built into the product, allowing for remote access without a virtual private network by using the native PCoIP. This allows users to access their data and applications via any device anywhere.

Healthcare. Horizon View integrates very well into these architectures and makes the product very attractive to healthcare organizations that cannot afford end-user outages.

Disaster recovery and business continuity. VMware Horizon View, when deployed in a nonpersistent architecture, can make business continuity and disaster recovery plans around end users' desktops affordable and simple.

Organizations that have strong VMware skill sets and are invested in the long-term VMware vision are going to appreciate Horizon View. The product is solid, stable and performs well out of the box. The product is easy to implement and does not have a lot of moving parts. At the end of the day, your business goals and use cases will dictate which product you select.

About the author:
Justin Kenney is the end user experience practice lead at Lumenate Technologies, a national technical consulting firm focused on data center, security, end-user experience and cloud technologies. He focuses on helping organizations successfully implement and operationalize end-user technologies.

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