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Choosing a vendor-neutral connection broker

Administrators looking for flexibility in multiple hypervisor VDI environments need to turn to vendors with neutral connection brokers

For the most part, stand alone, independent connection brokers are a thing of the past. Today, many vendors offer a connection broker as part of a larger solution -- usually a VDI management and deployment solution.

Connection brokers are software programs that allow remote users to connect to a virtual desktop. They typically provide the communications framework and security controls a user needs to access a particular virtual machine within a VM pool (see Figure 1). The technology also monitors the status of a session and handles virtual machine assignments, reassignments and session time outs or terminations.

Figure 1
Figure 1 Connection broker diagram. (Click on image for enlarged view.)

Some vendors offer "more capable" vendor-neutral connection brokers that extend virtual desktops to a variety of platforms and clients. The goal of these connection brokers is to allow administrators to mix and match virtual desktop infrastructures, hypervisors and virtual pools to fit their needs.

While the major hypervisor vendors, including Citrix, VMware and Microsoft, offer some form of a connection broker combined with a VDI management component, these vendors are focused on supporting their own specific hypervisors, which removes neutrality from the equation.

Administrators looking for flexibility in multiple Hyper-V VDI environments need to turn to vendors like Leostream, Quest Software, Ericom and 2X. These vendors extend connection broker capabilities to include management, monitoring and configuration tools that function as a VDI platform. The hypervisor portion of virtualization is left to the administrator's choice or preference.

Vendors with neutral connection brokers

The Leostream product, simply known as the Leostream Connection Broker, resembles a connection broker in the classical sense: The vendor's primary objective is to control connection to hypervisor pools. Leostream functions as a virtual appliance that can be installed on a virtual server. The product's claim to fame is its ability to make multiple VDIs homologous throughout an organization.

Quest Software offers connection brokering through the Workspace Desktop Edition. This product integrates with multiple hypervisors and combines deployment and management tools into a common virtual desktop infrastructure. Quest also offers suites and versions of solutions that build on the Workspace concept. Some of these products are more focused on Terminal Services, direct Citrix replacements or thin client deployments.

Ericom offers several suites of products under the PowerTerm WebConnect moniker. All of those products incorporate a vendor neutral connection broker, but differ in the robustness of the delivery mechanisms. PowerTerm WebConnect DeskView is aimed at the VDI crowd and its features make cloning and deploying virtual machines from different vendors quick and easy.

2X offers VirtualDesktopServer as a connection broker and VDI platform. It delivers secure, centrally managed access to virtual desktops and applications. 2X also offers cross platform support and virtual application delivery that allows administrators to deliver virtualized Windows application sessions to Linux clients.

These products are most alike in the hypervisors they support and the operating systems that can be delivered. Below is a chart further comparing the four:

Leostream Quest Software Ericom 2x
Citrix XenServer Yes Yes Yes Yes
VMWare ESX Yes Yes Yes Yes
Microsoft Hyper-V Yes Yes Yes Yes
Microsoft Terminal Services Yes Yes Yes Yes
Parallels Virtuozzo No Yes Yes Yes
Virtural Iron No Yes Yes Yes
Thin Client Support Yes No No No
Windows Hosts Yes Yes Yes Yes
Linux Hosts Yes Yes Yes Yes
Basic Price Per Seat $75 $50 $78 $1,495
per server

Calculating price can be difficult because it comes down to the number of seats needed, associated licenses, options ordered and ancillary technologies involved. Regardless, it's safe to say that most products are under $99 per seat in a 50 user environment.

The major differences come from the options available and the deployment scenarios supported. Furthermore, while all these vendors offer a realistic method of delivering a virtual session to a user, administrators will find subtle differences in the management tools and consoles that may sway them one way.

In other words, the connection broker wars are all a matter of taste.

Frank Ohlhorst
Frank Ohlhorst is an IT journalist who has also served as a network administrator and applications programmer before forming his own computer consulting firm.

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