Greetings from the Citrix Synergy conference in sunny San Francisco! It’s been a long time coming, but you can now download the XenClient Express Release Candidate code from the Citrix Web site. The link went live as Mark Templeton (the Citrix CEO) was delivering today’s keynote address.
It’s taken a while, because (1) there are a lot of things you need to worry about with client-side virtualization that aren’t an issue with server-side virtualization – like 3D graphics and USB plug & play, and (2) they wanted to make sure they got it right the first time.
This is a true “Type 1” hypervisor, which means that it installs directly on the PC hardware (so be aware that it will wipe out whatever OS is already on the PC), and you are going to need specific hardware virtualization support on your PC. We’ll write more about that as time permits and as the requirements become more clear. But here are some of the cool things about it:
- The first, and most obvious, is that you will be able to push a virtual desktop image down to a laptop PC, unplug it from the network, and take it on the road. There is a configurable lease timer that will disable that image if it doesn’t synchronize with the network again within the specified number of days.
- If you are a desktop administrator, your life just got easier. Every desktop admin I’ve ever talked to has struggled with the issue of locking down the desktop. Take the user’s control away, and you’ve got managers in your face because they can’t install iTunes. Back down and give them local admin rights, and they break the desktop. Now you have to fix it.
Now you can have a locked-down corporate desktop running side by side with a personal desktop on the same machine. If the user screws up the personal desktop, you can wipe it clean and push out a new one…and they can’t screw up the corporate desktop. How cool is that?
- You manage the virtual desktops through a “Synchronizer,” which is a virtual appliance that runs on XenServer. When the user fires up the machine and connects to the Internet, it uses a client-initiated https connection to contact the Synchronizer – no VPN access is required.
- The Synchronizer allows you to insure that critical data on the laptop is backed up in the datacenter, using a block-level protocol with compression for bandwidth efficiency.
- If the laptop is lost or stolen, you can issue a “kill pill” from the Synchronizer that will immediately disable the VM image the next time the laptop comes on-line (or immediately, if it’s on-line when the kill pill is issued).
- Because everything is backed up to the Synchronizer, it’s a matter of only a few minutes (depending on bandwidth) to push out that backed-up image to a new laptop, which doesn’t even have to be the same manufacturer as the old laptop, since the Type 1 Xen hypervisor gives you device independence.
VMware recently announced that they were changing direction away from a Type 1 hypervisor in favor of a Type 2 hypervisor for off-line VDI access. Basically, they’re still using a variation of VMware Workstation. That means that the VM is running on top of your local copy of Windows, and there are millions of lines of code between the VM and the hardware, as opposed to only about 80,000 lines of code in the Xen hypervisor. No way in the world that’s going to approach the performance level and user experience of XenClient.
Moreover, VMware assumes that everyone who will have off-line access will also have a hosted virtual desktop running somewhere on a VSphere infrastructure. So the hosted VDI instance comes first, then you get to check that virtual desktop out for some period of time, use it, and check it back in, at which time changes get synchronized. XenClient does not require that you have a hosted XenDesktop instance. You can push the corporate desktop image down onto a XenClient-enabled PC regardless of whether that user has access to a hosted XenDesktop PC. And synchronization takes place whenever you’re on-line.
As you can probably tell, I’m excited about this release. Yes, it’s “Release Candidate” code, and it’s intended to allow us to start playing with it so Citrix can get feedback on what needs to be tweaked. But it appears to be pretty darned solid RC code, and I don’t think we’re that far away from general availability.
Gartner is predicting that, by 2014, 72% of computing “endpoints” will be laptops. You cannot have a solid VDI strategy unless you can address off-line access by this large population of users. Citrix understands that. This is another game-changer!