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VMware and Citrix unveil different strategic approaches

Roy Illsley | Oct. 18, 2010
The two virtualization giants VMware and Citrix have signaled different strategic approaches to the emerging markets of desktop virtualization

The two virtualization giants VMware and Citrix have signaled different strategic approaches to the emerging markets of desktop virtualization. This divergence illustrates the significant difference in implementation approaches possible with this technology. VMware has chosen a software hypervisor, while Citrix has opted for a bare-metal hypervisor. We believe that Citrixs strategy has the most probability of long-term success on the client, while VMware is most likely to be successful in the short term. However, both are at the start of a long journey so neither approach may survive to become dominant.

Type-1 bare-metal hypervisor or type-2 software-based hypervisor on the client?

The big debate for 2011 will be the type-1 bare-metal hypervisor versus the type-2 software-layered hypervisor. Twelve months ago Citrix and VMware were in a race to produce a type-1 client hypervisor, but whereas Citrix has released its version, VMware has seemingly changed its mind and is now focused on a type-2 client hypervisor. The arguments by both vendors have some merit:

Type 1: The bare-metal approach provides a more secure and isolated environment that supports the execution of many different client-side operating systems. However, the big question is how this hypervisor will be deployed, as it must be installed before the operating system. For new devices this could be factory installed, but for existing devices it would require a significant amount of remedial work to retrofit on all devices effectively meaning every device must be rebuilt.

Type 2: The software hypervisor, which has been around for many years, is not considered to provide the same degree of virtual machine (VM) isolation or security as the bare-metal approach. However, it avoids the deployment conundrum as it is installed on top of an existing host operating system, and also does not suffer from issues with hardware compatibility USB drives, CDs, graphic cards, etc.

We believe that if the OEM laptop vendors (Citrix reported that Lenovo, Dell, and HP have already signed up) adopt and ship devices with the hypervisor pre-installed, then the bare-metal hypervisor could become an industry-standard approach. However, as Citrix stated that it has no plans to produce a tool to help retrofit this bare metal hypervisor to existing devices (which it does not see as its target market) then we are looking at a three- to five-year incubation period before the success or failure of this approach becomes apparent.

Mitigating the risks of desktop virtualization requires a new approach to management

The challenges of implementing a client-side virtualization deployment are not purely technical; in fact, one of the biggest challenges is addressing the cultural attachment that employees have to PCs and laptops. While the PC question can often be answered by providing fast network connectively and a fully configurable experience, the laptop is more difficult. In many organizations laptops are seen as a status symbol in fact, very few people who acquire a laptop actually need its mobile capability.


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