Although in theory, virtual desktop technology is a good idea, in practice it’s been less than stellar to date. There are a few reasons for the historical shortcomings of desktop virtualization. First, the benefits are a lot less apparent than with server virtualization. Second, rolling out the technology is expensive, and third, it isn’t quite as secure as it was originally made out to be.
VMware provided a solution to these problems yesterday with the announcement of vClient, a hypervisor-based approach that entails a hypervisor layer on a laptop rather than on top of any OS.
VMware not the first
VMware, however, is the Christopher Columbus of the hypervisor-based virtual desktop approach. Just as Columbus wasn’t really the first to discover America, VMware wasn’t actually the first to come out with this particular idea. I met with a smaller company, Virtual Computer, on the VMworld floor today. Virtual Computer had also announced its product the day prior. NxTop — which is almost identical to vClient — stands out for one big reason: It’s here, at VMworld, and you can see it in action today. VMware has yet to demo vClient.
Imagine having a completely virtualized laptop: You start it up and then select which virtual machine you’d like to run. There is no host OS, at least not on the laptop. For example, during the NxTop demo Virtual Computer had three virtual machines to choose from. One was the IT department-approved and heavily data center-controlled virtual machine, the other was a virtual machine where an employee could, for example, run iTunes and Skype.
As none of the virtual machines run on top of a base OS, you can’t install a keystroke logger on a base OS and capture supposedly secure information from the virtual desktop, which is a central criticism of previous-generation virtual desktops.
I asked the Virtual Computer team how it planned to compete with VMware. The answer was simply that VMware has focused elsewhere, whereas this is all that Virtual Computer does, so the company is apt to put more effort into it and do it better. Also, VMware doesn’t actually have the technology available yet, whereas Virtual Computer has a beta release scheduled for November and a select number of betas in use already.
It seems that virtual desktop technology has reached a new level, and perhaps the developers have overcome enough of the previous obstacles so that we’ll see greater virtual desktop adoption in the coming year.
NxTop pricing is $9.99 per month per virtual desktop, and the management console is free. When a customer reaches a critical mass, however, NxTop will direct the customer to a reseller for more economical pricing. For now, Virtual Computer plans to work with all clients directly.