7/2/2010 8:42 PM
Microsoft leads partners to side with Citrix in virtualization's newest battle. - By John K. Waters, 07/01/2010
The battle of the client hypervisors is on, and Microsoft channel partners are right in the middle of it. Many Microsoft partners have close alliances with virtualization market leader VMware Inc., but Microsoft is encouraging those partners to consider the potential of a new bare-metal client hypervisor -- the world's first -- which its longtime technology partner Citrix Systems Inc. just announced.
Citrix beat its chief rival, VMware, to the punch when it unveiled its new XenClient at the company's annual Synergy conference, held in San Francisco in May. Citrix developed the client-side hypervisor with Intel Corp., optimizing it for the chip-maker's vPro processors to accelerate the delivery of client-side virtualization. XenClient is designed to let organizations deploy centrally managed virtual PC images to run natively on notebook or desktop systems, even if they're not connected.
During his keynote address launching the new client hypervisor, Citrix CEO Mark Templeton described XenClient as a "super fast, 64-bit, bad-to-the bone hypervisor -- a true Type 1 hypervisor that bonds to the laptop and delivers a bare-metal experience to the apps and OS and things that run on top of it."
The company has made a trial version available for download, and promises general availability later this year. "Corporate laptops are the last mile in extending the full benefits of desktop virtualization to all users in the enterprise," Templeton said.
Both Citrix and VMware promised in 2008 to deliver a client-side hypervisor in 2009. Now that Citrix is a step closer to delivering on that promise, Microsoft channel partners have some questions to consider. Is now the time to begin working with Citrix (or extend work with the company), or is it wiser to wait and see what VMware comes up with? Maybe it's better to wait for a pure Microsoft solution? But also, how important is a client hypervisor in the overall ecosystem versus the traditional Windows desktop and mobile clients?
"Corporate laptops are the last mile in extending the full benefits of desktop virtualization to all users in the enterprise."
Mark Templeton, CEO, Citrix Systems Inc.
"I think Citrix is making inroads, but VMware still has a lot of the server market," says Robert Bello, vice president of sales and a partner with Bit By Bit Computer Consultants Inc., a New York-based Gold Certified Partner that has partnerships with Citrix and VMware. "People like the [VMware] products -- they do a great job with the product and they have strong research development."
That said, as a Microsoft partner, Bello says there's growing interest from customers in Citrix -- and the Microsoft partnership with the company is definitely having a persuasive impact. "It's an interesting battle," he explains. "I think Citrix aligns itself with Microsoft very well in that battle. I think they have a very strong story to tell as they come into the market together." Many customers are now prone to seek quotes from both VMware and Citrix, he points out.
Though he hasn't yet tested the new Citrix bare-metal client hypervisor, Bello believes it will up the ante for Citrix. Certainly it adds new capabilities for client-side virtualization that aren't available to mainstream customers.
"I look at the client hypervisor as technology with the potential to enable better manageability, easier support and easier migration," says Mark Margevicius, a Gartner Inc. research director. "But Windows is still very important and clients need to stay with that."
The bare-metal client hypervisor is essentially the same technology used on servers, but designed for a client machine. Although it's possible to use a server hypervisor on a client machine, it's not made for that hardware, so you lose things like support for USB devices, graphics devices and other features essential to the client.
Citrix XenClient is a Type 1 hypervisor, a native hypervisor that runs on bare metal in client machines. Existing Type 2 hypervisors -- which have been around for a long time and allow users to do things like run Windows on a Mac (Player, Parallels) -- aren't as secure as the native versions, because Type 2s run on an operating system and that OS can be hacked.
The hypervisor serves as "a foundation for centrally managed OS/user environments to be streamed, cached and executed locally on desktop/laptop devices, including off-network mobility," according to a statement by both Citrix and Intel. Citrix says it already has serious momentum on the desktop: In the past two quarters, it sold 1.5 million licenses for its XenDesktop virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) product. Broad support for the new XenClient could be a harbinger of things to come in Redmond as well.
"If and when Microsoft adopts a client hypervisor as part of Windows, it's likely it will be Xen-based," Margevicius predicts. "This is especially true if Intel continues to adopt it further. Microsoft, Intel and Citrix: It's a trifecta of sorts."