Desktop virtualization for the enterprise

We interrupt our scheduled topic (a discussion of Web browser stuff I started last week) to bring you a Network World exclusive Gearhead review of a new virtualization product…vDesk from RingCube Technologies.

Virtualization has become, to say the least, big. Beyond server virtualization there’s another enormous virtualization opportunity that is relatively underused in the enterprise world: Desktop virtualization.

Most desktop virtualizing products are based on either thin client technologies delivered from a data center server (for example Citrix), or emulate the PC hardware environment of the client and run that virtual machine alongside the existing operating system (such as the VMware Player). These approaches both have drawbacks in terms of resource demands and support for mobile users.

VDesk takes a different and less resource demanding approach by using operating system virtualization on the client and, to meet enterprise oriented management requirements, adds a sophisticated centralized management system.

I’ve discussed operating system virtualization previously in Gearhead so I’ll just summarize the concept: Rather than creating a virtual hardware environment, operating system virtualization makes a copy of the host operating system interface so the virtualized environment can share the host operating system, thus requiring less memory and sucking up fewer cycles.

The vDesk system is based on RingCube’s MojoPac product which allowed you to create a virtual desktop but lacked enterprise manageability. This new incarnation adds the vDesk Administration Server (a simple and painless install) to provide just that.

You access the administration server through a Web browser to define users and groups and their privileges, set and edit policies, create virtualized desktop images, and control distribution and availability.

VDesk policies allow you to control, at a very detailed level, exactly what a specific user or group of users is allowed to do. For example, you can prohibit the ability to toggle between the virtual environment and the host environment, disable importing and exporting data, disable clipboard sharing between environments, set licensing terms (validation with the server determined by number of reboots or by the number of elapsed days), disable access to peripherals, and require that the host is running antivirus and or antispyware utilities).

VDesk clients can be distributed to end users as a PC installation or on a USB drive, or be run from a network share or even run on a central server and accessed using Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) services from any vendor.

The main distribution method is facilitated by another Web service run by the administration server. This allows the vDesk client to be downloaded and a virtualized environment (called a “workspace”) to be launched on a PC. Because it doesn’t require an operating system to be downloaded the workspace loads quickly. Updates to workspace configurations are pushed to clients incrementally when the server and client can connect and when the user changes a workspace (if they have the privilege) it is saved back to the server.

Users can have multiple workspaces defined but can only run one at a time on a given machine. Having multiple workspaces allows for different configurations when the virtualized environment is run in the office, on a laptop, from a USB drive, and so on.

I tested Version 1.0 which was launched this week and I’m impressed. The product does what it claims, is simple to install, configure and run, and the performance of applications in the vDesk client environment is excellent.

This first release could be criticized for the client presenting a somewhat complex interface where naïve users are concerned. RingCube plans to address this but told me that it wanted to get as much functionality implemented as it could in the first release and then work to simplify — not a bad plan.

VDesk is priced starting at $200 per user and allows for up to four workspaces per user.

After I’ve beaten this product up for a few more weeks we’ll take another look. In the meantime, I’ll give RingCube’s vDesk 5 out of 5. Outstanding!

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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