We’ve been talking about client hypervisors quite a bit over the past eight months or so. Right now there are four vendors who’ve announced products in this space, and frankly it can be kind of easy to get them confused and remember who’s doing what. So in this article we’ll take a lot at each of the four vendors (as well as an open source project) and outline what we know about them so far and what we understand their plans to be moving forward.
Our four vendors, in random order, are:
As a fifth bonus offering, we’ll also take a quick look at the open source Xen Client Initiative.
Before we get started, I’d like to quickly share a comment that Neocleus’ Bill Corrigan made to me yesterday. He said (and I’m paraphrasing this), “Brian, you keep on saying the client hypervisor market is crowded. But there are only four players in it and over a billion PCs in the world. I think there’s enough room for us all.”
Good point, especially if you consider that these four vendors don’t necessarily compete with each other. True, they’re all orbiting around the general concept of the client hypervisor, but they each have their own goals and ideas for where they want to take it and why they think client hypervisors are important.
Let’s look at them one-by-one.
Virtual Computer NxTop
Virtual Computer is a Boston-area start-up company with a product called “NxTop.” NxTop combines a Xen-based client hypervisor with a back-end management system to create a PC lifecycle management solution. In other words, Virtual Computer isn’t competing against VDI, they’re competing against the Altiris and SMS / System Center products of the world. Their general reasoning is that putting a hypervisor on a laptop allows them to manage Windows from the outside, so they can push down images and delta patches, do encryption, remotely kill machines, etc., all via a single agent running in their own Dom 0.
Virtual Computer’s solution is a complete turn-key solution, so when you buy it you get the hypervisor, the disk image creation tools, the on-demand master disk creation capabilities, the remote distribution and patching capabilities, security, online and automatic backup, and everything else you need to make it work. As such, they’re really targeting small and medium businesses since larger companies probably already have in-house solutions for a lot of the features that Virtual Computer offers.
Right now the hypervisor / client piece is a destructive install, in that it can only be installed by blowing away everything on the client’s disk. They’re working on more interesting ways of doing that in the future though.
Back in January, Citrix invested in Virtual Computer. Both companies claim that working together will let them create a better hypervisor product, and a better client hypervisor will help everyone. To that end, Virtual Computer does NOT view their hypervisor as a competitive piece of intellectual property, and they talk of giving back to the open source community. So far that’s just talk though, and they don’t seem to have released or contributed any open source code. (Although to be fair, they’re also not shipping a product yet.) [UPDATE: Virtual Computer has made some of their changes available via www.virtualcomputer.com/opensource]
Past Virtual Computer coverage on BrianMadden.com
Virtual Computer video demos
Virtual Computer product status
- Available now, but still in quasi-test mode as it's only for environments up to 25 users.
Neocleus is the other start-up company in this space. They were the first company to publicly launch a client hypervisor (just a few weeks ago), and now their “Neosphere” product has been officially released. Neocleus is an Israeli company, which means that while their user interface occasionally leaves you scratching your head, the security of their product is just ridiculously badass.
Unlike Virtual Computer, Neocleus is focusing 100% on the enterprise space. This means that they’re not trying to build a complete system. (Because, for example, enterprises probably already have software distribution methodologies and backup solutions and many of these things, and in their case, they just want a client hypervisor that can integrate with there existing stuff.
This is not to suggest that Neocleus doesn’t have a management console. (They do.) It just means that their console is focused on managing the hypervisor-specific aspects of the client.
Like Virtual Computer, Neocleus is basing their solution on the open source Xen hypervisor. They’re taking a bit of a different tack on implementation though, and focusing on achieving native performance in all VMs running on the client.
Everything about Neocleus is just well thought-out for the enterprise. Take the first-time distribution of the client, for example. Most enterprises already have laptops in the field (or users procure laptops that already have operating systems on them from the local Best Buy or whatever). Instead of forcing the user to wipe the hard drive to install the hypervisor, the Neocleus install package is a normal MSI that runs like any regular Windows app. Their client installs and the laptop reboots into the user’s normal OS, except now that OS is running in a VM! They leave the file system in place and just install their hypervisor underneath it! From there you can push down VMDK or VHD files to boot and run at the same time.
If you later decide that you don’t want a particular user using their hypervisor, you can even remove it in a non-destructive way and boot back to your copy of Windows running natively.
Past Neocleus coverage on BrianMadden.com
Neocleus video demos
Current Neocleus product status
Citrix announced their client hypervisor this past January as something called “Project Independence,” and at Synergy a few weeks ago they announced the official product name would be “XenClient.” Citrix also announced that XenClient would be free, but remember, there’s “free,” and then there’s “free.”
I have no doubt that the actual hypervisor called XenClient will be free. (In fact that might even end up being the same build that Virtual Computer uses, or perhaps the same build as the open source Xen Client.”)
At the end of the day though, Citrix doesn’t make money by giving things away for free. So much like the ICA client is free, it’s free because it’s used to connect to back-end Citrix servers that you pay for. For the case of XenClient, Citrix undoubtedly sees this as an extension to their XenDesktop product.
Another reason to make XenClient free is to try to get the momentum in the market behind a Xen-based solution. If Virtual Computer, Neocleus, and Citrix can convince everyone that a Xen-based client hypervisor is the way to go, and if notebook vendors buy into that standard instead of whatever VMware does, that could be very good for them.
Past Citrix XenClient coverage on BrianMadden.com
Citrix XenClient video demos
Current Citrix XenClient product status
- They’ve demoed it publicly. Beta is not yet available. Product is scheduled to be released 2H09.
VMware Client Virtualization Platform (CVP)
From a philosophical standpoint, it’s important to remember that fundamentally, VMware is more about managing the VMs than managing the clients. So I almost get the feeling that with someone like Virtual Computer, the client hypervisor is the means to an end, while with VMware, the client hypervisor is the end. My sense is that VMware's initial push is going to be more about offline VDI--essentially taking what they already have in beta today and extending so it works without an underlying OS.
The main problem with CVP today is that we just don’t know about it. One line of thinking is that VMware is really far behind schedule and they’re delaying everything. The opposite viewpoint is that since VMware dominates the platform virtualization market, they can afford to just sit back and let the Xen-based folks make the first move. Then they can reveal their own hand after people provide some real world feedback on the competition.
Past VMware CVP coverage on BrianMadden.com
VMware CVP video demos
- Umm… yeah. If they ever decide to show anyone this thing, we’ll let you know!
Current VMware CVP product status
- A nice set of PowerPoints. No public demos. Not yet in beta. Scheduled to be released 2H09.
Open source Xen Client Initiative
Remember that the actual Xen hypervisor is open source. And the open source people creating this thing are also creating an open source version of the Xen hypervisor for laptops which is known as the “Xen Client Initiative” (or XCI). This is not to be confused with Citrix’s “XenClient” (no space). So “XenClient” is the commercial product, and “Xen Client” is the open source thing. I think.
Actually, when Citrix said the XenClient would be free, I wonder if that’s even going to be a Citrix product? Maybe Citrix and Xen.org are actually talking about the same thing, and the free “XenClient” from Citrix will actually be the open source "Xen Client?"
Past Xen Client Initiative coverage on BrianMadden.com
Xen Client Initiative video demos
- None (There’s a blog post on xen.org talking about Xen Client Initiative demos, but it links to the Citrix XenClient demo from iForum!?!)
Current Xen Client Initiative product status
The “cheat sheet” version of this article
So there you have it. Just to review:
- Virtual Computer – Xen-based hypervisor, complete system, focus on SMBs, competing against PC lifecycle management vendors
- Neocleus – Xen-based hypervisor, focusing on creating the right hypervisor for the enterprise, near-native performance in multiple VMs
- Citrix – Xen-based hypervisor, really planning to extend their XenDesktop product
- VMware – only vendor not using Xen, plans for this to be like “offline VDI,” so more of an extension of an existing VDI environment
- Open Source Xen Client Initiative – Completely free, but hypervisor only. Could ultimately share some code with Citrix, Virtual Computer, and/or Neocleus
What do you think? Did I miss anything important from any of these vendors?
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