On September 8, Microsoft held their global getVIRTUALnow Summit, the official launch event in Seattle for Hyper-V, System Center Virtual Machine Manager, the new versions of MIcrosoft's Desktop and Application Virtualization products. This free summit promised to help you become a Microsoft virtualization expert within your company.
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That Seattle event seemed to be like a real conference with multiple tracks and an exhibition hall, although I wasn't able to attend. However, after the main launch event, Microsoft begain taking this show on the road to several US cities. I attended yesterday's summit in San Francisco. In this article, I'll talk about the event, what I learned, and whether it's worth attending.
But first, if you'd like to attend the getVIRTUALnow Summit, there are still several cities left: (The cost is free.)
Minneapolis, Oct 21
Dallas, Oct 24
Chicago, Oct 27
Boston, Oct 31
New York City, Nov 3
Washington DC, Nov 10
Philadelphia, Nov 13
Atlanta, Nov 17
You may register for any of this cities here.
San Francisco's October 15 event
The San Francisco getVIRTUALnow Summit event was something in-between a "real" full-blown conference and a typically reseller seminar you'd attend in a downtown hotel. I counted about 150-200 attendees. There was a small exhibitor room with tables set up which was open throughoug the day.
There was a single content track that everyone attended in the morning, and then the afternoon was dedicated to hands-on labs showcasing products from Microsoft and the other sponsors.
The three morning sessions were:
- A general session about Microsoft server virtualization and management
- A talk about how Microsoft's internal IT department is using virtualization in their datacenter
- A presentation called "Understanding Virtualization at the Desktop Level."
Obviously the reason I showed up yesterday was to listen to Session #3. The first session was what you'd expect, just talking about Hyper-V and the whole Microsoft solution and value and stuff like that. It was not really for me since I was there just to hear about desktops and applications. I thought the second session wouldn't be for me either, but there were actually a few interesting points.
Session 2. How Microsoft's Internal IT department uses virtualization
Session #2 was given by a guy named Paul Selsor, who represented Microsoft's internal IT department. (So really this was a giant case study with a lot of Q&A.) In his current role he's focused on Microsoft's branch offices, which includes some "datacenter in a box"-type stuff, as well as how they integrate new companies they buy.
As I said, Paul's presentation was somewhat interesting, although not really relevant to me, but I perked up when I heard him mention terminal services. He was talking about how they try to integrate new companies quickly, and they tried to use terminal services to provide desktops, but they had problems because users couldn't install their own apps (He used Microsoft BOB as an example!?!), and he said they couldn't personalize things like their own desktop backgrounds.
What!!?! Is he serious?
Then he talked about VDI, and how they could, with a few clicks, create 3000 VMs for a bunch of new users.
(One thing that was kind of funny is he said they want to start doing V2P migrations, because after Microsoft buys a company, they typically buy new laptops for all the employees of that company, but then a bunch of people end up quitting and they have all these extra laptops. So instead, maybe they could give users a private VDI VM for a few months, and then if they stick around, migrate that VM to a phyiscal laptop.)
In general, I was horrified to hear what Paul was saying. To me, he represented everything about the proverbial IT department that doesn't "get" terminal services or desktop virtualization. The problem was not so much that he was saying negative things about terminal server (because in his case, maybe these scquired companies had a lot of developers and stuff and really needed VDI). The bigger problem was that he was on stage, at a Microsoft virtualization launch event, representing Microsoft, saying things like that users can't personalize a terminal services environment, and 200 attendees hear that. And these aren't "terminal server" people or people who run in our circle--these are more general IT folks who now have one more reason to hate terminal services. (But don't worry, it made a great lead-in to the next guy on stage who was going to mention Microsoft's desktop and application virtualization products that could solve just such a problem.)
Session 3. Microsoft's desktop and application virtualization
As I said, this was the session that caused me to come to this event. It was led by former Softricity employee Jeff Asis. Jeff's first slide was one that we're seeing more and more, showing the five spokes the make up Microsoft's suite of desktop virtualization capabilities:
- Server Virtualization (Hyper-V)
- Application Virtualization (App-V / SoftGrid)
- Desktop Virtualization (Virtual PC, Enterprise Desktop Virtualization, Hyper-V)
- Presentation Virtualization (Terminal Server)
- Profile Virtualization (Document redirection, Roaming profiles)
Do you notice anything weird about that list?
Yeah, "profile virtualization!" Do you remember a few years ago when Mark T. said that Citrix had been in the virtualization business for ten years, because MetaFrame was in the application virtualization business? Remember how stupid everyone thought that was? Well now Microsoft is claiming that roaming profiles and special folder redirection are profile virtualization!
Jeff then talked about the Desktop Optimization Pack, and how it's a suite of best of breed products, including App-V and MED-V. (MED-V? This is "Microsoft Enterprice Desktop Virtualization, formerly known as Kidaro. This is the point where the naming scheme hit me: Hyper-V, App-V, Med-V. I guess in the future we'll see Desktop-V, Profile-V, and Monopoly-V.)
The next part of the presentation was about App-V (formerly SoftGrid) and the new 4.5 version. This presentation was very basic and included a demo. It was probably too basic for everyone reading this article, but what was really interesting was that this audience was a general IT audience--not the application/desktop/TS/Citrix audience that I usually talk to. In other words, this was the first time that a lot of them were seeing this. (The crowed literally gasped when Jeff showed Word 97 running on Vista.) There were a LOT of questions about App-V, like how the sandbox works, how secure it is, offline, streaming, whether you need a server, etc. (One of the questions was about x64 support for App-V. Jeff said, "soon." The questioner followed up with "2009?" Jeff said "yes.")
Jeff's presentation then shifted to MED-V. For those who don't know, MED-V is actually a wrapper for Virtual PC. It pushes out a Virtual PC image to users, but then instead of presenting a second Windows desktop in a window from the guest VM, MED-V completely hides that desktop and just integrates applications from the Start Menu of the VM with the Start Menu of the host. Then when the user clicks on an application shortcut for an app running in the guest, the app is launched in a comletely seamless way, and the user doesn't even know that it's running in a guest. (Actually this can cause some confusion for users, so it's possible to, for example, configure applications running from the MED-V guest so that they have a red border around their windows.) This seamless window functionality is almost identical to Parallels "Coherence" more or VMware's "Unity" feature found in Fusion for Mac and Workstation 6.5.
The MED-V value is that is you have an application that cannot be sequenced with SoftGrid App-V, you can still isolate/virtualize/deploy it via MED-V. (Internet Explorer 6 on Vista was the demo given.) Jeff also talked about how you can deploy MED-V images via a USB key, and the whole user-owned PC thing.
The final piece of Jeff's presentation was about VDI. He started off by defining VDI as users on a physical device loging into a server or blade running Windows XP or Vista, and remoting into it. That's a definition I can agree with, and about the last part of his presentation I can say that for.
When he started listing the advantages of VDI, he talked about how:
- It's a controlled environment
- There's no stealing of data
- Users can have admin rights
- It's very efficient because you just update all the images on the backend server
It took every bit of every I had not to stand up and yell "NNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" as he was going through his list.
To quote Rick Mack, giving users admin rights is a "spectacularly stupid" thing to do. Something like 97% of Microsoft patch Tuesday security fixes would not be needed if users were not running as local admins. Now I understand that a lot of users out there do use their desktops with admin rights, but I think in a lot of cases that's because the IT department never really intentionally thought about that.
But if a company is going to go through the trouble of building a VDI environment, I think letting users run as admins is kind of a cop-out. And if they won't spend the time to figure out how to build their environment so that users don't have to run as admins, then where else are they cutting corners?
When he addressed this, Jeff unfortunately said "You don't want to give users admin rights to users on a Terminal Server." Of course that's true, but again, I think that's propogating the myth that TS is bad and the VDI is some kind of savior. Again, when he said this, the crowd sort of nodded in agreement, so now I think there's another 200 people in this world who think (1) it's ok to have admin rights on desktops, and (2) TS sucks.
The other weird thing about the advantages of VDI that Jeff mentioned is that last bullet about the efficiency since you "just update all the images on the backend server." (That is an exact quote.)
Again, What???!? First of all, I don't know what about updating "all the images" is efficient? (I guess maybe the idea is that you're using Microsoft System Center and stuff?) Again, I think this propogates the "TS sucks" myth, because it implies that you need to have separate images for each of your users, and the only way you can manage these separate images is by (1) putting them all in the datacenter, and (2) using System Center.
The next slide that comes up shows three ways that users can access their desktops:
- Remotely via Terminal Server
- Locally with MED-V and App-V
- Remotely via Hyper-V using VDI
Wait.. what's this? That slide actually has a connection broker in the VDI option. But Microsoft doesn't make a connection broker?!? The fine print has an asterisk that says you need to get the connection broker from a company like Citrix. (They actually used Citrix's name here.) So it's kind of weird. You go to Citrix to get your XenDesktop connection broker, but then does Microsoft think that you'll still use Hyper-V instead of XenServer? And if you're using XenDesktop, wouldn't you just use Provisioning Server too? I asked the people at the Citrix booth about this, and it was an excercise in futile tap-dancing. Seriously, this messaging is so messed up and confusing. (But that's an article for another day.)
The bottom line: Should you attend your local getVIRTUALnow launch event?
Maybe. Definitely not an automatic "yes" or automatic "no." Obviously this is a marketing event from Microsoft, and as such it is crazily rah-rah Microsoft at all times. From the pure technical standpoint, I think this event is probably too basic for the people who read this site, but it might be a good opportunity for your boss or coworker to learn about some of this stuff.
And the hands-on labs were cool. If you'd like a chance to poke around and play with some of these things but you don't have time to get them up and running, you can see and touch everything at the summit.
I just can't reiterate enough, though, how I felt that Microsoft was propogating some of the myths about TS and VDI. Personally I've felt that TS has kind of been "our" little niche--the little thing that the THIN list, iForum, Citrix, BriForum, PubForum community has done for a long time. And now that virtualiztion and VDI are out there, "other people" are coming into "our" space. I know that can be toxic thinking, but in general I think "we" have done a good job educating and accepting "them." The problem is, however, is that there are several myths and misconceptions about Terminal Server that those outside the community have, and unfortunately I think these getVIRTUALnow events aren't helping.