Disappointed! (the true sad story of client hypervisor meloncholy)

Attribution: OpenPhoto.net All I wanted for Christmas was a decent client hypervisor.

Lump of Coal
Attribution: OpenPhoto.net

All I wanted for Christmas was a decent client hypervisor.   Two years in a row now.  Was that really too much to ask for?  Last year at Christmas I was only a little disappointed because I had kept my expectations in check.  But surely by this year I would have one, right?  I was excited by the news that VMware announced an upcoming type-1 client hypervisor.  Citrix was working on one.  Virtual Computer had one already, but it was limited.  Microsoft had not made any announcements, but you had to assume that they had one in the works but decided there was not a good enough reason to make it available yet.  I was sure that 2010 would be the year I get a decent client hypervisor for my laptop.  Surely I would have one for Christmas this year.

Dang.  I tried.  I threw a party to see who would show up.  VMware, which announced they were coming early on,  later sent their regrets.  Not much in the way of an explanation, but the gossip is that the whole HCL (Hardware Compatibility List) thing was just too much for them.  One suspects they are continuing to work on this behind the scenes, however, as long as nobody else has one, they can keep shipping their Type-2 client hypervisor which means that they are in no hurry.

Virtual Computer actually came to the party early.   Last summer I tried out a beta of their 3.0 client hypervisor.  They significantly expanded their HCL list to include Radeon graphics chipsets so I could run it on my latest high performing laptop.  No lame V-Pro limitations here.  The biggest hassle with installing a type-1 hypervisor on an existing laptop is the destructive install thing.  Fortunately I had thought ahead and bought a laptop with a second hard drive bay.  So I popped in another drive and went for it.  I soon found that I had to swap positions because they hadn’t considered that use case and it would only load the hypervisor on the first hard drive, but I was OK with that.  The Install was straightforward.  And it worked on my laptop.  First of all, having a hypervisor with a web browser built in is awesome!  Boot ultra-quick and get access to the internet without an OS.  Yeah, some people worry about the security of the hypervisor when you do that, but I’m not.  Those threats need a file system.  I also installed the server software and had it stream some VHDs to run.  It was quite impressive.  Talking to the folks at Virtual Computer, they seem to really feel that their value lies in the Management side, not the hypervisor.  And while that might be their value as a company, and for many enterprises, my interest is just in the hypervisor.  I really liked the NxTop.  The performance was very good. The things I didn’t like were nitpicks.  Being a linux based hypervisor, my touchpad was overly sensitive and even when toned down by the generic touchpad controls was not something I wanted to use on a daily basis.  The wireless network worked well, but I live in a home/office with two segregated wireless networks and I bounce between them a lot.  With this setup I had to jump from the OS I was running to get to the hypervisor to make the change.  I really wanted to do it from the virtual wireless adapter interface in the VM tray.  While these may be small things, a laptop is personal and these usability issues are significant. Ultimately, while I really liked it, I ended up reverting back to my old setup after a couple of weeks.

Citrix tried to make it to the party.  They  released XenClient 1.0, their type-1 client hypervisor, but Brian said don't waste your time because it wasn’t really ready yet.   I did anyway.  While Citrix has a small V-Pro only HCL, they did indicate that it should work, even if unsupported, on a wider range of hardware.  So I swapped in another hard drive (you didn’t think I left that second bay empty after buying the second hard drive did you?) and tried to install.  No luck even getting it to install.

So where am I now?  Just where I started.  Using the best type-1 client hypervisor out there today for my needs.  Hint, it is one not on the typical client hypervisor list. 

I know that my needs are not mainstream.  I’m not looking for something small and light so I can access VDI/Terminal Server/Cloud apps locked up somewhere else.  I don’t need management stuff (yet).  I just want to use the awesome power you can get in a laptop these days without being disabled by a “bad internet day” or a semi-stable wireless routers in the overly concrete basement of a certain swanky hotel in Chicago.   I want to bring my lab with me when I go.  I need machines to write software, machines to test software, machines to demo software, plus my personal machine.  I want the benefit of segmenting those needs into different OSs, with the ability to revert those test and demo machines.  I demand performance, but still demand that the touchpad and wireless work.   So my choice might not match yours, which I’m sure many of you will tell me in the comments!

I’m using Hyper-V on the laptop.  It is providing the best performance with all of the features I really need, except one.  There is no hibernation.  I survive without that.  I can “Save” (suspend in human terms) the individual VMs and only need to shutdown/boot the hypervisor and root partition.  But otherwise it allows me full use of the hardware I bought at a decent performance.  Yes, I still need to go to the parent partition to change the wireless router, but I guess it seems less of a burden than with Virtual Computer.  I’m waiting patiently for the RTM of 2008 R2 with SP1 (in an extremely unusual departure from my normal beliefs, I don’t want to install the RC on this one) so I can gain the advanced memory improvements. 

And since I love unconfirmed rumors I’ll just mention that a Hyper-V V3 (aka “Hyper-C”) from Microsoft would be a great present in 2011.  This Microsoft client hypervisor is being discussed  as being part of Windows 8, but if Microsoft thought it was in their interest to get a type 1 hypervisor for the laptops with a “MinWin” parent partition out sooner they would be able release it independently.  Heck, as far as I’m concerned they don’t even have to wait for Christmas next year.  There are a lot of holidays to choose from and I’m not picky!

Tim Mangan

 Author: Tim Mangan is a Microsoft MVP for App-V, a Citrix Technology Professional, and holds the position of Kahuna at TMurgent Technologies. He runs a local virtualization user group in Boston and has spoken at every BriForum, as well as other venues. Read more at his home blog or website.

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