How can VMware compete in the desktop space? “We have the best hypervisor” is not relevant anymore.

I’m going to come right out and say it: I am not impressed with VMware’s desktop products, and I have no idea how they expect to compete against Citrix and Microsoft. Furthermore, I think VMware is damaging the industry by implying that just because they’re the experts at “server virtualization,” they’ll also be good at “desktop virtualization.

I’m going to come right out and say it: I am not impressed with VMware’s desktop products, and I have no idea how they expect to compete against Citrix and Microsoft. Furthermore, I think VMware is damaging the industry by implying that just because they’re the experts at “server virtualization,” they’ll also be good at “desktop virtualization.”

There. I said it.

A lot has been written about how “server virtualization” is different than “desktop virtualization.” I’ve jokingly said that the WORST part of desktop virtualization is the fact that it has the word “virtualization” in the name. This means that any yahoo who’s an expert in server virtualization automatically thinks he or she knows desktop virtualization. And you know what happens when server virtualization people try to do desktop virtualization? You get VMware View (and a bunch of people who can’t stop talking about how good their hypervisor is and who think that roaming profiles equal user personalization and who think application delivery means copying EXE files from NFS shares).

VMware is full of a bunch of crazy-smart people who created the x86 server virtualization industry. For that they should be (and have been) praised. But once these folks met Wall Street and started looking for ways to grow their business, they thought, “Hey, virtualizing our servers went so well, let’s do that for everything!” So now we have VMware View which is only actually used by people who (a) got it free, (b) think VMware sh*ts gold and didn’t even try anything else, (c) were dumb enough to let their server virtualization vendor dictate their desktop strategy, or (d) are currently “in pilot.”

VMware is not a desktop company. They tout that “user data disk” crap when they talk about personalization, and their current customers (the server people) are impressed. (And they should be, because they’re server people. The last time they even thought about user profiles was for their NT 4 Workstation exam back in ‘97.)  But desktop people just want to say, “Oh honey, look how cute it is that you’re trying to tell us about user personalization! Tell ya what... Why don’t you use a user data disk for a week and just see how well that works out!”

So if VMware is a server company pretending to know about desktops, how is it that they’re convincing anyone to buy View. (Notwithstanding the four reasons above. Maybe I should rephrase it as “How is VMware trying to convince people to buy View?”

Their quick answer is inevitably about View being based on the best platform: ESX / vSphere. (Well, actually, View 3 doesn’t work with vSphere yet.) But there are a few problems with this in the desktop space:

  • Even if ESX / vSphere is technically better, it’s not better enough to warrant someone using View.
  • Citrix XenDesktop, Quest vWorkspace, Ericom, Symantec Endpoint Virtualization... all of these let you choose your hypervisor. So if you want to use ESX, great! But you don’t have to.
  • The hypervisor doesn’t matter too much in the whole desktop virtualization stack. It’s like it’s a lower layer that’s completely unrelated to the actual desktop delivery.

I feel like the whole, “we have a better hypervisor” was a good selling point a few years ago. But now with the full XenServer being free and with Hyper-V being free, I don’t feel like a desktop virtualization decision is going to be made purely based on hypervisor. Because again, if you really want to use ESX, you can, even with these other solutions. (And if you’re thinking, “Hey! You can’t just ‘not consider’ the hypervisor since that’s integral to VMware,” then that means you’re making desktop delivery decisions based on the hypervisor, which is wrong wrong wrong! The hypervisor is a completely separate layer in the stack, and the decision of which one to use should not be made in a vacuum.)

I also feel like VMware View is just flat out not a great product. If you don’t consider the hypervisor, what exactly is View? It’s printing technology they licensed from ThinPrint. It’s some protocol enhancements they licensed from Wyse. It’s a few setup scripts that configure your user data drives. It’s a connection broker that they bought, threw away, and completely rewrote in a panic. It’s an app virtualization engine with no ability to target and deploy the apps. Oh, and it’s VDI-only, i.e. no Terminal Server and no physical local desktops. (Sure, the View connection broker will allow users to connect to Terminal Servers, but this capability is like a “second class” citizen. Terminal Server connections through View do NOT get the ThinPrint technology, they do NOT get the Wyse protocol enhancements, and they do NOT get application publishing.)

Actually, speaking of application publishing, what is VMware’s answer to integrating seamless server-based computing apps into their environments? Surely they don’t think every app can run locally within each VM, do they? What environment in the world do you know that doesn’t have some single app publishing from Terminal Server? Extending that out to the virtual desktop, Citrix XenDesktop lets you deliver single apps to those desktops with XenApp for free. If you buy Quest vWorkspace or Ericom you can mix-and-match single remote apps and virtual desktops. Heck, in a few months you’ll even be able to buy the $53 per device premium VDI bundle from Microsoft to do this plus a lot more stuff that View can’t do. (Not to mention most of these other products have in-box solutions for secure remote access, monitoring, remote support, WAN acceleration, etc.)

When VMware first got serious about the desktop, I was excited. But now it’s been almost a year. Where is their client hypervisor? (They don’t even have a demo yet?!?) Where is the software version of the Teradici PC-over-IP remote display protocol? Why haven’t they done anything to integrate ThinApp after more than 18 months?) They talked a great talk, but now they’re getting walked all over by everyone else.

I want to be clear that I’m approaching this purely from a technical product capability standpoint. Please, readers, tell me about a feature that View has that’s better than the competition. Show me a customer and give me a reason as to why someone (anyone!) would choose VMware View as their VDI solution. And I don’t want this to be because it was free or they already loved VMware. I want to hear about a customer who evaluated VMware View among other products and then selected View. I want to know the technical features or reasons View was chosen. (And just to repeat, don’t tell me it’s because ESX is the best hypervisor. I don’t care about the hypervisor in this case. I want to know about View.)

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