VMware CVP: an update and analysis of VMware’s bare-metal client hypervisor

It's been over a year since we first learned that VMware was planning to create a client hypervisor platform that would integrate with their View VDI product. I wrote an article last October which went as in-depth as anyone could given the information that was known at that time, but since then VMware has been pretty quiet about their client hypervisor plans.

It’s been over a year since we first learned that VMware was planning to create a client hypervisor platform that would integrate with their View VDI product. I wrote an article last October which went as in-depth as anyone could given the information that was known at that time, but since then VMware has been pretty quiet about their client hypervisor plans. Really all we learned about their client hypervisor over the past year was that the codename is VMware CVP (Client Virtualization Platform) and that VMware is partnering with Intel to develop it.

Luckily everything changed at VMworld 2009 a few weeks ago where VMware showed demos of CVP and shared more about their CVP plans. Those of you who watched Brian Madden TV from VMworld know that Gabe and I discussed CVP a bit and showed some demos we shot in the booth with VMware's Robert Baesman. (BMTV #17 CVP demo starts at 16:00.)

But even though we talked about it and had some video in the show, I figured it was worth writing a proper article about CVP to update everyone on VMware's plans and status.

Understanding what CVP is to VMware

The most important thing to understand about VMware CVP is how it’s positioned. CVP is essentially "VMware View for an endpoint." It is not like VMware workstation or mobile ESX. In other words, CVP is going to be used to extend VMware’s View product so that it can run locally on client devices.

The ability to run a desktop locally is already the way that most desktops are used today. As I wrote back in June 2008, the easiest way to "solve" the shortcomings of remote computing is not to use remote computing. If VMware can create a single way to manage desktops (the View desktop) but then be able to deliver those desktops for central and local execution--that's really a model with some legs. The central execution is great for compliance and security and performance reasons, and the local execution is great for local and graphics performance and offline use. (Not to mention you don't need to build a big expensive server farm.)

So since VMware wants CVP to be a "View on an endpoint," it's critical that the View VMs that run on ESX also run on laptops. To that end, VMware is aiming for a full emulation of the client device hardware that will be presented to the VM. Ordinarily this would mean that performance wouldn’t be too great, since you’d get the “lowest common denominator” of hardware. (More on the differences between emulation, paravirtualization, and pass-through for client hypervisors.) But VMware also understands that in their case, they need a good user experience while maintaining image capability between CVP and ESX, so they’re combating that with a very narrow hardware compatibility list.

This narrow compatibility list means that while they won't support too many different models of laptops, they will be able to support things like DirectX 9 and get great multimedia performance because they can build all the drivers into their hypervisor platform which they can then emulate for the VMs. For example, the CVP demo from VMworld showed Aero glass running in a VM. If you looked at the display driver in the VM, it was using a VMware driver that emulated a WDDM driver. (Incidentally, this is the same driver that Fusion 3 uses to do Aero glass. There are actually a lot of similarities between CVP and what VMware is doing for hardware performance in Fusion and Workstation.)

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the initial release of CVP will only allow a single VM to run at a time. VMware feels that the complexities of getting the user experience and user interface right with multiple simultaneous VMs are pretty tough, and they want to take their time to get it right the first time. But they also don’t want to delay CVP just for that, so they’ll release it initially to support only a single VM with multi-VM support coming in the future.

I think the single VM only is probably fine for now, and I wrote a whole article about that last March. (“Why client hypervisors will be a big deal. Hint: It’s NOT about running multiple VMs.”) Of course I also think that running multiple VMs is the best way to support user-installed apps, so hopefully their multi-VM solution isn't too far down the road.

Partnership with Intel

Like Citrix, VMware is partnering with Intel to create CVP. I’m not exactly sure how this partnership works, but my sense is VMware wins because they get the legitimacy of the Intel association, and Intel wins because they can finally find a reason for customers to need vPro. In fact VMware gave a few examples of how they could leverage vPro.

For instance, they could use Intel TXT (Trusted Execution Technology) to ensure that the software hypervisor hadn’t been tampered with before it booted.

They could also leverage Intel AMT (Active Management Technology) to give traditional desktop management tools like Altiris and SCCM visibility into the true client hardware instead of just reporting back what was visible to an agent running in a VM.

Fixing offline VDI

If CVP is really about extending VDI to the endpoint, I really hope VMware overhauls the way that offline VDI works in View today. Today's solution basically involves copying standard VMware disk differential files between the host and the endpoint. That's fine I guess, but these files tend to be huge. A better way is to have some in-band intelligence in Windows which knows what's valuable and what's not. Then the data bits that actually matter can be synced in realtime between the host and the endpoint.

VMware's CTO Steve Herrod used his VMworld 2009 keynote speech to mention that offline VDI was broken today. In that same speech he announced that VMware was licensing RTO Software's technology to handle on-demand user workspace creation withing their View product. I wrote an in-depth article about this a few weeks ago, but in the context of a client hypervisor, it’s no secret that I think leveraging the RTO technology is the “right” way to sync files between client and remote VMs.

Availability

The only real downside to VMware CVP is that it's not out yet. It's not even in beta or tech preview. Right now it's just a cool demo and a slick PowerPoint. While VMware originally talked about CVP in the end of 2009, now it looks like we won’t see it until the second half of next year. That's shaping up to be about six months after Citrix and a full year after Neocleus and Virtual Computer. Of course client hypervisor (and VDI adoption in general) isn’t likely to take off in the first half of next year, so it might not even matter that VMware is the last to the table here.

Regardless of when it ever comes out, CVP will make a big impact at minimum because it's from VMware. By then View 4, the software implementation of PC-over-IP, and Windows 7 will be out, so our VDI landscape could actually be pretty different than it is now. Until then, we can only think about what CVP might mean for us and VMware.

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A very neutral Vmware blog from you for a change ;) But a good one to lay the expectations for XenClient.


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This past week I offered a live demo of the XenClient type 1 hypervisor at Dodger Stadium.  The XenClient Hypervisor is a type 1 product which offers the opportunity for multiple OS instances to run from the laptop.  The goal here is to present applications from the secure corporate OS instance into the OS instance which belongs to the user.  There is no means for the user or the bugs the user picks up while surfing the net from the personal OS to interdict the secure OS environment in any way.


There will be a limited private beta of the XenClient scheduled for Q4.  You can sign up for the beta and track the progress of the product here, community.citrix.com/.../xenclient


Thanks.


RTE


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@Rick: I would be very cautious as to the value and functionality Xen platforms can deliver because of the dependence Citrix has on Microsoft. Xen platform will not break any serious barriers as moving that technology forward could jeopardize the Microsoft strategy of limiting the impact virtualization has on its Windows business - Something Citrix cannot afford to do. Regardless of any marketing hype generated around Xen any organization should stick with the VMware, which is free to offer the kinds of advancements and cost savings we're after.


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@system.fracture: Not true at all. Xen Platforms are open source and are offered by the Xen.org community. (Not XenSource - owned by Citrix, albeit XenSource is the primary contributor to Xen.org it is a separate identity... Or that's what is explained to the public. XenServer  along with XenClient is based off of the open source Xen product with several proprietary modifications to it that is the choice of the vendor to implement.


My point is that where Citrix may have an alignment with Microsoft (I don't agree that they want to limit virtualization but that's my opinion) that is just one vendor that is basing their virt tech off of Xen, there are countless others that don't have the alignment that you speak of. On the server side their is Oracle, that of which I don't recommend at the moment but you get the idea. On the desktop side you have Virtual Computer, Neocleus, Phoenix Technologies (BIOS Manufacturer), HP Lenovo, etc. You get the point.


Also keep in mind that the creation of Hyper-V was assisted by Citrix so there are similarities with XenServer and Hyper-V.


VMware is in it's own category, while the vast majority of other virt options out there are mostly Xen based, then there will also be KVM in the mix.


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"virtualization has on its Windows business"


Also, to dig deeper, how would virtualization effect MS? I don't use less MS servers, just less hardware. So it would actually only affect my hardware purchases where Dell, HP, IBM, etc. would feel the hurt.


MS would only not lilke virtualization if it's VMware rather than themselves that offered it.


Just my 2 cents.


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@Icelus, in the grand grand scheme of things virtualization is going to dramatically change the computing landscape. I.e. take the control away from Microsoft/server vendors like HP and put it back in the hands of the customer (I hope you will not challenge the simple fact that Windows franchise and server/desktop HW is a sales tactic / scam used by MS/HP/etc., to entangle customers in a never ending refresh/update cycle - but if you do I will debate you).


Ultimately, Microsoft wants to retain the current status quo - hence its well known stance towards virtualization being "just a feature, not an OS replacement". VMware wants the opposite (and if it succeeds we the customers will all benefit).


As for citrix, they have too big of an olverlap with Microsoft products their hands are tied - if they sidestep Microsoft they will be simply destroyed (Microsoft would easily do it by investing in TS/MDOP to get very close or ahead of Citrix, thus robbing Citrix of revenue base.


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@system.fracture


I agree with your analysis of the MS/HP example however I would agrue with the fact that all technology is in that market of a never ending refresh/update cycle. It is actually a model for a successful business to keep earning income, just like the light bulb.


VMware is going to be the same thing. They are already making you pay tons of $$$$ for licenses. How can you say that VMware is different? I can admit that I have a bias towards Citrix so that may make my views cloudy at times but seeing VMware as the light is a mistake and I think a lot of people would disagree with it.


From MS's point of view, since they already have Windows as an OS they can enable virt as a feature in their current OS and market it as a 1 tier instead of 2. That is just marketing though and doesn't reflect what you are talking about. "OS Replacement" Is something that would concern microsoft if VMware had something to replace Windows, making windows irrelavent. Since the majority of VMware servers house Windows and how Windows is so cemented with the enterprise apps I don't believe MS is concerned about their OS being replaced.


All of this is just my opinion. I also don't mean to stir away from the article this much because I am commenting on it.


@Brian: Do you think that VMware's use of CVP is rather narrow sighted? The fact that they are only using it to extend their View to the endpoint might ensure that some features that could exist in other vendors might not exist because it doesn't benefit VMware View? I do like the non-vmware bashing but I would also like to hear your opinion on their intent of the client hypervisor as well as comparing others such as Virtual Computer or Neocleus.


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I was really hoping to hear that VMware were going to be up to the challenge of delivering a decent client hypervisor, but this has all the making of 'too little too late'.


" they need a good user experience while maintaining image capability between CVP and ESX, so they’re combating that with a very narrow hardware compatibility list."


Just how narrow the HCL will turn out to be is still to be seen, but it troubles me that VMware have chosen to announce this bad news now - is this way of easing us into a lower set of expectations before the product is released next year.  One thing is certain, the BYOPC model that Citrix is championing isn't likely to work using CVP...


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From a legal / pricing perspective, will Microsoft allow its customer to take a copy of Windows Desktop OS (XP, Vista, 7) and run it on a server then run it on laptop then run it on a desktop then put it back on the server?


If yes, what type of license agreement would a customer need to purchase? And will that customer be required to pay for the price of the Desktop OS each time it touches a new piece of HW as we've been told by Microsoft employees themselves?


Seems to be a pretty important issue if the promise of VMware CVP is to take a VM off of ESX and move it around to varying client-devices (desktops, laptops, and maybe even netbooks).


Thoughts?


Doug


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@Doug: Microsoft prices Virtual Desktop access using the VECD model. It currently states offering the ability to run in the datacenter, however they might introduce a broader term by saying "hypervisor" but it may not be necessary, I am not sure because all what they are doing with client hypervisors is running Windows on a Desktop (But since it's not on bare-metal and on a hypervisor there might need to be some tweaks)


www.microsoft.com/.../licensing.aspx


VECD costs around 23$ per end point if you have SA and $110 per end point if you don't have SA...


It definitely adds up...


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I am looking forward to checking CVP 40GB images in and out. This makes no sense to me. Also I HCL list will mean very limited. Until OEMs ship Type 1 this market will not be real. Citrix has a head start and VMWare is behind. Once this market takes off, I doubt MS will not want to stop people getting under the OS, they will move. Management will be key in this arena. Very early.............


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@appdetective - Don't worry about that.  By the time CHVs are mature we'll all have DWDM 10g fiber to every home. Bandwidth won't be a problem.  Although by then Windows will be clocking in at a mere 1.5 TB install ;)


I'm joking of course (or am I?)


Shawn


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