VMware made several desktop announcements at VMworld last month. We've taken a deeper looks at their plans for a bare-metal client hypervisor and the ability for multiple VMs to share the same disk image, In today's article, we'll dig into VMware's plans in the remote display protocol space. To do that, we need to back up a bit and look at what VMware was up to before this year's VMworld.
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About six months ago, we had a conversation on this website about VMware's "RDP Problem," (the gist of which was basically that you'd can't do full VDI with just RDP, and that VMware didn't have any other protocol options besides that).
VMware + Sun ALP
VMware first dabbled in the non-RDP space with an integration announcement around Sun's ALP protocol. This announcement was meaningless to most of us, but the 0.000000000000001% of the industry actually running Sun Ray thin clients was pretty happy about it. It meant that the Sun Ray thin clients and their Sun Ray servers and ALP protocol could hook into VMware VDI environments. True, it wasn't too ground-breaking, but it established the precedent that VMware was willing to work with outside vendors and give their customers display protocol choice.
VMware + Teradici
Fast-forward to last last month, where the big protocol announcement at VMworld was that VMware would license and co-develop some protocol stuff with Teradici. This has the potential to be a really, really big deal. Teradici has a display protocol called PC-over-IP that has great performance, transparent client-side USB device support, and multimedia capabilities, all with a reasonable bandwidth consumption. The way Teradici makes this happen is through "custom silicon," which is chiphead-speak for "they have special chips in their proprietary client devices, and you need a physical card with more special chips plugged into your remote host." In other words, Teradici is awesome, but it's a hardware-based solution.
Bummer. (Well, also cool. But still kind of a bummer.) The main limitation right now is that the Teradici solution is one-to-one for Teradici host chip-to-remote client ratio. So if you want to remote 40 VDI instances from one server, you need to figure out how to cram 40 Teradici chips into that server.
Teradici is shipping real product, and people are using it. So Part 1 of the VMware / Teradici announcement at VMworld was that if you have Teradici hardware, then you can use it with VMware's future "View" product. (For what it's worth, I know Ericom fully supports Teradici hardware in their current VDI offering. Maybe others do too, although I don't know of any off the top of my head.)
There's a "Part 2" to the VMware / Teradici announcement that's even more interesting. In addition to supporting the hardware, VMware and Teradici are going to work together to co-develop a software-only implementation of Teradici's PC-over-IP display protocol. (My understanding is that it will be software only on both the host and the client end.)
This is very cool...
However, the million-dollar question is whether it will be any good. For the past year we've been hearing about how great Teradici is specifically because they have that "custom silicon." So if you remove the special chip, then aren't they just another software company with another display protocol? (Or in this case, another two software companies with a promise, a press release, and a glint in their eye, but no specific timeframes, real commitments, or actual running code?)
The chip-based PC-over-IP kicks the crap out of ICA. What will the software-only version be like? What will they "compromise" by not having custom silicon? Will it require more client-side or host-side CPU? Will it consume more bandwidth? Will it just not look as good to the user?
VMware + Wyse TCX
Finally, the week after VMworld, VMware announced they were licensing Wyse's TCX protocol. Wyse TCX is a set of software components that extend RDP (or ICA) to adds multimedia redirection, "real" multi-monitor support, and client-side USB device support. VMware has licensed the multimedia redirection and multi-monitor capabilities for their VDI products.
The cool things about this are (1) these enhancements will be free and built-in to future VMware VDI products, and (2) they will work with all clients, including non-Wyse thin clients and full Windows PC-based clients.
So essentially you'll get TCX with all versions of VMware View.
VMware + ???
What if ALP, PC-over-IP, and/or TCX are not right for you? Of course you can still use RDP if you think that will be enough for your specific applications and use cases. And if you have hp thin clients, you can use RGS. Actually, the only thing you can't really use is ICA. (Unless of course you buy a Citrix product. But with all the other choices out there, I can't imagine anyone buying Citrix just for ICA.)
Oh, you also can't use Net2Display, because it still doesn't exist yet. Actually, at VMworld I joked with VMware's Jerry Chen about this. "So I guess this Teradici deal means you've given up on Net2Display?" And almost before I could finish that sentence, Jerry and about five VMware people were tripping over themselves saying, "No! No! No! That's not right. We are NOT giving up on Net2Display." They pointed out that both VMware and Teradici are part of the Net2Display working group, and that both companies have a lot to gain if there's an open protocol out there. ("Both" companies? Um, that's half right...)
And let's not forget that Microsoft owns Calista now, and that we're expecting to hear something about that at Microsoft's PDC in a few weeks. Maybe they'll add the Calista capability into the core Windows 7 product and that awesome protocol will be equally available to everyone who wants to deliver Windows remotely? Or maybe monkeys will fly out of my butt?