Citrix and VMware both tip toe towards the "physical" desktop management space

Citrix and VMware seemingly entered the cloud application management/identity federation space within weeks of each other by announcing Project Horizon and Cloud Gateway almost back-to-back. And now they've done it again, this time in the physical desktop space.


Citrix and VMware seemingly entered the cloud application management/identity federation space within weeks of each other by announcing Project Horizon and Cloud Gateway almost back-to-back. And now they've done it again, this time in the physical desktop space. In May, Citrix made a splash with the acquisition of Virtual Computer, followed a few weeks later by VMware's acquisition of Wanova. Maybe they both read Brian's article from last June, titled "Citrix and VMware ignore physical desktops, add management complexity" at the same time?

Although the approach is different, both moves indicate that Citrix and VMware are embracing physical desktops as well as virtual. If you're familiar with Intel's Intelligent Desktop Virtualization (IDV), some of this might sound familiar. Basically, it's Intel's framework for delivering a desktop virtualization solution that leverages client-side hardware and management. The three pillars of IDV are:

  • Manage centrally, execute locally
  • Deliver layered images
  • Use device-native management

Seeing those, it's no wonder that Intel has partnered in the past with both Virtual Computer and Wanova, since both of their products have a focus on local execution, which requires some sort of processor and chipset. I'll point out that this conveniently guides people away from datacenter-hosted desktops, which would seem like a good idea for a company that makes money selling desktop processors and chipsets, but the thinking is still accurate in many situations. Still, it's hard not to see how VMware and Citrix are taking the message to heart.

Manage centrally, execute locally

As part of the bigger picture beyond selling Ultrabooks, I interpret the first pillar as "Deliver the desktop where it runs the best," rather than "local, local, local." That's what I believe Citrix and VMware are shaping up to do with their new products. 

When we first talked about client hypervisors, we talked about offline VDI and checking out XenDesktop or View VMs for use on laptops, then checking them back in when we were done so that they could be accessed via VDI again. In fact, almost everyone had lofty goals for offline VDI as a solution to the connectivity requirement that hindered laptop users of RDS desktops and applications.

With Wanova, the story was a bit different. Wanova's world was a VDI-less world where they delivered images to physical PC's on the fly, like OS streaming, but also added layering and single image management. No hypervisor was involved, and everything executed locally.

With both of these solutions, VMware and Citrix will have the ability to deliver a desktop image to clients or to VDI hosts on the fly without having to worry about that whole check-in, check-out thing. If a user signs in at the office with a PC on the LAN, their desktop can be delivered directly to that device for local execution. On the other hand, if a user logs in remotely, the exact same image can be delivered to a VDI host that a user can access as a VDI desktop.

It will take some development to implement, but this "deliver the desktop where it runs the best" philosophy is almost certainly coming our way.

Deliver layered images

For VMware, this pillar focuses entirely on Wanova, whereas for Citrix it's an amalgam of technology from the Virtual Computer and RingCube acquisitions. Essentially, though, the idea is that they can use their new technologies to deliver a base image that can then receive application layers on top of it to build out departmental desktops. We've been talking about the so-called "Layer Cake Method" for a few years now, and this is the first real support that the big vendors have lent to the idea (although proper credit should go to Quest for OEMing MokaFive's layering product last year). 

Naturally, there are still other companies out there that add layering, but where before they were competing against each other, now they're competing with Citrix, VMware, and Quest.

Use device-native management

This is perhaps the biggest philosophy shift, and the thing we didn't see coming (especially from both Citrix and VMware in such a short time). We're so caught up in the whole "post-PC era" message that both companies are talking about, but in the end even they recognize that the PC isn't going away any time soon. Sure, companies are beginning to embrace new ways of thinking, new delivery methods, and so on, but the old ways will still be around well into the future.

Citrix and VMware both have technologies now that can let them manage devices at a much lower level than before. They can deliver device-agnostic desktops without worrying about whether the underlying host OS is compromised. They can support massive amounts of devices now, as opposed to just a few (like with XenClient, or with a single PC image). And, they can now incorporate device management into the overall desktop management workflow. We're almost to a point where Citrix and VMware could be responsible for all desktops in your organization--physical or virtual! Nobody saw that coming!

So, it appears that the space that we cover is growing up to the point where it really is just about managing desktops. That's the message we've been preaching for years. VDI isn't the end-all solution, and neither is any of the other technologies that we group under the desktop virtualization umbrella. Citrix and VMware, it appears, are of the mindset that our jobs as desktop admins is to deliver the appropriate desktop to the appropriate device in an appropriate way. 

Although, I think if Citrix wants to truly get there, they need to re-release a version of Provisioning Server that works with non-XenDesktop desktops, because the Wanova technology that can deliver an image to any physical desktop WITHOUT a hypervisor is really, really cool. Code still has to be written, though, and it's tough to seamlessly do all of this today, but the next 6-12 months should be pretty interesting.


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Gabe, also consider the new Remote PC deployment option of XenDesktop in the mix.

This means Citrix can provide a well managed physical PC plus secure remote access via HDX and Receiver for any deivce ( laptop. iPad, etc) connecting under IT control.


Right on Gabe!

I agree that the implication of many of these technologies is the ability to manage a physical device as if it were a virtual machine, but have the execution local.

In our desktop/app/virtualization niche we tend to be a little bit myopic because we know our stuff is so powerful. The reality is that the vast majority of computing happens locally and I think anything that helps bring our practises and approaches into that arena is going to be necessary for a wider transformation to occur.


One other thought- on PVS, Citrix is missing the really BIG opportunity here. They need to enable PVS to stream the image to the physical hardware and then stay resident and boot locally until the image changes. This would allow the true ideal world of centrally managed and locally executed and work with the physical device "as is".


I really really (really) do hope that VMware continues to develop the Wanova product for physical desktop management but it feels too early to tell what the intentions of VMware are with Wanova. Perpetuating physical desktops just seems a bit of a change in direction with VMware's strategy around end-user computing...although they did just allow their profile management solution to be extended to physical desktops.

While the rest of us that deploy desktop virtualization solutions all know that physical desktops aren't going away it would seem that VMware and Citrix are not interested in that portion of the date at least. Citrix extending RemotePC to physical machines is a nice start but I would guess they are leaving Windows management to Microsoft. VMware on the other hand would like to run that desktop in the cloud (on VMware infrastructure and their core revenue stream) using Wanova to help minimize image sprawl and maintain separation of data, apps, and gold image.


Great article Gabe!  IMHO you hit the nail on the head.  As you note, it's going to be very interesting.  Ah, if I could just sit on the sidelines and watch the sparks fly.  Guess we gotta be making sparks though ;-)

And in answer to Dan...

> I really really (really) do hope that VMware continues to develop the Wanova product for physical desktop management...

Yes, as Scott Davis noted in his blog at Wanova announce time, (, we really do intend to take physical devices seriously in the end-user-computing space.  Of course that's all just noise until we follow through.  Hope you'll be happy with the results though!


Another player in the IDV market is Zirtu.

Kind of reminds me of Ring Cube before Citrix...

I guess we have to sit back and wait to see what is cooked up with Wanova integration.