A few weeks ago, vWorkspace 8 was released, and while we used to be notified of such releases, things have apparently changed since Dell acquired Quest. I'm sure some of this has to do with Jon Roll's departure from the company to fill the CTO position at AppSense, especially since we had a good relationship with him (Jon even wrote the chapter for the sponsored version of The VDI Delusion). What I worry about, though, is that the once-approachable Quest is now part of a bigger, quieter Dell.
To be fair, there was a lot of talk about vWorkspace 8 on the Quest blogs, so it's not like there's something sinister happening, it's just that the flow of information is different these days. We've always counted vWorkspace among the top tier of desktop virtualization solutions, so to have the radio silence is frustrating (just ask the vWorkspace customers). We want the companies that are doing big things and creating new products based on new technology to come forward and share information. I want to help spread that word, too. This stuff is cool, so here's hoping the lines of communication both with us and the community continue to regrow.
That aside, let's take a look at the new features included in vWorkspace according to their documentation. With any luck, we'll get our tech buddies from the vWorkspace group to weigh in, too. Michel Roth, Patrick Rouse, and Rick Mack are all still closely associated with the product. Michel in particular put out out a series of blog posts highlighting new features that I encourage you to check out for more information.
One of the most important aspects of vWorkspace 8 is its support for Server 2012 and Windows 8. The Windows 8 support is probably just there because it should be, despite the fact that most shops are still using Windows 7. However, if the rumors that Windows 8 performs better than Windows 7 in an apples to apples comparison hold true, it could prove to be useful sooner than expected. Support for Server 2012 RDSH is significant because vWorkspace is the first top-tier solution to support the new platform. At this time, even XenApp doesn't on Server 2012. That means that if you want to use Server 2012 RDSH, you'll have to use Microsoft, Dell, 2X, or DesktopSites. I'm sure all that will change soon (we have Synergy coming up, after all, and many of us are hopeful that Citrix will announce something), but as of today that's how the landscape looks.
While we're on the topic of remote desktops, vWorkspace also includes changes to their EOP protocol enhancements for RemoteFX. We already know that Microsoft has all but reinvented RemoteFX for Server 2012/Windows 8, going so far as to effectively rename RDP 8 to RemoteFX. These enhancements alone are enough to give a performance boost in the protocol, but EOP still gives you the opportunity to streamline things using EOP Flash Acceleration, EOP Print, or EOP Xtream, among others. Dell says that there is an 80% improvement in bandwidth consumption with RDP 8. I'm curious to learn how much of that comes from RemoteFX's improvements vs. EOP's. My guess is that EOP is doing much less than it used to because RemoteFX is more capable of shouldering the load, which isn't necessarily a bad thing since it means Dell can focus on other things (or on improving RemoteFX even more).
Remote desktops aside, the support for Server 2012 also means that there is support for Hyper-V 3. vWorkspace's Catalyst features, dubbed HyperCache and HyperDeploy have been updated to work with the new version of Hyper-V. HyperCache is a tool used for decreasing IOPS on VDI environments by caching frequently used bits in memory, specifically creation and boot information. vWorkspace 8 now gives you the ability to use HyperCache for RDS workloads by essentially broadening the scope of what is actually cached. Now it simply watches what's being used and caches things that the system sees as being of a high priority. If something isn't accessed for a short period of time, it's purged from the cache to make room for something else.
HyperDeploy also has seen it's share of enhancements with this release. To refresh your memory, HyperDeploy is used as a way to provision VDI desktops by eliminating the need to store golden images on all your hosts (using local storage, of course) while speeding up provisioning time. This is done by starting the machine creation boot process before the golden image bits are finished copying. It sort of sounds like disk streaming, but I've never heard it called that.
vWorkspace 8 adds a feature to HyperDeploy that "allocates disk space for saving the memory state of each virtual machine. By optimizing the storage of these files, vWorkspace HyperDeploy can significantly reduce the amount of disk space required," according to the configuration screenshot in Michel's blog. Since I've yet to have a briefing, I'm not entirely sure how this works, but it appears to be somehow optimizing the way Hyper-V manages virtual machine memory on the disk.
Something brand new in vWorkspace 8 is called User Experience Monitoring. There appears to be enough here to merit an article all by itself, but the general overview of it is that it gives realtime analytics on the users' experience to help troubleshoot issues. This is based on the Foglight integration that has been steadily progressing over the last few versions, and the functionality that brings is starting to mature nicely. With the Foglight technology, admins are able to watch sessions in realtime and see available bandwidth, latency, and other metrics that affect performance, including information about the endpoint. User Experience Monitoring can also give you insight into the protocol, showing you which aspects of EOP are being used.
At first glance this release appeared to me as a relatively simple modernization of the platform for use with Server 2012. While it has certainly been modernized, the user experience monitoring aspect looks like it is a pretty cool feature, and the updates to Catalyst are nothing to laugh at. As I mentioned before, I'm curious to see what impact the changes Microsoft made with RemoteFX had on the protocol when compared to the EOP enhancements, but that information should come out in due time. I suspect I can get some good information that at BriForum London in a few weeks.
At the very least, this update should serve to calm the fears of vWorkspace shops that were beginning to pilot competing solutions due to the relative silence from what used to be a very talkative group. Late last year, then-VP Jon Rolls wrote a blog post talking about how Dell was committed to vWorkspace and the User Workspace Management group of products. This was warmly received to the relief of vWorkspace customers, but his departure combined with nothing more than a minor update didn't do much to relieve the concerns or stop the backup planning. vWorkspace 8 should be the confirmation their customers have been looking for. What remains to be seen, though, is how VMware and Citrix will react, or how Dell will position vWorkspace in relation to them. Both VMware and Citrix are key partners for Dell, so they still have a lot to figure out.