Look out VMware! Citrix partners with Intel for "Project Independence" a bare-metal hypervisor.

Citrix made several announcements today around desktop computing. First, they're announcing, with Intel, that they're working on a Xen-based bare-metal client hypervisor.

Citrix made several announcements today around desktop computing.

Let's look at each of these components a bit more in-depth.

Citrix and Intel's partnership for a Xen-based bare-metal client hypervisor

Citrix and Intel have completed a collaboration agreement that's "very substantial" with "real money being exchanged," according to Citrix's Sumit Dhawan. (Although he wouldn't specify who was paying who.) The deal is non-exclusive for the two companies, meaning while they undoubtedly have created some joint intellectual property that will be exclusive to them, there's nothing in the agreement that, for example, prevents Intel from going out and doing a deal like this with VMware, or from Citrix going out and signing a similar agreement with AMD.

The goal is to build a software-based, embedable client hypervisor that will run on Intel Core 2 and Centrino 2-based devices that will let them run multiple VMs with 3D graphics and multimedia with very close to native bare-metal performance. Citrix and Intel hope this hypervisor will be embedded in every desktop and laptop sold in the next few years, and a software version will be available to install into existing clients that meet the minimum specifications.

Clearly this competes head-to-head with the bare-metal client hypervisor that VMware announced last September.

Citrix feels that Xen is a better hypervisor than ESX for client-based hypervisors due to Xen's pass-through architecture. They feel that since there's never a hand-off that they can get better performance and have better security than VMware's client hypervisor. This rekindles the war between para-virtualization (Xen) and binary translation (ESX), the former being a bit faster in many cases, while the latter has broader device compatibility and VM portability. (Whose hypervisor is better for the desktop is probably deserves its own conversation another day.)

Neither VMware's nor Citrix's client hypervisors are actually available to play with yet, with both promising them later in 2009.

Analysis

This is a great move for Citrix and Intel. Citrix gets to leverage Intel's street cred and probably needs their help getting into the HPs and Dells of the world. Intel finally gets the ability to leverage some of their new technologies (remote management, security, etc.) without having to wait years for Microsoft to embed it into an OS.

But remember that this deal is not exclusive, and the way this unfolds will probably be similar to the way that the embedded server hypervisor market unfolded. Sure, you had some vendors taking positions early as to whether they wanted the embedded ESX versus the embedded XenServer, but now you can pretty much get whatever server hardware you want with whichever embedded hypervisor you want. And I don't think that client hypervisors will be any different.

There's an old joke that the only two companies that win when desktops (or laptops) are sold are Intel and Microsoft. And I don't see a VMware or Citrix client hypervisor changing that.

Just to be clear, I think this is cool stuff. But so is VMware's, and it's way too early to tell who will win. My sense is that they'll both be "good enough" from a technical standpoint, and like everything in life, the winner will be determined by marketing and momentum and mind share.

Citrix Project Independence

"Project Independence" is the code-name for the project that Citrix is working on to productize their client-based desktop virtualization initiatives. Independence is not a replacement for XenDesktop, but more of a set of capabilities that would work with XenDesktop and XenApp to allow users to access and use their desktops from anywhere. Citrix's vision is that rather than a "check out" and "check in" concept where your desktop is only accessible in one way at a given time, a Project Independent desktop would allow a client to continuously sync with a back-end system, such that a user could move back-and-forth between a locally-running desktop and a centrally-hosted desktop.

Citrix plans to do this by implementing the "layer cake" approach to managing Windows, where the OS, the apps, and the user environment are all isolated and compartmentalized, allowing each to be provided in the best way at the time it's needed.

Analysis

Project Independence is Citrix's version of VMware's vClient initiative. I've already received emails from folks at VMware saying things to the affect of "Citrix is copying us," but honestly I think both companies have been working on this stuff for a long time. And while Citrix people made fun of VMware people because VMware's vClient was just a vaporware announcement, now Citrix too joins the client vaporware market.

The bottom line is that both vClient and Project Independence look cool. We have to assume that yes, both VMware and Citrix are working on this kind of stuff. But until we can actually put our hands on this stuff, it's all just a promise and a smile. (You can add Virtual Computer to that list too--another Xen-based bare-metal client hypervisor focused on desktop management that's not yet available.)

Citrix's five predictions about desktop virtualization in three years

Finally, Citrix made some predictions:

  • The employee-owned PC concept will really take off. (We've talked about this in the past, here and here.)
  • Desktop management costs will drop significantly
  • You will access your corporate desktop from whatever device is most convenient at the time
  • You will switch back-and-forth between corporate and personal desktops easily and often
  • You will never complain about your PC being too slow again

Analysis

"Um... Yes please!" These are all great. To me, Items 1 and 4 (employee-owned PC and switching between personal and corporate VMs) are kind of the same thing. I think Item 2 has to happen, and the macro economic client and all this talk about ROI and virtualization will make that a reality in three years, regardless of whether Project Independence takes off or not.

Item 3 (access corporate desktop from any device) is going to be more of a culture shock for companies, I think perhaps even more so than the employee-owned PC. I think we'll get there, but I'm not sure we will in three years. It will probably take three years for all laptops to have hypervisors embedded, and only then can we start leveraging them in a mean fully way for home users and stuff.

And as for people never complaining about their PCs being slow again, I get the concept, that each user will always have a fresh copy of Windows, but to that specific prediction, I say, "yeah... good luck with that!"

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This is a tremendous step forward for desktop computing.  While client hypervisors have been discussed by numerous vendors for some time, you are dead on that until somebody gets one to market it is just talk.  However, what is unique about this announcement is that it is not one company acting unilaterally with a proprietary hypervisor technology.  This is two key players in corporate desktop computing setting a direction that holds great commercial potential but also finds leverage in the Xen open source community.  I like the chances of an ecosystem around Xen led by Citrix and Intel and including companies like Virtual Computer (my employer) whose very survival depends on execution this area over a proprietary approach put forth by a company that is known for going it alone and squeezing out its partners.


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[disclaimer: I am Neocleus' CTO]


Indeed, great news for the industry.


blog.neocleus.com/.../getting-serious-about-a-client-hypervisor


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Some of you may find this post interesting as well:


blog.neocleus.com/.../design-principals-of-a-client-hypervisor


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Great news... Good for VDI... Hope they will make it really part of XenDesktop as Xenapp include the abilitiy to remote display and stream the same application...


If I read between the line, it mean that, in a mid/long term, Xen hypervisor capabilities could/would be incorporated partially/entirely in the Intel chip set...


Will it means that the WinTel duo will become a trio WinTeliX ?


Apart from this joke, could be great to see a “standardization” of the hypervisor (whichever one it is) and a “siliconization” of the same hypervisor… Company will then concentrate to add value, rather to just enclose you in their technology…


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