It's Friday. We've spent the entire week looking at Microsoft's fairly large late-night Monday announcement that touched on several different virtualization areas, including:
- Microsoft is buying Calista Technologis to improve the performance of RDP
- Citrix XenDesktop will run on Hyper-V
- Citrix will write a tool to transfer virtual machines between Hyper-V and Xen
- Citrix and Microsoft will work together to create a comprehensive management environment for Xen and Hyper-V
- Microsoft is letting customers run any version of Vista in a VM
- Microsoft is lowering the price of running Vista in a VDI environment
- Microsoft launched a website for "Windows Optimized Desktop Solutions," showing how they support an end-to-end virtualization strategy.
- Microsoft launched TechNet Solution Accelerators around Virtualization
- Microsoft Office 2003 and 2007 are now officially supported when run via SoftGrid.
A lot of people have been referring to this as Microsoft's big "virtualization" announcement, but I think we got that last year when Microsoft announced they were creating a standalone hypervisor to take on VMware. I think that Monday's announcement was really a big "desktop virtualization" announcement.
People have been wondering for the awhile whether Microsoft would ever enter the VDI space. I think this announcement shows that yes, Microsoft will enter the VDI space, albeit in their own unique way. Microsoft is not announcing a comprehensive VDI product that would compete with Citrix XenDesktop, VMware VDM2, or Quest / Provision's Virtual Access Suite. Instead, Microsoft is fine-tuning many of their products to ensure they work in virtualized environments, and they're making it easier for customers to use virtualization.
That's the core value of this announcement. In the past, Microsoft didn't take VDI seriously. It was easy for them to write it off as a "fad" that some of their crazy competitors were trying to push. But as momentum for VDI continued to swell, Microsoft realized they had to change their story if they wanted to stay in control of the Windows desktop market in the business world over the next few years.
The biggest part of the announcement was the recharacterization of what a "desktop" is. Microsoft is finally realizing that remotely-delivered Vista desktops will be just as feasible moving forward as locally-installed, locally-running desktops have been previously. Microsoft took a queue here from Citrix, Provision, and the other "old school" Terminal Server folks. These people have been pushing the "multi-modal" desktop concept for years. (The multi-modal concept is that a "desktop is a desktop," and that fundamentally there's no difference between delivering a full desktop running on a multi-user system such as terminal server versus delivering a full desktop running on a remote single-user system like Vista versus running a full desktop locally. After all, from the user's perspective, they just get "the desktop." Why should they care if the back-end technology is single user or multi-user, whether it's virtualized or native, or where it's running?)
As the virtualization community gained traction over the past few years and wanted to virtualize every piece of hardware they could get their hands on (including desktops), it was the Terminal Server community that was the first to call "foul" on this approach. The Terminal Server community led the charge in saying, "VDI is cool, but it's still server-based computing. It's really not that different than what we've been doing for 15 years." It was traditional Terminal Server companies, like Provision Networks and Citrix, that created VDI products with capabilities the matched the richness of user experience of their traditional TS products.
Over time, the industry at-large started to realize that the best desktop delivery solution would be a system that could incorporate both terminal server-based and desktop OS-based desktop delivery. People realized the best application delivery solution would allow for remote (SBC) and local (streaming) execution of apps. The best virtualization solution would virtualize the layers that had something to gain, but let other components run natively. Each of these technologies has its own advantages and disadvantages, but a system that could leverage a little bit of everything (as needed) would really shine.
The significance of Monday's announcement is that Microsoft now understands this. They understand that delivering Vista desktops remotely is a valid use case--cetainly as valid as terminal server. If you look at Microsoft's Virtualization Solutions page, you'll see that Microsoft is finally putting terminal server and desktop virtualization into the same thought. In fact, they're also taking this approach with their MVPs. A quick check of the MVP awardee directory reveals that Microsoft has created a new group called "Virtualization" for both Terminal Server and Virtual Machine MVPs.
So deliver that desktop locally, natively or in a VM. Deliver that desktop remotely, via a blade, VM, or terminal server. Deliver that application locally or remotely. Whatever you want to do, Microsoft will support it. They might not make all the tools you need to run with a 100% Microsoft solution in every scenario, but at least they won't look at you like you just grew a third arm when you tell them that you want to deploy Vista without any Vista code running on an end-user's device.