New startup Wanova hopes to enable local VDI over the WAN with continuously-synced disk images

Desktop virtualization company Wanova's software product called "Mirage" is a solution for streaming, managing, and bi-directionally syncing Windows disk images across a WAN.

A desktop virtualization company called “Wanova” came out of stealth mode yesterday. Their forthcoming software product called “Mirage” is a solution for streaming, managing, and bi-directionally syncing Windows disk images across a WAN. Their solution works at the disk driver level, so they don’t care if the client is bare metal / physical or whether there’s a hypervisor or VMM in the mix.

Conceptually this is a little bit like a combination Citrix Provisioning Server and application streaming. (Provisioning Server because it handles the entire disk image, and app streaming because it uses the disk locally and streams missing bits on-demand.) Of course there are some differences too, like the fact that Wanova streams in both directions (so user changes and data are streamed up to the server, meaning that everything’s always in sync.

Wanova’s approach to desktop virtualization?

It should come as no surprise that Wanova thinks server-hosted / thin-client VDI has a lot of limitations, like the fact you can’t use your desktop when you’re offline and there are performance issues with some apps via remote display protocols over the WAN. And they don’t like client-hosted desktops because you have all this data that’s out there that you need to manage. So this is where their product comes in.

Wanova talks about two main parts of their solution:

The first is they built their own layerization capability for Windows disk images that allow them separate Windows into a base image, a machine settings layer, and a user settings layer. This concept is a critical for them as it allows them to update base images on-the-fly out in the field without blowing away everything the user customized or installed. And it means their synchronization engine doesn’t have to sync the entire disk, but just the changes the user makes.

In a lot of ways Wanova’s layers are the same as any of the other twenty or so desktop virtualization vendors’ layering capabilities, although of course Wanova’s layers were specifically designed and optimized for streaming. I guess my point is that I understand why Wanova rolled their own layerization solution, but I’m not impressed by it. I mean it’s fine, but whatever—a lot of people do that now.

The second part of Wanova’s solution is the cool part, and that’s their disk streaming and syncing stuff. They think the concept of “checking in” and “checking out” a disk image is kind of crazy, so in their case their disks are always in sync. If anyone’s used one of those cloud-based file sync services like Drop Box or Live Mesh, it’s kind of like that, except for your whole desktop (and that it’s Windows only). But you can imagine that combining this WAN-based sync with the layerization and you end up with a scenario that doesn’t actually have *that* much data to move around. (Their agent also handles compression, de-dupe, etc.)

I guess the other big difference between Wanova and the other companies out there is that Wanova’s product was specifically built for desktop virtualization. It’s not like they have a general purpose virtual disk format that they’re trying to shoe-horn into this system.

How it works

From a technical standpoint, there are really only two components that make Wanova happen: a filter driver and a Windows service. The filter driver tracks file system access and modifications and handles cache misses when a read is needed that isn’t local. The service does most of the heavy lifting for them, including the client-side network optimization, deduplication, streaming, the bi-directional updates, continuous data protection, communication, restores, etc. There’s also a handful of “little things” that tie everything together, like a tray app, sysreport utility, a boot driver, etc.

Since they’re just changing the way the disk is presented to Windows, they’re completely hardware agnostic (just like Provisioning Server).

Ideally you’d boot new first-time clients on a fast connection, although it’s actually possible to do that via the WAN too. The client prefetches a minimal working set while continuously streaming in the backend. (And of course it will fetch on-demand any missing pieces that are requested.) But once the data is down, it’s maintained in the cache on the local disk which means it doesn’t look that different from a normal installation.

Potential?

It definitely seems that Wanova has the potential to solve a good problem in our industry. The only problem I see is that they have a specific product for a specific use case—it’s not really like you’re going to use Wanova for your desktop virtualization solution across the board, rather, you’ll use them to manage your offsite users only.

From a competition standpoint, I think a company like MokaFive jumps into my mind first.

So we’ll see. I haven’t come across Wanova in the real world yet. I know they will be at VMwareworld in a few weeks, so hopefully I can find out more there.

What are your thoughts? Does this have potential? Has anyone seen Wanova in the wild?

 

 

 

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I remain skeptical about technology that can update a lower layer and automatically synching with the user modified upper layer.  


We do this sometimes in application virtualization, upgrading the application but allowing the user to keep their personalization.  But we always test it first, and stand ready to either backtrack.  Replacing the underlying “static” os image seems awfully scary to me in a mass automated scenario.  Yeah, it will work a lot of the time, and maybe with a really smart vendor most of the time, but when it doesn’t.  Wham!


Still, we need companies pushing the envelope on these things, because VDI has a long, long, way to go.


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I have not spoken to them. One of the few companies that really were stealth ;-) Clearly they don't get Desktop Virtualization is a suite of use cases, and a point solution has limited use. They simply don't get session mobility as the key reasons most organizations HVD adopt Desktop Virtualization, AKA agility. Client side is years out, especially Type 1. They are a client side Desktop Virtualization solution only.


The idea that they will simplify distributed management, is good, but so much complexity being added at the same time that has to be proven. If Citrix did offline PVS plus a two a way synch then what is the value of this company....or of course Citrix could add this to PVS. I am sure VMWare could benefit here as well, but I am not sure a Java Cloud company wants to play in the Desktop space anymore to deliver a MS OS, plus Microsoft hates them.


Anyway, I do believe layers is the future. Companies like Appsense, RTO, RES etc will have to adapt or die in the old school profile world. Yes OS+App+User Profile looks good on paper, but in the real world you need deeper abstraction at each layer. Layers provides that, not this BS use case that people keep talking about of 'user installed apps' Are you listening vendors I am tired of hearing about a stupid use case like that. Leave that to the morons in the MDOP team to sell.


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Wanova doesn't use a client hypervisor. I think this separates them from most other competitors. However, it may also have  more disadvantages (hardware dependencies, only one image per client, O/S dependencies, …) than  potential advantages (better performance?, 3D graphics?, …).


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Sounds like a technology caught between two worlds trying to find a place to fit.  Kinda like Virtuozzo.


I'm working on project now where we are streaming (PVS) images to raw hardware.  Streaming to the hardware has give these older machines new life and if we cache to the local HD then we lose this performance gain.


It does, however, add a feature that is lacking in PVS.  I know a lot of folks who would rest easy if they could run their XenApp servers from the local disk if the PVS server is offline/unavailable.


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I began talking to Wanova recently myself.  While I've only gotten the marchitecture overview I think they really do "get it" when it comes to layered Windows and they also understand that managing frequently disconnected clients and branch office users is a pain in the ass regardless of what other products you put into place.  I think the one thing that differentiates these guys from the other players out there is that you can get native hardware performance without the stringent requirements of the Type-1 CHV, you don't incur the emulation costs of a Type-2 CHV and they understand that sync'ing changes to/from a datacenter means more than shuttling a series of files back and forth.  If they truly perform some of the advanced pre-fetch, data dedupe, driver independence, and WAN optimization that they claim they do then I think these guys have a real value prop in the mobile compute space.  And let's be honest, the laptop train wreck is among all of us right now.  I won't form specific opinions until I send off a list of about 30 questions I have in my head right now.  When I get answers to those (and assuming that I'm not under an NDA) I'll be disclosing bits and pieces in some blog entries.


@appdetective - Citrix can't just shoe horn this into PVS.  The way that PVS works wouldn't allow for something like this.  Now if we're talking about Project Independence then that's a different story because they'll have layered windows, but then you're also talking about a Type-1 CHV and the hardware headaches that go with it.  Finally on the PVS side, diff disks are nice but if I have to discard common image everytime the base image changes, then it's useless to a large enterprise.


@brian & appdetective - I disagree that Wanova is necessarily a point use case.  I don't see anything in their product that would necessarily prevent the use of it on desktops in the data center and/or VMs.  I may be proven wrong here when I ask my series of questions.  


My .02. Interesting times ahead for sure.


Shawn


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