Parallels Containers 4.6 is released with no fanfare. Are they still relevant in the VDI space?

I was having a conversation with some folks from Quest Software today about the 7.2 version of vWorkspace (which is supposed to RTM any day now), and the the topic of Parallels Virtuozzo Containers came up.

I was having a conversation with some folks from Quest Software today about the 7.2 version of vWorkspace (which is supposed to RTM any day now), and the the topic of Parallels Virtuozzo Containers came up. Quest vWorkspace, as you may recall, is the only major desktop virtualization product that supports desktops running on Parallels Containers as seamlessly as it supports VDI and Terminal Server-based desktops.

One of the Quest folks mentioned that it was weird that Parallels sort of stealthily released Containers 4.6, based on Windows Server 2008 R2, with nary a peep. No press release... No big splash... Nothing!?!

For those not familiar with Parallels Containers, it's a product that runs on Windows Server that splits a single server into multiple OS partitions. Parallels calls this "OS Virtualization," and in practical terms it falls somewhere between full hardware virtualization of a hypervisor and the session virtualization of Terminal Server. The selling point is that you get isolation that's more like VDI with user density that's more like Terminal Server. Parallels Containers is hugely popular in the website hosting world, with most of those "Windows-based virtual private server for $9.99 per month" solutions running on Containers.

(Another benefit of Containers is that in VDI world, you don't need a VECD or VDA CAL since it's based on a single Datacenter Edition of Windows Server.)

But Containers never really took off in the VDI world. Theories abound as to why not, but most center around (1) lack of marketing by Parallels, and (2) lack of support from Microsoft or Citrix. The other problem with Containers was (is?) that it's still kind of "weird" (like Terminal Server), so if customers want a "simple" VDI solution with personal image support then they'll probably just go with regular VDI with regular Windows XP or 7, and if they want a high-density pooled-disk model then they'll probably go with the much more proven (and easily supported) Terminal Server.

Nevertheless, Parallels Containers did have some cool advantages over Terminal Server (like real per-user USB device isolation, which to quote one Quest engineer, "is a better solution than throwing a platform at the problem (i.e. VDI)." But other than that, it's kind of sad that v4.6 just slipped out unnoticed. (After all, Containers 4.6 is based on 2008 R2 is the "Windows 7" version of Windows Server, complete with the Windows 7 UI for Containers-based desktop virtualization solutions.)

So now that Containers 4.6 is out, does it even matter in the desktop virtualization space? I kind of equate it to 89 octane gas -- You're gonna sell a lot of the 87 for people who are cheap (Terminal Server), and you're gonna sell a lot of 93 for people who are high end (VDI), but who really buys 89?

Where do you stand with Parallels Containers? Do you use it for your datacenter-hosted virtual desktops? Are you considering it? Would you ever consider it? Or will Moore's law mean that you don't have to mess with a new kind of non-standard platform? (In that you can just run normal VDI?)

[Note: Thursday is the Thanksgiving holiday in the US, so our next new article will be Monday, Nov 29.]

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Ericom’s PowerTerm WebConnect supports Parallels since as early as September 2008.  In fact, Parallels and Ericom have quite a few successful joint customers together.

As far as I know Ericom is the only vendor supporting the new Parallels 4.6 version.


Full disclosure: I work for Ericom


A different perspective... the Linux take on it.  I've been a heavy OpenVZ user since it first came out in 2005 and have been fairly active in the OpenVZ community.  For those not familiar with it, OpenVZ is the free software (GPL v2) portions of Parallels Virtuozzo Containers for Linux.  Basically it contains everything but the GUI and Web management apps... and a few other, mostly minor features.

For me, containers are used primarily in the server space and OpenVZ is widely deployed for server virtualization.  While it is possible to make GUI containers, and I've done so and they work fine, I don't know a lot of people using them.  For the GUI remote access to them most folks use either VNC or NX.  NX works blazingly fast and I strongly recommend it over VNC for WAN use... especially if the free beer, two user version is all you need.

I don't believe that sound works in a container but perhaps when NX 4.0 comes out that might change.  OpenVZ doesn't try to virtualize the sound device at all so if sound was available it would have to be provided by the remote display protocol.

OpenVZ just released a RHEL6-based "testing" kernel that adds a significant new feature called VSwap which makes the task of memory management more flexible and less convoluted.

Anyway, to address your question about are containers relevant for VDI... it can be if you want it to be... if you are adventurous and don't mind being somewhat of a pioneer... and especially if you want Linux desktops. :)


For me it's not really relevant to VDI. It lacks in terms of flexibilty. How many containers you put onto a single image until you create a new one? In a dynamic VDI environment it could also be difficult to scale the workload.

As far as I know virtuozo containers are widely used in the Linux world by hosting providers where you get your "own" server for a few bugs a month.


@Michael Rueefli - Virtuozzo Containers are also offered by several providers for Windows-based hosting as well.  Check out, for example.  Almost every provider out there has a similar offering nowadays.

More and more customers are recognizing that a VPS (virtual private server) is the sweet spot of the industry as far as achieving excellent isolation at a highly affordable price.  The other two options are (1) dedicated physical server and (2) hypervisor-based virtual machine.  They both are significantly more expensive options.

If OS containers do work well in the server hosting world, there's no reason why they shouldn't in the desktop world.  The lack of traction is due to the fact that Microsoft hasn't openly endorsed this technology or hinted of plans to implement it in Windows for quite some time (they certainly have done so in the past).  But in the unlikely event that they do circle back to it down the road, we'll all be rushing to rationalize how the 89-octane solution offers the best ROI after all.

I actually do like Brian's analogy here.  However, even though most car manuals recommend using 87, it's common practice to upgrade to 89 whenever one hears the car engine knocking or pinging.  The fact to the matter is that the Terminal Services engine has kept knocking and pinging for the longest time, but Microsoft either didn't hear it or chose not to hear it.  Meanwhile, we kept waiting and waiting, but they never bothered to tune the engine so we could keep our faith in 87 and continue to fill our tanks with it.  

That's when VMware came forward with the gas-guzzling VDI idea as a way to grow their revenues and guzzle our IT budgets.  And we've been steadily buying into it instead of insisting on a cost-effective 87-octane solution that performs like a 93.  

That's what the Parallels Virtuozzo Containers "89 octane" solution is all about.  But the problem is truly rooted in human nature; whenever the engine knocks and 87 isn't good enough (like the manual says),  we stare at the 89 option for a moment, but we reach for the 93 handle anyways just in case 89 isn't good enough either.

Such is the nature of the herd of human sheep.


Personally i like the idea and wuld want to use it in our hosting environment, however i have requested information from Parallels but have never even had acknowledgement.  Their partner where i'm base is a competitor and that's as far as that goes, my company doesn't want me to contact a competitor for this.

Conceptually at least (as I haven't used this in anger) this is the real affordable option. at present we offer Xen or VMware virtual machines.  I'd prefer to use this by default with uplift options for solutions that require kernel type installations...


@edgeseeker - You mention Microsoft not implementing containers in Windows.  I can tell you that the Linux folks have been working on various pieces of containers in the mainline Linux kernel for a few years now.  That effort is referred to as Linux Native Containers aka LXC.  OpenVZ and Linux-VServer will always be third-party patches that don't get integrated into the mainline kernel and both will probably be absorbed (to some degree) into LXC as LXC matures... but that may take another year or two.  In the meantime I continue to be very happy with OpenVZ.

Once LXC has matured and starts being used in a growing list of use cases, then I imagine Microsoft will see it as a competitive feature they need to add to Windows... but probably not before then.


More importantly, is Scott Dowdle related to Zach Galifianakis?