VMware still has to prove it "get" desktops. 13 questions about its strategy it needs to answer.

Now that we've had a few weeks to recover, I figured I could finally take the time to answer the question that everyone's been asking me: "What did you think of VMworld?" That question really needs to be answered in two parts: (1) What do I think of VMware after the show, and (2) what did I learn about the other vendors in the exhibit hall?

Now that we’ve had a few weeks to recover, I figured I could finally take the time to answer the question that everyone’s been asking me: “What did you think of VMworld?” That question really needs to be answered in two parts: (1) What do I think of VMware after the show, and (2) what did I learn about the other vendors in the exhibit hall? In today's article I'll answer the VMware question, and tomorrow I'll summarize the cool stuff I learned about the other vendors.

So with regards to VMware, I'll come right out and say it: Everyone knows that I was nervous about VMware's desktop strategy before VMworld, and now that VMworld is over I'm just as nervous about it as I was before. I just don't think desktop is a real focus for that company.

I can't say that I entirely blame them. It's understandable that VMware would want to diversify after their first big success in the server space, and I think that's what led them to the desktop in the 2006-2007 timeframe (Propero, Thinstall). But now that they got a taste of cloud it's almost like, "Desktops? Oh right, we do that too."

I'm not saying that VMware shouldn't evolve their focus or that they shouldn't go after the cloud. (And frankly the whole SpringSource thing plus their virtual infrastructure to go after Microsoft as an app platform seems pretty brilliant to me.) I'm just saying that even after VMworld, I don't believe that VMware has demonstrated that they have the capability to be a big player in the desktop space too.

The irony of this is that I really, really want VMware to be successful with desktops. Competition from VMware has caused Citrix to put more innovation into their desktop delivery products in 18 months than they have in the past ten years combined. If VMware rolls over on the desktop, I hope that the Symantec or Quest can step up to apply pressure to Citrix or else we're going to have another decade of innovation ice age.

But back to the main topic: VMware's lack of desktop vision.

At last year's VMworld, we got all these great indications of what VMware was capable of in the desktop space. (Here’s my article from then where I could hardly contain my excitement about six desktop announcements.) And how did VMware follow up at this year's VMworld?

So those were two great things. (Tactical, but still great.) Unfortunately that's kind of where the good news from VMworld stopped:

  • VMware demoed their client hypervisor known as CVP. (yay!) But we learned that it won’t be available until 2H 2010! Last year they said their client hypervisor was going to ship by the end of 2009, and now it's another 8+ months away!?!
  • The View futures session was just about View 4. VMware still hasn't announced a release date, although the rumor is it's still coming at some point this year. View 4 will have PC-over-IP, but little else new. (Oh, it will have vSphere 4 support.)

The big glaring hole was some frank talk about what VMware's actual desktop strategy is. When I wrote that rant-ish article a few months ago, I accused VMware of just riding their server coattails into the desktop space without a real clue on what desktops are and how they'll compete with Citrix or Microsoft. And now that VMworld is over, I still don't know how VMware plans to compete?

So that said, let me be more specific. Instead of whining about a fairly esoteric question of "what's your strategy?," let me ask VMware to address thirteen specific questions / concerns that I (and others?) have in the desktop space. (And thanks to BrianMadden.com member "appdetective" who's responsible for four or five of these questions based on various comments he or she posted to previous blog posts.)

  • Paul Maritz said that VDI is a slow ramp up before it represents revenue for VMware. In this resource- and budget-constrained economy, what's their commitment to this space? Why should I believe anything they say after comments like that from their CEO?
  • Is VMware going to support a non-ESX solution for VDI? If not, why should I be locked into their hypervisor solution? (Hello Freedom anyone?)
  • When Microsoft releases Calista, they're likely to do so only for Hyper-V. What does that mean to all the people who are deploying View with ESX only?
  • Why does VMware think they can win a battle of the desktop against Microsoft when Microsoft owns the operating system? Isn't that reason enough that smart customers should sprint towards Microsoft+Citrix or Microsoft+Quest?
  • Who's actually deploying View at scale? It seems that it's fine for small ESX-only shops that are LAN-based and don't require any medium to advanced features. Who's adopting View for Cloud DAAS? What is the size of their largest customer deployment?
  • vSphere 4 was released last June. But View 3 is not supported, and we still don’t have an official release date for View 4. How is this possible if the desktop is really a priority? How are customers supposed to sit through six months of marketing about how great ESX 4 is, but then not be able to leverage it for their View solutions?
  • Doesn’t VMware have a vested interest in moving the world off of Windows applications? (SpringSource) How will we expect VMware to create the best system for delivering Windows desktops while also creating a system to replace them?
  • Does VMware think that ThinApp can handle all apps today? What is the official recommendation for people who have apps that aren’t ThinApp compatible? Should they all be installed natively? Should they be virtualized with another product? Should View only be used where we have 100% ThinApp compat?
  • What’s VMware’s recommended technique for deploying ThinApp apps into VMs? Let’s say I really want to use View for everyone. How are apps delivered and managed?
  • Does VMware believe that there is any use for server-hosted apps which could be delivered seamlessly into VMs? If so, what’s their recommended product for that? Citrix XenApp? Quest vWorkspace? Microsoft RemoteApp?
  • What are VMware’s thoughts about the role the client hypervisor will play? Is it truly an “offline VDI” solution?
  • Why is CVP delayed? (And even when it comes out in 2H10, it will still only be a single VM? So it's super late and won't even be fully featured when it does come out. (And at that time, competing products will have been on the market for a full year that offer multi-VM support.)
  • VMware's new desktop CTO is Scott Davis, one the founders of Virtual Iron and most recently VMware's chief datacenter architect. In other words, a server guy is VMware's desktop CTO, furthering the image that VMware thinks desktops are just like servers, and in fact they really don't understand them. Scott's own LinkedIn profile says, "A recognized expert in virtualization, clustering, operating systems, file systems and storage." (i.e. no desktops.) So what are Scott's desktop creds? How do we know he's the right guy to lead the desktop strategy? Why did VMware hire a server guy from within instead of a recognized desktop expert?

So now what? I guess ideally I'd love to get these questions and concerns addressed. I don't know how that will happen, though. Maybe we can get Scott and Jocelyn Goldfein (VMware's general manager of the desktop business unit) on Brian Madden TV to talk about this stuff? (Actually, screw BMTV. Maybe we can just talk openly for a few hours and get these questions answered.)

What do you think? Am I off base here? Does anyone reading this know any of the answers to any of these questions? Are there any more questions that you'd like VMware to answer about their desktop strategy?

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I wonder if maybe this is just a sign of the immaturity of this market overall.  I know Brian believes that VDI will hit mainstream next year, but I continue to believe that it is just too soon.  

The tools are not in place by any vendor to have a polished product, and everyone is learning as they go.Sure, there are some great peices that are supposed to appear soon, but some of these will be delayed or reduced in features.  We will probably also have to re-think some things based on realities learned by early adopters as well.


@Brian, thanks for including many of my questions. It's good to know to you get it!

@Tim, I agree with you, it is a sign of immaturity. However, I repeat what I have said many times.

People will not implement the pooled model at scale for a while. I agree with Tim here, it is not ready, does not scale etc. Citrix sucks at this also, unless you are a very simple implementation. Ask Citrix to show you a single customer that has implemented pooled successfully at scale that has any variance between users? The XD team put out crap quality products as well, we all know it, try installing the freaking thing, install a patch and see how that goes. Their value is HDX/ICA not that POS they call a broker. Perhaps the XD team can come forward and explain why they built such a POS infrastructure? I'd be questioning the judgement of the XD lead leadership team, idiots that don't get it either and focus on marketing not quality. So we should balance our view with what VMware can't do, who are just stupider, arrogant and I 100% agree with Brian not going for gold in this space.

We need the layered cake model to really work for this to be real. This is the money shot, but needs investment from the vendors to make pooled work. If not, then simply stick to TS for low cost environments, or wait for client virtualization to mature, which is also not that useful without layered type management.

People successfully implementing VDI today, are doing it for agility, and making a bet on the future. Those people are not implementing pooled, they are using private images, and yes it COSTS more, but they want pooled in the future if it can scale. If not, the benefits of layers still applies to static desktops that enable agility. To implement that simple model we need HDX Connect, when are the XD team going to wake and understand that POS middle tier that does not scale is going to take time to mature, change etc, so we need options to implement now!


Agreed - VDI isn't ready till 2011.  

Also, I think a datacenter guy isn't that bad a choice for  the next year when you think about the largest obstacles facing VDI right now: display protocol speediness and scalability (storage performance, storage de-dupe, user density, ..).

Once he get's these nuts and bolts issue solved, they can get a "desktop" guy and do more "desktoppy stuff".  :)


@Sean, the problem is that the myth is VDI in private mode needs $$$$ storage. Local disks works just fine and are cheap cheap cheap.


I see people saying that VDI is not mature... just wondering if we are not confusing "VMware's VDI solution is not mature", which I am not even sure I agree with, with the more generic "VDI is not mature". For example, looking at Citrix XenDesktop, I wonder how many people can say that this is not a well-thought over solution? Yes, it is piecing some separate products together, and yes, there is no single management console, but what did you expect? Isn't this also the case in the physical world?

AFAIK, there is no single-vendor A-Z solution for VDI (covering hypervisor, broker, OS management, user state management, user workspace management). You'll always end up combining different tools to get your own virtual desktop infrastructure, just like you would with any other SBC solution (combining TS, profile management tools & application management tools). For me, that doesn't seem related to the maturity of the solution but rather "expectation management".

I also disagree that the maturity of VDI is in any way related to the fact that a virtual desktop should perform exactly the same as a physical desktop. Probably very few people are surprised if you say that SBC's (as in: TS/Citrix XenApp) graphical performance is lower than that of a physical desktop, so why demand the same for a virtual desktop? Aren't we expecting too much when placing 50 virtual desktops on a CPU that is basically the same (or twice) the one I have in my laptop? IMHO, we're still talking about SBC and this will simply not always be a solution for all applications and all situations.


@appdetective  - agree on both accounts  - pooled is immature and VDI needs cheap IOPS that local disk provide.  

Amount of Storage is no longer  the primary issue  - IOPS and their cost is. The class of IOPS desktops require are simply unsustainable in price and performance from a T1/T2 SAN/NAS perspective.  Widestriping in SAN/NAS is not a cost effective approach for VDI.

Desktops have evolved  around assumptions  of low (1-2 ms) latency and easy availability of IOPS (think virtual memory, swapping,  Continuous NTFS file layout optimization).  The Shared, centralized SAN/NAS model cannot provide both of these at a price point  comparable  to a physical desktop.

We introduced vScaler  at vmworld 2009 - a technology specifically for addressing the needs for cheap and fast IOPS for Virtual Desktop and Server workloads and with the ability to use local disk as a part of the storage mix to bring parity in cost/performance between SAN/NAS and local disk.

The one BIG Issue in my mind that no one talks about (or have we just not realized it yet?) is that the the desktop IT guys have very little control and leverage over the infrastructure that runs their desktops when it comes to VDI.  With VDI, the desktop IT team simply own and control the content inside the VM - the VM itself and everything under it is locked away from the  desktop IT team.  This lack of control translates to an inability to dial-up/dial-down critical resources (memory/disk/IOPS) that affect the committed SLA and ultimately the end user experience. This can be frustrating for the desktop teams where they are asked to fix things they cant control. Its going to take some new enlightened organization and practices to be able to get around this one!

Chetan Venkatesh

Atlantis Computing




@Chetan, I agree with you 100% on the org stuff. However I have to give credit to Citrix for showing they get this issue community.citrix.com/.../Desktop+Virtualization+is+not+Server+Virtualization

As for the your solution, good to see you making progress. Watching keenly to see how you do vs. Unidesk. Great to see thought leadership out there.


@appdetective –

I am on the leadership team for XenDesktop at Citrix.

I am sorry to hear that you had a bad experience with XenDesktop implementation. Based on all your posts, I have to assume that you understand the product and have experience in implementing Citrix’s products.

First of all, I want to acknowledge that we have heard the feedback regarding complexity in configuring advanced XenDesktop implementations that deliver single instance management with pooled desktops. However, we have also seen some of our customers successfully implement a ‘layered cake’ or single instance management with XenDesktop pooled desktops successfully. We have learnt a lot about where such advanced implementations succeed and where they may not. And, we are taking all this feedback to further enhance our product. We are looking at radically simplifying the management with XenDesktop delivered pooled desktops using single instance management in the near future.

Thank you for your candid comments about the product. We have no intent to over-market the capabilities of the product. We think that the product is capable of doing single instance management; however, I understand that with all the set of powerful capabilities customers have run into issues with complexity of setup and maintenance. I (along with my peers) would personally like to speak with you and better understand the issues that you ran into and see if they were similar to what we have heard so far. I can’t promise that I will be able to address them all during our conversations; however, I can definitely promise that we will use the input to quickly enhance our product AS QUICKLY AS WE CAN.


@Sumit, no need for us to speak. Just read the Citrix blogs and understand that in the real world at scale pooled desktops is not pragmatic for a long time. I can only implement persistent desktops for a long time, and for that I need the HDX Connect stuff that has had some discussion. If I want pooled it's easier for me to use XA, it's much simpler and a better product. For this class of use session isolation does not matter as much, plus grabbing the the inventory data to drive pooled is a *** at scale.

That said, this is not to say that I don't think you guys shouldn't invest in pooled and invent layers the right way for both XA and XD. Just understand pooled is one model, and I fully expect for large customers this to be the exception for a long time.

Pooled is about cost savings, so long term makes sense for the masses, today you have XA for that if you really need it. Today is you need session isolation with agility persistent is the only way, and putting a broker in the middle as the only way to use the product is a failure on Citrix's part to understand real world implementation.

Sumit, I hope you act AS QUICKY AS YOU CAN.


After being in an "In the deep" PoC phasis with VDI I'm not surprised every vendor wants' to be the chief when it comes to centralized desktops in the datacenter. Today's state of the art VDI solution is at my opinion:

- XenDesktop as Broker

- Provisioning Server for desktop image management and disk space saving

- VMware VI / vSphere for delivering the hypervisor platform

- Appsense Environment Manager with User Personalization for user profile management

If we look now on the cost side, even if we forget the microsoft licenses, there are a lot of vendors who want you to sell their complete solution. But in fact you have to pick out the best of each one. Of course, this is not unknown if we look back a few years regarding performant old school "Citrix Metaframe" environments.

But the point is: Which vendor will be able to provide a more or less "complete" solution for fullfilling all the requirements of a VDI infrastructure. At my point of view, there will be no one. It comes out to that what it was always, you have to carefully engineer your requirements and pick up a design which mostly combines the advantages of each product / vendor. At least I don't beleive that VMware is in the position to deliver a perfect solution beside their really not bad hypervisors / management tools.


VDI like most other technologies won't always be a packaged solution.  Just because Citrix did it for years with presentation server doesn't mean the same thing can be done for VDI.  They are two differnt technolgoies that solve the same problem.

However, the biggest problem with VDI is storage vs. the non-persitent pools of images.   The storage will cost a fortune and non-peristent pools have issues as well.  So what to do.

Do neither.  Use ESX as the infrastructure, put Atlantis Computing in to solve the storage problem (big banks are doing it) get a broker of choice, utilize virtualized applications (I prefer Symantec) and get a profile solution.

Not a widely complex solution but not that bad either.

Brian spoke of Atlantis Computing in prior posts and they do seem to have a nice product which reduces storage 10X to 20X and reduces IO on your SAN or NAS.

Just my two cents.