VMware's display protocol strategy: Teradici, TCX, ALP, and counting...

VMware made several desktop announcements at VMworld last month. We've taken a deeper looks at their plans for a bare-metal client hypervisor and the ability for multiple VMs to share the same disk image, In today's article, we'll dig into VMware's plans in the remote display protocol space.

VMware made several desktop announcements at VMworld last month. We've taken a deeper looks at their plans for a bare-metal client hypervisor and the ability for multiple VMs to share the same disk image, In today's article, we'll dig into VMware's plans in the remote display protocol space. To do that, we need to back up a bit and look at what VMware was up to before this year's VMworld.

About six months ago, we had a conversation on this website about VMware's "RDP Problem," (the gist of which was basically that you'd can't do full VDI with just RDP, and that VMware didn't have any other protocol options besides that).

VMware + Sun ALP

VMware first dabbled in the non-RDP space with an integration announcement around Sun's ALP protocol. This announcement was meaningless to most of us, but the 0.000000000000001% of the industry actually running Sun Ray thin clients was pretty happy about it. It meant that the Sun Ray thin clients and their Sun Ray servers and ALP protocol could hook into VMware VDI environments. True, it wasn't too ground-breaking, but it established the precedent that VMware was willing to work with outside vendors and give their customers display protocol choice.

VMware + Teradici

Fast-forward to last last month, where the big protocol announcement at VMworld was that VMware would license and co-develop some protocol stuff with Teradici. This has the potential to be a really, really big deal. Teradici has a display protocol called PC-over-IP that has great performance, transparent client-side USB device support, and multimedia capabilities, all with a reasonable bandwidth consumption. The way Teradici makes this happen is through "custom silicon," which is chiphead-speak for "they have special chips in their proprietary client devices, and you need a physical card with more special chips plugged into your remote host." In other words, Teradici is awesome, but it's a hardware-based solution.

Bummer. (Well, also cool. But still kind of a bummer.) The main limitation right now is that the Teradici solution is one-to-one for Teradici host chip-to-remote client ratio. So if you want to remote 40 VDI instances from one server, you need to figure out how to cram 40 Teradici chips into that server.

Teradici is shipping real product, and people are using it. So Part 1 of the VMware / Teradici announcement at VMworld was that if you have Teradici hardware, then you can use it with VMware's future "View" product. (For what it's worth, I know Ericom fully supports Teradici hardware in their current VDI offering. Maybe others do too, although I don't know of any off the top of my head.)

There's a "Part 2" to the VMware / Teradici announcement that's even more interesting. In addition to supporting the hardware, VMware and Teradici are going to work together to co-develop a software-only implementation of Teradici's PC-over-IP display protocol. (My understanding is that it will be software only on both the host and the client end.)

This is very cool...

However, the million-dollar question is whether it will be any good. For the past year we've been hearing about how great Teradici is specifically because they have that "custom silicon." So if you remove the special chip, then aren't they just another software company with another display protocol? (Or in this case, another two software companies with a promise, a press release, and a glint in their eye, but no specific timeframes, real commitments, or actual running code?)

The chip-based PC-over-IP kicks the crap out of ICA. What will the software-only version be like? What will they "compromise" by not having custom silicon? Will it require more client-side or host-side CPU? Will it consume more bandwidth? Will it just not look as good to the user?

VMware + Wyse TCX

Finally, the week after VMworld, VMware announced they were licensing Wyse's TCX protocol. Wyse TCX is a set of software components that extend RDP (or ICA) to adds multimedia redirection, "real" multi-monitor support, and client-side USB device support. VMware has licensed the multimedia redirection and multi-monitor capabilities for their VDI products.

The cool things about this are (1) these enhancements will be free and built-in to future VMware VDI products, and (2) they will work with all clients, including non-Wyse thin clients and full Windows PC-based clients.

So essentially you'll get TCX with all versions of VMware View.

VMware + ???

What if ALP, PC-over-IP, and/or TCX are not right for you? Of course you can still use RDP if you think that will be enough for your specific applications and use cases. And if you have hp thin clients, you can use RGS. Actually, the only thing you can't really use is ICA. (Unless of course you buy a Citrix product. But with all the other choices out there, I can't imagine anyone buying Citrix just for ICA.)

Oh, you also can't use Net2Display, because it still doesn't exist yet. Actually, at VMworld I joked with VMware's Jerry Chen about this. "So I guess this Teradici deal means you've given up on Net2Display?" And almost before I could finish that sentence, Jerry and about five VMware people were tripping over themselves saying, "No! No! No! That's not right. We are NOT giving up on Net2Display." They pointed out that both VMware and Teradici are part of the Net2Display working group, and that both companies have a lot to gain if there's an open protocol out there. ("Both" companies? Um, that's half right...)

And let's not forget that Microsoft owns Calista now, and that we're expecting to hear something about that at Microsoft's PDC in a few weeks. Maybe they'll add the Calista capability into the core Windows 7 product and that awesome protocol will be equally available to everyone who wants to deliver Windows remotely? Or maybe monkeys will fly out of my butt?

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It will be interesting to see how well Teradici does in a VM.  A big part of PC over IP is that fact that is handles hardware acceleration, and thus you get that great performance in 3D and other graphic intensive applications.  However, without the same ability in a VM some of the utility of PC over IP is removed.  Further, compression that takes place on the "custom silicon" will now reside in the CPU thus taxing VMs further, which could have an impact on VDI capacity (number of VMs per host).

What happened to net2display ?
Exactly.  It doesn't exist yet.
Would be interested to understand how well this works even with the hardware. As the first poster points out, GPU virtulization is the key. That is what Calista is supposed to do, but who knows when that will come out, and how well it works over the WAN. The second part point is Citrix Apollo, and when and if they will virtualize the GPU. BTW Brian, in you SPICE test, did you come to any conclusions on WAN performance?

Wyse TCX multi-media appears to violate Microsoft's patent on Remote Session Media Playback: http://www.google.com/patents?id=sNqhAAAAEBAJ&dq=2008/0005801 

Did VMware legal do their due diligence when licensing it? When customers adopt VMware View with Wyse mutli-mediaredirection, would Microsoft just sit there watching? My bet is that they'll go after both customers and VMware.



This is a very important partnership and I just hope the software version gets traction and is comparable to the hardware offering.

For me this and View Composer makes VMware a serious contender in the VDI space finally.  For VDI to really take off we need true image content support, 3D graphics,  video,  animation, ClearType,  DirectX  and with full USB support and management plus audio it really is a viable option.

Let’s just hope the software version stacks up.

Pano Logic display driver provides better video and audio that RDP and ICA, ClearType, DirectX, Full USB support, the works. We have it running in our environment.

How does it perform over a WAN?

Interested to hear a real life view?

Haven't tried it over WAN - we only have one location.

Take a look at this IBM Red Paper for bandwidth demand of PC-over-IP.

http://www.redbooks.ibm.com/redpieces/pdfs/redp4331.pdf  (section 3.1.4 Network Bandwidth Recommendations) 

 Pretty much no love on the WAN. 

Have you actually tried it over the WAN? All of the protocol options Brian has discussed in this article are laughable.

You're kidding right?!?  Talked to any customers lately?

While we all know that there ARE other choices out there and whether this is right or wrong, customers look at ICA as the Bentley of protocols and everything else is just a Ford.

Which makes it useless for any US-based company with outsourced resources in [pick a third-world country] to be able to connect back to and run anything. Sorry, Brian, but the world of business and IT is much more global than it used to be. A protocol that only works over the LAN isn't going to cut it in the real world for most Fortune 500 companies. 

Our "associates" in India, Uruguay, Mexico (and elsewhere) would be more useless than they are now were it not for ICA.

compared to other protocols, ICA offers better performance over high-latency WAN connections. That's it. on a LAN, compared to RDP it's pretty much the same thing. It falls flat oln its face compared to high-quality LAN display protocols like teradici, pano loogic or Solidice. 

I don't know about you, but on a LAN speed network of 100Mb or 1Gb, just about any display protocol looks pretty good.  ICA, RDP... look pretty similar until you restrict the bandwidth to lower than 10Mbps, and the difference becomes really apparent when the bandwidth is dropped below 5Mbps, 1Mbps and 512Kbps and latency is induced.  The only place RDP or ICA suffer on a LAN is playing full motion video, which is why Citrix, Quest, Wyse... have created Multimedia Redirection technologies that playback the video directly on the client, instead of rendering these with ICA or RDP.

Below is a video of the comparison of RDP vs Quest EOP over a low bandwidth, latent connection. 



Over a LAN speed connection, the biggest advantage that ICA and EOP offer is reduced bandwidth consumption, as you can't push 50-100 sessions at 10-100Mbps out of single server unless you want to bring the server and the corporate network to its knees. Perhaps when 10GigE becomes the standard on the LAN, this won't matter so much, but across the WAN "today", every bit counts. If it doesn't work across a WAN, then it's not a viable "enterprise" solution. 

Each display protocol has its plusses and minuses.

This is accurate. Without WAN, there is just more complexity. Where RDP/ICA can't meet ones needs, I hope client side hypervisors come to the rescue. It would be good to know if Citrix is going to build their own Calista in project Apollo, or if Citrix is just going to extend RDP when Windows 7 comes out??????????????