Examine the roots of the VMware family tree, and End User Computing is the longest root of 'em all. It's where it all began, back in 1999 with a cool little product that let me run Windows on top of Linux. It was like magic for software customer demos of complex enterprise apps. I could royally screw up a demo environment an hour before a demo for a $15M deal by adding just one field to the screen that the customer demanded to see, but instead of soiling my underwear in a panic, I could go back to my most recently saved state of less than an hour before. Brilliant! It was a tool for me to be more effective in my job. Hold that thought.
So with this heritage in mind and a general respect for VMware's products honed over the past 15 years of growth and change, and fantastic tools for I&O professionals to manage virtualized environments with, I was delighted to see End User Computing be the focus of general session demos and breakout sessions. I was looking forward to learning more about Wanova Mirage to see if it could help on the employee freedom and personal innovation front. Those of you following this space know what I think of what I like to call Soviet Bloc Virtual Desktop Infrastructures.
Virtuosity as the Root of Innovation and the Dangers of Hosted VDI
As with nearly all things client virtualization, the devil is in the details. VDI is a tough sell for knowledge workers. Achieving virtuosity with one's computing environment of choice has much in common with achieving virtuosity with a musical instrument. The more time you spend and the more techniques you experiment with, the more impressive your results. But the important thing to remember is that for anyone to get beyond basic chord progressions with a guitar for example, they need the freedom to experiment and the guitar needs to be on their knee so they can touch it, feel it and interact with it in real time. It is exactly the same thing with a PC environment. When we take a knowledge worker's desktop, move it 2500 miles away and lock it down so they can't experiment, it's like giving them a video game replica of a guitar that they can experiment with in only very narrow ways. We effectively limit their results to a very small range of possibilities. Any chance they have at achieving virtuosity with their PC and finding great new ways to work is neutralized as a result. This constant drive to improve ones own skills and techniques is at the root of innovation and good ideas, by the way. Take it away and get ready for dismal business results.
Mirage Will Provide Better Offline Access, But Don't Confuse it With Flexibility or Freedom
For those familiar with how VDI and local client hypervisors work, and who also understand the true motivations behind BYOC demand, my assessment will make sense immediately. For those who may be less comfortable with the details of these topics and also a Forrester client, set up some inquiry time with me and I'll be happy to explain. Basically, despite the marketing hype, VDI is a *horrible* primary desktop solution for many knowledge workers (traveling sales reps, field engineers, journalists, geologists, executives and more), given the limitations inherent to current mainstream technologies, and the way most firms implement them. It's great as a secondary desktop for these knowledge workers to get access to systems of record, for instance, but that's a discussion for another day. Likewise client hypervisors (run on the endpoint) are a mixed bag. Bare metal varieties (see XenClient) live beneath the operating system on the endpoint, and allow one or more operating instances to run on top. This is fine for company-owned machines, but violates the first law of BYOC: IT must not invade employee-owned computers, so is rejected by consumerizers. VMware's workstation and Fusion by contrast are client hypervisors that live on top of the OS on the endpoint, so cause less heartburn for BYOC types. Both present management and usability challenges however.
Mirage Breaks The Desktop Up Into Layers, Making for Lightweight Sync
So back to Mirage: Both VMware and Citrix can synchronize a Windows virtual desktop instance between the VDI servers and a client hypervisor for local execution and productivity and more efficient centralized management, but the methods used in both cases are not network-friendly and there are other practical challenges as well. Mirage, by contrast, works by breaking the Windows desktop up into layers that can live both in the datacenter and on the endpoint at the same time, but the key is in the synchronization. The Wanova approach requires less data synchronization and solves the main management challenges, so it provides the benefits of hosted desktop manageability with local access. It does not rely on a client side hypervisor and instead runs as a Windows service. This is a key point because it makes it a better fit for BYOC scenarios, but it's still missing native Mac and Windows 8 support.
Manageability and Offline Performance Achieved, but Freedom Remains Elusive
As explained above, knowledge workers need freedom to experiment with everything from personal productivity tools, to new engineering and development tools and techniques. That's not what Wanova is about. Wanova is about centralized manageability and maintaining offline capabilities and performance for the end user. It's a great step forward for VDI management and traveling workstyles, but it does not seem to address the primary driver behind BYOC for knowledge workers: Freedom to choose applications and tools. Check back here though for my thoughts on Horizon, which shows promise with the Alpha announcements at VMworld.
A Word About Citrix's RingCube and Virtual Computer Acquisitions.
RingCube is essentially a personal virtual disk solution that allows persistence of user settings and data on the VDI server. It is not intended to deliver the kind of functionality that Mirage offers. The Virtual Computer acquisition allows more efficient synchronization between the VDI host and the client and is a closer match to Mirage use cases, but it requires XenClient, which as mentioned above is a non-starter for BYOC because it invades the users' computer by sitting underneath the OS. The fact that Wanova runs as a Windows service, I believe, should make it more palatable for BYOC consumerizers.
What It Means for I&O Professionals
Wanova should be considered closely for VMware View environments where better offline access is needed. However it should not be confused with a solution that will serve the true needs of knowledge workers or those needing freedom to experiment (most humans). How well it works in customer deployments in terms of reliability and manageability is still unknown to Forrester as well, so we will be looking at this in more detail in the months to come. Incidentally, Benjamin Gray
and I just released the final version of the Tech Radar for Client Virtualization
last week. It's a great resource for I&O professionals seeking to better understand the client virtualization landscape, with 20 categories of tools and ~50 vendors researched.