Virtual Computer just launched a new release of its flagship product, NxTop. This new version, dubbed version 1.1, includes something the company is calling System Workbench™. What does this really mean and will it open the doors to desktop virtualization to organizations watching from the sidelines?
What Virtual Computer has to say about its NxTop 1.1
Since its inception, NxTop has allowed IT administrators to build a single, Windows virtual image that can be shared across their entire organization. Updates to this shared image are performed centrally on the NxTop Center management console. At boot time, NxTop presents a Windows desktop to the end-user that is a composite of the latest shared system image, user-specific profiles and settings, and any non-permanent PC data such as caches and index files.
With System Workbench, IT administrators can now control which aspects of their “gold” operating system image may be customized and retained by the end-user. Through a policy-based interface with a simple XML-based authoring language, System Workbench provides powerful new capabilities, such as:
- A framework for whitelisting applications that can be installed into a shared image by an end-user into a persistent layer that survives a self-cleaning reboot or IT-generated system update.
- Granular, policy-based control to map files and directories onto different layers of the virtual file system. This allows, for example, the ability to exclude large but non-essential user files such as Outlook OST cache files and Windows index files from being included in NxTop’s automated user data backups. It also allows the system to retain customized user settings for poorly designed programs that store such information in system folders instead of the user’s profile area.
- Manipulation of programs, data files and settings for system features such as offline folders, file sharing, and antivirus databases to survive patching of shared operating system images.
In addition to System Workbench, the NxTop 1.1 release includes:
- NxTop Engine performance enhancements, including near-native network speed via paravirtualized networking.
- Simplified Microsoft Active Directory configuration and testing, making integration into Microsoft environments a snap.
- Enhanced user backup capabilities, including optimized data transfer, management of restore points, and compression of virtual hard disks to improve performance and disk utilization.
- Improved wireless support, including WPA/WPA2 Personal across all major wireless chip sets.
Improved scalability and performance in NxTop Center, including background task processing and a 50 percent reduction in image preparation time.
Snapshot analysisAlthough it is clear that moving workloads from physical environments to virtual environment can offer a number of benefits, organizations have focused far more on server virtualization than desktop virtualization. This may be because there are fewer systems in the datacenter than roaming around in the wilds with field personnel.
As organizations see the benefits of server virtualization, some have taken the next step of examining how desktop and mobile workloads could be moved into virtual environments as well. IT decision makers have expressed concerns about managing environments that are highly customized by each user.
Suppliers, such as Virtual Computer, Citrix, Microsoft, VDIworks and VMware have been offering tools that are claimed to solve those and other problems to make virtual desktops a useful tool.
Virtual Computer has taken a few steps that place them at the head of the pack in terms of overall capability. Their management environment makes it possible for administrators to manage operating system images, application images, user data and user personalization as separate, easily managed entities. Virtual environments can then be updated as needed without the usual tearing of sackcloth and swearing of oaths.
I've spoken with a few of Virtual Computers customers and have found that they are generally happy with the product, with the responsiveness of the company and feel that they've made a good choice.
Virtual Computer, regardless of the strength of its technology, faces the challenges that come from competing head to head with very large, better funded suppliers. As it brings its customer stories out and makes them broadly known, their product will be better known as well.