Citrix extends desktop virtualisation with offline access

The company has released XenClient Express, a bare metal hypervisor that allows users of virtual desktops to continue working when disconnected from the corporate network
Written by Richard Thurston, Contributor

Citrix has announced XenClient, a desktop virtualisation product that includes offline working. Unveiled on Wednesday at the company's Synergy 2010 conference — with immediate availability of a free release candidate version called XenClient Express — the product is the first offline-enabled virtualisation software from the company.

A fuller version of XenClient will be available at the same time as the next version of XenDesktop in the second half of 2010.

XenDesktop is a bare metal hypervisor that allows virtual desktops deployed in the datacentre to run directly on both laptops and desktops, online and offline. After going offline, users can resume their own desktop on either the same machine or a different one.

"XenClient enables organisations to have completely isolated virtual desktops on a single corporate-owned laptop. That's great for IT, because it's secure and locked down, and they can back up their data through a secure connection," said Patrick Irwin, UK product marketing manager for Citrix, speaking to ZDNet UK on Thursday. "They have full control over the virtual machine and users can recover their desktop to any device and start again where they left off."

Irwin said employees using the system could have a personal desktop they controlled without compromising the security of the corporate desktop controlled by their company. He also noted the 'kill pill' that can be sent to a stolen device to render it inoperable.

Irwin also said that machines running XenClient would perform well because of the fact the product is a bare metal hypervisor — that is, it sits on a bare device and not an operating system.

XenClient, which is based on Intel's vPro virtualisation technology, has been under development since January 2009 when Citrix and Intel first discussed plans for a client-side hypervisor.

"It's been a while, because... there are a lot of things you need to worry about with client-side virtualisation that aren't an issue with server-side virtualisation — like 3D graphics and USB plug-and-play," said Sid Herron, sales director for Moose Logic, an IT systems design company that specialises in virtualisation, in a blog post. "Yes, it's release candidate (RC) code. But it appears to be pretty darned solid RC code, and I don't think we're that far away from general availability."

Herron said he thought the product would make things easier for desktop administrators, because they could offer the employee flexibility over what they download without causing security issues.

But he warned desktop virtualisation was not taking off quickly and expectations of a short return on investment were often not being realised. In a subsequent blog post, Herron wrote, "what seems to be happening in many cases is that management has seen the tremendous cost savings that have been achieved through server virtualisation, so they decide that they should virtualise desktops the same way, expecting that they will see the same kind of dramatic cost savings."

"Often they are painfully disappointed," he wrote. "Near-term capex savings are almost impossible to show for a VDI project, because of the back-end infrastructure you have to put in place to host your virtual desktops. Your savings are primarily in ongoing operational expenses."

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