5 things missing in VMware's new virtual desktop app, View 4

For all the sizzle, analysts cite five ways the steak isn't fully cooked.

With VMware's release of View 4 last week, the company is promising two things: Full desktop performance at a desktop price tag.

Desktop virtualization requires huge amounts of data to be constantly streamed from server to client. Moreover, the cost of building out a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), including servers, storage, network bandwidth, thin clients and software licenses, has generally outweighed potential savings in IT labor and security costs.

That is a "huge, huge change" in View 4, asserted Rick Jackson, chief marketing officer for VMware. View 4 is so efficient that some apps run faster virtually than when loaded from a local hard drive, he said. Moreover, the "acquisition cost barrier" has been "neutralized."

"I don't see how a CIO with a large desktop population doesn't look at this," Jackson said in an interview this week.

For all the sizzle, analysts cite five ways the steak isn't fully cooked.

1. Bandwidth bandwidth bandwidth. View 4 uses a new compression protocol called PC-over-IP (PCoIP) licensed from Teradici Corp. Chris Wolf, an analyst with the Burton Group, said he and his clients have tested the View 4 beta. Over local area networks, PCoIP "performs very well," he said. But PCoIP is still enough of a bandwidth hog that trying to deliver high-definition video or support multiple monitors to remote users or branch offices over wide area networks remains "impractical," Wolf said.

Also, PCoIP natively encrypts all data traffic, according to Wolf, meaning that companies can't use WAN traffic accelerators such as those from Riverbed Technology Inc.

Finally, VMware doesn't offer a VDI appliance, such as those from Kaviza Inc. , to enable acceptable remote performance, said Wolf. That forced some of Burton's clients, for now, to rule out View 4 for development centers in India, he said.

2. Lack of local virtualization. One way that VMware could deliver better performance to remote desktop as well as mobile laptop users is by allowing View 4 to run locally and synchronizing only occasionally. That's what VMware's Client Virtualization Platform (CVP) will do.

Problem is, VMware announced CVP more than a year ago and doesn't plan to deliver it until the middle of next year, Jackson said. That is later than Citrix's equivalent, called Xenclient, is scheduled to arrive, said independent analyst Brian Madden, as well as already available apps from Neocleus Inc. and Virtual Computer Inc.

Such client hypervisors "will be a big, big deal for 2010," he said.

3. Full Windows 7 support. Despite being released weeks after Windows 7, View 4 still only offers beta support for Microsoft's latest OS, said Raj Mallempati, a product marketing manager at VMware. He declined to offer a timetable but Madden expects VMware to be targeting June next year.

But planning for PC deployments can take years, meaning that VMware could be too late for some enterprises that have already started their planning.

"You want to get in real early so you can be part of any PC migration project," Wolf said.

Madden somewhat disagreed. No one is making solid plans until the middle of next year," he said. But "VMware needs to have their stuff together by then, or else they are screwed."

4. Lack of application personalization. Where Madden criticizes View 4 is its inability today to let users keep their application preferences and history. Think bookmarks, passwords and Web site history in your Web browser, or the macros and settings and list of recently opened documents in Microsoft Word.

VMware announced at VMworld in September that it is licensing the Virtual Profiles software from RTO Software. There's no timetable for when it will be integrated into View 4, said Mallempati. That "is just another reason I'd chill for six months," Madden said.

5. Unless you go big and compromise, costs are higher than advertised. VMware is partnering with EMC Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. to deliver an all-in-one server-storage-software package that doubles the number of virtual desktops to 16 per server CPU core, resulting in a cost of $750 per PC. (see PDF white paper)

That compares well with the typical $600 to $800 cost of buying a new Windows 7 PC. And going with View 4 allows customers to slice their annual desktop operational costs by half, Jackson said.

There are two big caveats, however. To attain $750 per PC, the VMware-EMC-Cisco solution requires companies to deploy it to at least 2,048 users, Mallempati confirmed. That results in a minimum outlay of $1.54 million.

Wolf said he has some clients looking to roll out desktop virtualization in a big way in the next three to five years: 40,000 users for one company, and 150,000 for another.

But Madden said desktop virtualization remains a "limited niche use case," restricted to deskbound, always connected employees such as financial traders, call center workers, and the like. Coming up with at least 2,000 workers willing to be moved to desktop virtualization may be a stretch for many companies.

For another, VMware-EMC-Cisco's $750-per-desktop calculation assumes that companies recycle existing PCs into thin clients for View 4, Mallempati said. That's all fine and good, Wolf said, but it increases companies' operational costs, sometimes significantly, as they deal with failing hard drives and fans, and support the PC's native operating system. Buying new thin client devices from vendors such as Wyse Technology Inc. to reduce administration and service overhead will add about $450 per user for multimedia-enabled devices, he said.

Wolf's conclusion? "Price is still a significant barrier to adoption."

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