VMware planning to make your OS irrelevant

VMware wants to free users from dependence on a particular operating system or hardware device. At its VMworld conference in the US last week the most formidable player in server virtualization laid out a framework called the vClient Initiative (VCI). This will use virtualization to separate user desktops from the systems they run on.

This is part of a strategic expansion that CEO Paul Maritz said “is going to define us for the next several years”. Whether delivered on-demand from banks of desktop servers or stored on USB memory sticks and carried around by the users the “desktop” as VMware envisions it may well be based on Microsoft’s ubiquitous Windows operating systems – but it won’t matter what operating system is running on the desktop. It could be Linux or Mac OS.

VMware refers to this type of interface as a “universal client” and the company’s strategy for delivering it is high on the list of priorities it set itself at VMworld which attracted 14000 attendees from around the world.

Maritz said: “The desktop of the future will not be a single device like a laptop or a thin client. It will be all the richness and personalization of their desktop experience accessible from any location. Users want a desktop that follows them wherever they go while IT wants to manage those environments securely cost effectively and more easily than they do today.”

The way VMware explains it its universal client makes it possible to “decouple applications data and operating system from the hardware and deliver them to the user rather than a device.” It gives users a personal view of their applications and data whether they are using a PC thin client or laptop in the office or on the road. The idea is to create a seamless experience “where applications and data follow the user and not the device.”

VMware’s success to date has been built around its ability to separate server applications from the actual hardware they run on. In trying to transfer that capability to desktop applications however the company faces some major hurdles because desktops are frequently changing and subject to the usually high expectations of users.

But VCI will eventually include a range of tools designed to make this change easier; one important area will be providing seamless management of user data that by definition will be separated from the desktop for easier backup and storage in the Internet “cloud”.

“Users will be able to view their desktop running remotely in the data center or running locally on any device” Maritz told VMworld attendees. At the same time IT administrators will be able to manage update and secure all of these desktops centrally with greater flexibility and scalability than what is possible today.”

For now VMware is spruiking the benefits of its new VMware View portfolio which expands the scope of VMware’s existing Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) product with more of a focus on centralized IT control application as well as desktop virtualization and faster desktop provisioning to support new users’ needs.

VMware View will be expanded next year with new tools called VMware View Composer VMware Offline Desktop and VMware Client Virtualization. Each of these will address a single part of the iClient story filling out an end-to-end management story that VMware will depend on to counter the increasing threat from Microsoft and Citrix.

While they’re playing a catchup game in the server space both of those companies have extensive experience – and a mature effective set of products – for delivering thin-client desktops.

With VMware throwing its hat into the ring the nascent desktop virtualization market is sure to become a key battleground in the fight for virtualization’s potential – and will have knock-on effects in related markets such as physical thin clients which are cheaper and simpler to manage than conventional desktops.

IDC has estimated  that growing use of desktop virtualization will drive Asia/Pacific desktop replacement with 36.3 percent year-on-year growth in thin-client unit shipments this year and 21.4 percent annual growth through 2013.