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5/10/2012
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Oracle Upgrades Virtual Desktop Options

Oracle Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Release 3.4 increases storage options and enhances security for virtual desktops.

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Oracle has expanded the number of storage options available for virtual desktops and increased the level of security possible in its Oracle Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Release 3.4, which became available Thursday.

Oracle, like Citrix Systems, VMware, and Dell recently, believes the time is ripe to show improved, multi-device capabilities in the end user virtualization market. In many cases, it's not just a desktop being virtualized and maintained on central servers; it's an end user workspace that's delivered to the user's desktop or re-jiggered to fit different devices, depending on what the end user is doing at the moment.

In addition to the virtual desktop infrastructure product, Oracle announced Thursday a simultaneous upgrade to other products gained with its Sun Microsystems acquisition. It upgraded Sun Ray Software to Release 5.3; it goes on central servers to manage Sun Ray thin client devices. It also upgraded Oracle Virtual Desktop Client to Release 3.1; its equvalent to Citrix Systems Reciever or VMware Client. Oracle Client is software for non-Sun Ray machines, such as Windows PCs and laptops, Linux PCs, and Apple iPads.

The Oracle approach to virtual desktops used to work with Sun ZFS Storage Appliances, based on the iSCSI protocol. It's expanded VDI 3.4 to allow it to tap local storage on the server rack or third-party storage based on protocols other than iSCSI.

[ Want to learn more about the virtualization market leader's approach to virtualizing end users? See VMware's New Bid To Simplify Desktop Virtualization". ]

Security for Sun Ray 3 series thin clients was enhanced. Instead of just relying on an application's request for user name and password, the Sun Ray clients are equipped with 802.1x level security that has a thin client seeking access to a network, and when the communications port asks for user identification, the Supplicant or software agent in the Sun Ray forwards the user's credential to an Authenticator--often a special purpose switch on the network--that initiates a check with Active Directory or other user credential directory. If the credentials match, the communications port gets the go ahead to admit the user.

The 802.1x approach is based on an IEEE standard for security and "is a better, more sophisticated way to provide port-based security" than Oracle thin clients had before, said Adam Hawley, senior director of product marketing at Oracle.

Expanding storage and security options are key ways to broaden the appeal of a desktop virtualization offering. The proliferation of end user devices is leading to increased concern for the security of enterprise data. Storage is one of the primary expenses of desktop virtualization. The permanent files of desktops used to reside on the hard drives of the devices they would run. In centralizing desktops, a storage substitute has to be found on central server systems. Many potential customers were using storage systems other than Sun's ZFS Storage Appliances.

Oracle has expanded desktop virtualization options in other ways as well. VDI 3.4 includes a new feature to allow the creation of independently administered sets of virtual desktop deployments. The feature, Global VDI Centers, allows users to log on to an enterprise VDI system and be automatically directed to right server group from which to get their virtual desktops.

Getting a rich user experience to the end user has been a challenge for virtual desktops. Sun Ray 3 series devices may now display accelerated Adobe Flash and Windows Media Player video and multi-media content. Both Sun Ray 3 Plus clients and PCs running Oracle Virtual Desktop Client 3.1 can now display 720-pixel, high-definition video. Auto-resizing for both adapt the device display when the user moves between devices. User location awareness can be built into virtual desktop applications so that as a user moves from location to location, he's still able to use the nearest printer.

Sun Ray series 3 thin clients are each equipped with smart card readers, and Oracle's VDI and Sun Ray software support a protocol that allows for more information to be stored on the smart cards. Thus far, the smart cards have been used for prompt and automatic user log in. They may now contain additional information, such health care group plan and identification number, address, or information useful to specialized distributed virtual desktop systems in health care centers, hospitals, or educational institutions.

"In Europe, smart cards are used more heavily than here for a wide range of governmental services," said Hawley.

Monica Kumar, senior director of product marketing, said Oracle's approach to end user virtualization was one of the most comprehensive in the industry, thanks to Sun's success at implementing the practices inside its own Silicon Valley campuses. An Oracle VDI system can include the enterprise applications, such as Oracle accounting or vertical market health care apps, suitable to different end user groups, she said.

Find out how to move beyond server virtualization to build a more flexible, efficient data center in the new Private Cloud Blueprint issue of Network Computing. (Free registration required.)

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