March 26, 2009
Sun Microsystems has struck out on its own in issuing an upgraded offering for virtualizing desktops with its recent release of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Software 3.
In the past, Sun has partnered with VMware in virtualization on the desktop and it still is; Sun is the supplier of a protocol that speeds up VMware's own delivery of virtual desktops over RDP, Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol. RDP by itself is too slow to deliver smooth full motion video or data intense multimedia. With this release of VDI 3, Sun is adding the option of a Sun-only virtual desktop software set, said Chris Kawalek, product line manager. "Many will use VMware for the majority of their desktops and Sun for a subset of users," he said. Sun has built the RDP protocol into its VirtualBox hypervisor so that desktop virtual machines may be generated on a central server and desktop presentations sent to users without requiring RDP being added to the client itself, Kawalek said. When the guest operating system is Windows XP or Vista, RDP is available through them. But for users of Windows 2000 and Ubuntu Linux, RDP must be added to the virtual guest, and can be through Sun's hypervisor services, he said. Sun VDI 3.0 will support a wider range of desktop operating systems, including those named above, than some virtual desktop infrastructure product sets. In addition, it supports OpenSolaris for x86. One reason that desktop virtualization has been slow to take off is the need to rationalize how virtual desktops will be stored. If each user's copy of Windows, Office and other PC applications is stored on the data center's network attached storage or SANs, the potential virtualization savings are offset by increased storage costs. Sun's previous VDI 2 envisioned copying complete virtual desktops to centralized storage as its only persistence mechanism. In VDI 3.0, Sun offers a solution to the dilemma. Implementers will rely on master or "golden" images of Windows and Office, and only save a few specifications and applications that are individual to each end user's desktop. "Storage consumption is the number one thing stopping desktop virtualization. We're being much smarter this time, not copying a bunch of stuff we don't need to copy," Kawalek said. VDI 3 has been integrated with the Solaris ZFS file system, which can be used to manage a Sun Storage 7000 Unified Storage System or other Sun Open Storage architecture. ZFS allows a simplified storage management for the virtualized desktops. The VirtualBox hypervisor will invoke ZFS rather than needing a virtual machine administrator to establish a storage file system, said Kawalek. VDI 3 also has expanded support for deploying large numbers of virtual desktops under VMware's Virtual Infrastructure 3. It includes support for Microsoft's Active Directory, so end user identities may be managed through it. VDI 3 also works with energy saving Sun Ray thin clients, or other vendors' thin client devices.
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