Software as a Service

Dell Taps Unidesk To Deliver Virtualized Desktops

Dell announces second startup partnership in the desktop virtualization market in less than a week. Here's a look at Unidesk's secret sauce.
Interop 2012 Product Preview
Interop 2012 Product Preview
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Dell opened a second front in its push to become a desktop virtualization supplier through a partnership with Unidesk, a startup that has come up with its own method of capturing and storing end user workspaces for which its seeking patents.

Dell will manufacture servers preloaded with a combination of Citrix Systems XenDesktop end user virtualization and Unidesk to give its customers a more flexible way of supplying end user desktops, while still keeping desktop storage costs to a minimum, according to officials at both companies. The announcement of the partnership came during Citrix Systems Synergy user group conference this week in San Francisco.

Left unsaid at the Citix event was that Unidesk will work just as well with VMware's View end user virtualization. Dell is shipping pre-packaged virtual desktop infrastructure servers with an ability to run VMware ESX Server on data center servers and Citrix XenDesktop for user virtualization, if the customer wishes. The server packages are called Dell Desktop Virtualization Solutions and include Dell storage and networking components.

The secret sauce in the Unidesk approach is that it captures and stores each part of an end user's virtual machine as a separate layer that can be patched, updated or customized without disturbing anything else in the stack. That means one end user could be given a desktop with an accounting application based on his company's golden image, and another in health care or other specialized unit could receive a modified version of the accounting app that was recently changed and updated.

[ Want to learn how the market leader, VMware, is upgrading its approach to desktop virtualization? See VMware's New Bid To Simplify Desktop Virtualization. ]

Policies and decisions made by central IT would still determine what happened in each layer, with one the layers capturing the end user's customizations, data, and personalization of his workspace. Thus, with each use, the user can further personalize his desktop and get those changes back with the next day's rebuilding of his virtual machine.

Unidesk calls the process layering, or creating a separate virtual machine file for the operating system and each application. The Windows operating system in most instances would be a duplicate golden image, requiring the company using Unidesk to store just one copy of Windows and replicating it to each virtual machine. The applications would spring from similar golden images, with more variation allowed among user groups. In some cases, individuals might add applications to their virtual desktop, which would become part of their personal layer and not interfere with any of the standard issue applications.

The enterprise version of Desktop Virtualization Solutions supplies "a robust and flexible end to end solution with enhanced levels if management and cost optimization" said Steve Lalla, Dell VP of the mobility solutions group. "With Unidesk layering technology added, we make it easier and more affordable for IT to deploy and manage virtual desktops.

"We are now able to give each end user a personal and uncompromised, persistent desktop experience every time they log in," he claimed.

The Unidesk announcement was Dell's second startup partnership in the desktop virtualization market in less than a week. It announced earlier in the week it would offer desktop virtualization as a service from its own data centers using a Desktone system.

Unidesk addresses a stumbling block for some approaches to end user virtualization that give a user the same, plain vanilla workspace with perhaps a few personal settings each morning. Unidesk is saying if an employee's IT department allows it, the employee can evolve a custom application on a daily basis and each day open up the latest set of changes.

Unidesk was founded in 2008 in Marlborough, Mass., by a group of engineers previously behind the LiveVault data protection software for cloud-based data uses. Don Bulens, the entrepreneur who sold the EqualLogic storage company to Dell for $1.4 billion in 2007, became Unidesk CEO in June 2009. The company has filed for two patents on its desktop virtualization process. It is venture capital funded, and a second round in January 2010 produced $12 million from Matrix Partners and North Bridge Venture Partners.

From clouds to mobile to software development, threats may be everywhere, but they're not equally dangerous. The new, all-digital IT Strategic Security Survey issue of InformationWeek will help you prioritize. Also in this issue: IT must decide how to deal with consumer cloud storage being used in businesses. (Free registration required.)