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Cisco, AppSense Partner On Virtualization

By combining desktop and user virtualization, AppSense and Cisco hope to make virtualizing desktop PCs more appealing.

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Virtualizing desktop PCs can theoretically bring the same benefits as virtualizing servers, but it's held back by the declining popularity of the desktop PC itself. Cisco and AppSense announced a partnership this week that they hope will make the technology more widely adopted, aiming to give users access to their data and application settings no matter what device they are using.

"You can be running a Windows 7 machine at the office, then you log in to the same virtualized desktop on your iPad," David Roussain, AppSense's vice president of strategic alliances, said in an interview. He said this is achieved by combining AppSense's User Virtualization with Cisco's Virtualization Experience Infrastructure (VXI), which itself consists of Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) hardware running desktop virtualization software--either Citrix XenDesktop or VMware View, though AppSense is talking up the Citrix option as it made the announcement at this week's Citrix's Synergy show in San Francisco.

Citrix and AppSense take different approaches to desktop virtualization that are sometimes seen as competitive, though the new partnership shows that they can also be complementary. Citrix's XenDesktop works in much the same way as server virtualization, consolidating desktop workloads on to a datacenter server that users access through a system similar to a thin client. This is why its partnership with Cisco in VXI made sense: The same infrastructure that hosts virtual servers can host virtual desktops, simplifying security and management. "The real story with Cisco UCS is that it allows you to scale to hundreds of thousands of virtual machines," said Roussain. "If you want thousands of desktops, you just plug in more servers and manage them all inside with the fabric inside the data center."

In contrast, AppSense User Virtualization only virtualizes a user's settings and applications, relying the user's local machine to provide computing power. This isn't as neat as just centralizing everything, but it's less demanding on network bandwidth and can allow users to work offline by caching data locally. It also needs to adapt to the constraints of different devices, meaning not everything will be available everywhere. "We support the native environment," said Roussain. "We don't try to make Win 7 apps available on a cell phone." The combination of AppSense User Virtualization and Cisco VXI stores users' data and application settings on a virtual server in the datacenter, transplanting them as needed to XenDesktop virtual desktops or to whatever physical device the user needs to access the network through.

It's an idea that should appeal to a lot of IT managers, fitting the enterprise cloud computing philosophy of centralizing and controlling data while allowing access from a wide variety of devices that may be located anywhere. However, some may question whether both the XenDesktop component and the AppSense component are needed, as much of the combination's manageability gains can be achieved by using either a desktop virtualization product alone or even through Web-based applications that eschew virtualization entirely.

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