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Citrix to offer Intel-friendly client hypervisor

Citrix has developed a version of its Xen hypervisor for Intel desktop and laptop chips, but chances are that VMware will do so as well.

Citrix Systems Inc. will bring its forthcoming client hypervisor to Intel's desktop and laptop processors. Both companies say the move will give IT departments better control of desktops without the downsides of alternate desktop virtualization models such as virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).Compared with VDI, a client hypervisor "delivers the control, security and manageability that an IT person wants, but the end user doesn't have to make compromises like they had to make in the past" in performance and mobility, said Gregory Bryant, the vice president and general manager of Intel Corp.'s Digital Office Platform Division.

The distinction between the client hypervisor and VDI is kind of arbitrary and will blur over time.

Jerry Chen,
VMware's senior director of enterprise desktop virtualization

Putting a client hypervisor on a desktop or laptop enables end users to run one or many virtual machines that are centrally managed and updated. But because the virtual machines execute locally, they take advantage of local processing power and do not require network connectivity to run, said Bryant. "We've been waiting to find that recipe for a while now."

Citrix client hypervisor promises advantages over VDI 
In contrast, the legacy of Citrix's XenApp (or Presentation Server) and XenDesktop, as well as VMware's VDI, run applications or virtual machines on the server, which are then displayed to an end-user device over the network using remote display protocols like Remote Desk Protocol or Citrix ICA. The limitations of the approach include mediocre graphics performance and the need to be connected to a corporate network.

Under the new agreement, the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based Citrix will take its Type 1 hypervisor based on Xen and optimize it for the vPro technology on Intel's Core 2 Duo and Centrino chips, said Ian Pratt, Citrix's vice president of advanced products and the chairman of vPro includes Intel Virtual Technology (VT) for improved virtualization performance, and the Trusted Execution Technology (TXT), for enhanced security.

When Citrix ships its client hypervisor in the second half of this calendar year, it will run on Intel vPro chips on the market since 2007, Bryant said. Intel's OEM partners -- including Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Dell, the last of which will certify the Citrix hypervisor on its systems-- use these chips widely.

The collaboration between Intel and Citrix is not exclusive, said Bryant, so Intel can work with other companies developing client hypervisors. Those companies include startups like Virtual Computer Inc., in Westford, Mass, and VMware Inc., which has also pledged to deliver a client hypervisor for "offline VDI" in the second half of this year.

VMware has not made specific announcements with chip manufacturers about its client hypervisor, but it has a "long history of virtualizing the CPU and working with those companies," said Jerry Chen, VMware's senior director of enterprise desktop virtualization.

But the idea of a client hypervisor doesn't appeal to all users. Take Kane Edupuganti, the director of technology and communications at Saint Vincent's Catholic Medical Centers in New York City. The hospital has pushing out VMware VDI using "zero footprint" thin clients from Pano Logic to more than 6,500 end users, which will enable the desktop group to manage all the devices from their desks. "Our goal is to take away [PC management] tasks from the desktop group. We don't want them to have to run around, doing things like swapping memory, swapping motherboards," said Edupuganti. "We haven't explored the idea of putting a [hypervisor] kernel on the devices, because you'd still need a regular PC."

In the end, desktop virtualization will probably take many forms: server-based VDI as well as offline virtualization using a client hypervisor, Chen said. "The distinction between the client hypervisor and VDI is kind of arbitrary and will blur over time." Ultimately, he said, "you'll probably use both."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director.

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