An excellent platform for building an enterprise VDI solution, VMware View 5 takes advantage of all the features, services, and fault tolerance built into VMware's flagship vSphere hypervisor. View allows IT to manage pools of virtual desktops, assign them to users, and define policies for VDI behavior, all from a single browser-based UI. View supports connectivity from a wide variety of client devices, and its PCoIP remoting protocol, borrowed from Teradici, helps improve the user experience by reducing the latency between the server-hosted virtual machine and its user. As with the competing VDI heavyweight, Citrix XenDesktop, initial setup and configuration of VMware View can be daunting.
View is available in two editions, View Enterprise and View Premier, both of which include the core services needed to get a VDI deployment off the ground. Both editions bundle vSphere, vCenter, and View Manager. The View Premier package adds View Composer (image management), ThinApp (application virtualization), and Local Mode (VMware's offline VDI engine for mobile users). While both View Enterprise and View Premier can scale as large as your virtual infrastructure will allow, View Enterprise targets deployments of 100 VDI clients or less, while View Premier targets the larger deployments.
The test bed for my View 5 deployment was made up of vSphere 5 installed on a Fujitsu Primergy TX300 server, along with two Windows Server 2008 R2 64-bit virtual machines. I installed vCenter on one Windows Server VM and View Manager on the second. My guest operating systems were standard Windows XP and Windows 7 Professional. As with XenDesktop, I connected from inside and outside the network and had no trouble with any of the virtual desktops, including virtual desktops I had built on linked clones.
VMware View: Building blocks
Admins can think of VMware View in terms of three major components: the hypervisor, the connection broker (and management system), and the protocol. The vSphere hypervisor is the bedrock of any successful View installation, allowing virtual desktops to take advantage of its many fault tolerance and scalability features. Unlike Citrix XenDesktop, which supports third-party hypervisors, VMware View will run only on VMware's own.
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Comprising the connection broker and desktop management roles, View Manager is the heart and soul of the View deployment. View Manager itself is divided into four main components. The View Connection Server is the piece that manages user and device access to the virtual desktops. The View Agent, which is installed on all virtual desktops, handles session management and allows for single sign-on to the network. The View Client provides connectivity from remote devices, including PCs, Macs, iPads, thin clients, and (new in View 5) Android devices. Lastly, View Administrator is the tool for creating virtual desktops, assigning them to users, and defining access policies.
The third major component is View's proprietary connection protocol, PCoIP. Developed with partner Teradici, PCoIP is a UDP-based protocol designed to help reduce display latency. PCoIP provides a rich experience to the remote user, whether browsing the Web, streaming audio or video, or working in a graphics-intensive application.
VMware View: Supporting cast
While the basic building blocks are good to get started, the additional tools found in the View Premier bundle will make every deployment, large and small, more efficient and ultimately easier to scale and manage. View Composer provides admins with the tools to deploy linked clones, reducing VDI storage needs and enabling IT to update and patch fewer virtual disks. Using linked clones, IT only updates a single golden image instead of countless individual virtual disks.
Another technology that greatly extends View's appeal is VMware ThinApp. IT can virtualize applications using ThinApp so that they can be streamed to virtual desktops, instead of being installed on each guest operating system. Like Citrix XenApp or Microsoft App-V, ThinApp packages a Windows application so that it can be run by all users from shared storage. All that ends up on the virtual desktop is a shortcut to the virtualized application. Like linked clones, virtualized applications further reduce disk image storage because only one instance of the application is needed, not to mention a single instance to patch or upgrade.
The last technology bundled as part of the View Premier package is Local Mode. This bit of VDI tomfoolery lets users running View Client copy their virtual desktop to a PC or Mac and run it locally, even while disconnected from the main View server. The next time the user connects to the View installation, any changes made to the local instance are replicated back to the host server, and any changes on the server side are transferred to the client.
Local Mode makes sense for users who are not always able to connect to the View server, such as wandering sales agents, while letting IT retain central control over the desktop image. But with cellular "air cards" now available from most major cell providers, even laptop users at remote offices or construction sites could still log into the View server. If a managed offline system is what IT needs, other vendors such as Virtual Computing and MokaFive provide a platform just for that.
VMware's PCoIP connection protocol links the various endpoint devices into the VDI deployment, and like HDX, it includes a number of technologies that improves the end-user experience. New to View 5 is PCoIP support for Windows 7 Aero and applications that require OpenGL or DirectX without the need of specialized graphics cards. PCoIP can now also provide WMI connectivity to Windows-based clients, allowing IT to monitor and troubleshoot devices remotely. One feature that remote users will appreciate is PCoIP's continuity services, which automatically reestablish user sessions in the event of a momentary connection problem. A new optimization policy also allows IT to tailor bandwidth usage based on user, use case, or network needs.
This article, "VDI shoot-out: VMware View 5," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in virtualization at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.