Unidesk 1.0 extends VMware View and Citrix XenDesktop

Interview: Chief Solutions Architect Ron Oglesby explains Unidesk's layering technology and how it helps with desktop virtualization adoption

Today Unidesk announced the general availability of Unidesk 1.0, the company's latest desktop virtualization management platform. The new solution leverages best-of-breed VMware vSphere virtualization technology and extends virtual desktop solutions such as VMware View and Citrix XenDesktop.

Unidesk 1.0 offers what the company calls "100% Personalization," which is said to help drive end-user acceptance of virtual desktops by sustaining user customizations. These customizations include user-installed applications, profile customizations, and documents. It also provides single image management, creating and updating many desktops from single images of Microsoft Windows and applications. And it provides storage savings for IT organizations by shrinking the amount of storage needed to implement a desktop virtualization solution by preventing duplicate copies of Microsoft Windows and IT-managed applications from being stored.

[ Also on InfoWorld: AppSense provides user virtualization solutions to help with desktop virtualization adoption, and Trend Micro offers a new VDI-optimized security solution. ]

With Unidesk 1.0, the company also announced its Unidesk Composite Virtualization technology -- the company's patent-pending layering technology used to ensure desktop virtual desktop success.

To gain a better understanding as to what Unidesk is doing, and to find out more about their layering technology, I went directly to the source and spoke with Ron Oglesby, chief solution architect at Unidesk.

InfoWorld: For folks who haven't yet heard about Unidesk 1.0, how would you describe it?

Unidesk: Unidesk is true desktop layering done at the file system level. The idea is to provide virtual desktop management by essentially slicing a desktop C: Drive into numerous layers that IT can manage and version as single instances. While we do this we still allow the users to retain full control of the desktop up to and including user-installed applications. So the user gets a full desktop experience, but IT has a desktop they can manage as if it was a single image.

InfoWorld: How is this layering technology different from the other "layers" we hear about from other vendors? What makes your solution unique?

Unidesk: The simple answer is the level at which we do our layering. Most often the term "layer" is used to describe managing portions of a desktop, for example: the OS layer, the application layer, the user work space layer. But really, each of these is managed with agents or software running in Windows that pushes changes to the C: Drive, or tries to scrape user settings from the drive in order to move them to a "new" drive later on. In our case, we work below Windows instead of trying to change it. Our layers are not dependent on something running in Windows, or the administrator being aware of changes users are making. We build our layers at the file system level, which allows us to capture and manage any change in the environment throughout the desktop's lifecycle.

InfoWorld: In your opinion, what are some of the things that have been holding back wider adoption of VDI? And how can your technology help address these challenges and extend its benefits?

Unidesk: A couple of key items are user acceptance and cost of the solutions. The promise of VDI was that the users would get their own desktop, while IT could centralize and manage it. The trade-off, though, is that to get to single image management the user really doesn't get to retain things like user-installed applications. We address this directly and allow users the full desktop experience, while still allowing IT to have a true single image to manage. On the cost side, organizations need at least a break-even for a VDI instance that will perform at a desktop level. Our technology helps reduce the storage cost (which is the biggest line item in any VDI deployment) and reduces the storage footprint, which allows you to put the VDI systems on higher performing disk susbsytems.

InfoWorld: Is there one type of vertical or one type of customer more than any other that seems to be searching out this type of technology? And if so, why is that?

Unidesk: Initially, we are seeing a lot of users in the higher education market. This is interesting because the staff in these organizations deal with constant change and churn and have the demand to support tons of user-customized applications and desktops. Any environment that must support the user's ability to customize their desktop sees a huge benefit from Unidesk because we don't try to "work around" this requirement but instead embrace it. Our desktops are meant for customization.

InfoWorld: If Unidesk does single image management and personalization, what do customers need VMware or Citrix for?

Unidesk: Unidesk is not a "brokering" company. We don't provide a remote protocol, we have no brokering solution, we do not manage connectivity policies or provide SSL type access to desktops. On top of that, we don't build a hypervisor. We depend on the Citrix's and VMware's and even other partners to provide access to these desktops to make them fully useful. We just want to manage the C: drive. Most Citrix and VMware customers we speak with think our solution is a great side-by-side. They get to have a solid protocol and good user experience when remoting into a desktop, but also have extremely granular control of the desktop and its updates with our technology.

InfoWorld: And what, if anything, does Unidesk offer in response to the disk I/O issue being talked about?

Unidesk: Unidesk reduces the storage footprint (space used in GB) that will be used by the desktops. This allows IT architects to place the IO on the appropriate disk sub system at a much lower cost. As an example, moving 100 VDI desktops at 30GB each to SSD disks would require about 3TB of storage for persistent desktops. In our solution, you will more than likely be able to accomplish this with 600GB of writable disk. SSD instantly becomes more affordable and the risk of an IO performance bottleneck becomes mitigated.

InfoWorld: This market is still relatively new and maturing. What do you think it will look like over the next five years?

Unidesk: I think VDI will begin to become the neighbor to Terminal Services solution. It will be used for specific use cases and instances where the desktop is OK being centralized and only available when the user/consumer has a network connection. But at the same time, client-side desktop virtualization will continue to mature and our technology will filter into that space. I mean, it's almost OK to tell your users that they can't install applications on a desktop in the datacenter. They might not like it, but you can make a case for that and may win it. But try telling someone you have moved their laptop image from a local install of Windows to a local VM for easier management and explain they are not allowed to install (or keep) any user-installed applications. That will not fly. Unidesk will fully support the idea of locally installed apps on the VM sitting in a laptop environment while still providing the single image management capabilities we provide in the VDI environment.

I'd like to thank Ron Oglesby for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak with me.

This article, "Unidesk 1.0 extends VMware View and Citrix XenDesktop," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of David Marshall's Virtualization Report blog and follow the latest developments in virtualization at InfoWorld.com.

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