In September 2008, a new company launched out of stealth mode, bringing with it patent-pending technology and a new client-side, bare-metal virtualization technology. The company is called Virtual Computer, and it recently announced a 2.0 version of its NxTop solution. After 12 months of development and receiving a lot of feedback from its users, NxTop 2.0 provides what the company calls, "a mature platform for organizations evaluating or implementing their next generation desktop initiative."
While server virtualization still receives the lion's share of the conversations taking place in the market, desktop virtualization is slowly becoming more and more popular. IT organizations are hoping to capitalize on similar cost and time-saving benefits at the corporate desktop as they have with their server farms. There is also a growing trend toward letting users buy and bring their own PCs to work. The idea of allowing two machines (a corporate image and a personal image) run side by side, isolated from one another, on the same base hardware is becoming quite popular with users and IT administrators.
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Virtual Computer is addressing this next-generation desktop offering, and it is focused on providing a sophisticated management and deployment system. To do that, its architecture separates the four main components of a PC: the hardware, operating system, end-user data, and the applications. Its NxTop solution consists of two components: NxTop Center, a Web-based management console to manage all aspects of NxTop, and the NxTop Engine, a bare-metal, client-side hypervisor and remote management layer that creates a stateless environment for laptops and desktops.
A bare-metal hypervisor, also called a native or Type 1 hypervisor, runs directly on top of the system hardware rather than on top of a host operating system. This allows one or more guest operating systems to work on another level above the hypervisor as virtual machines. One of the advantages of a bare-metal desktop hypervisor is that it tends to provide improved performance because the system is running locally, rather than over a network like some other VDI offerings.
But client-side bare-metal hypervisors aren't that popular right now, and by "popular," I don't mean with the user population. Instead, creating a bare-metal client might just be a difficult task. Virtualization leaders like VMware and Citrix have been promising bare-metal hypervisors on the client for well over a year now. Citrix announced the Citrix XenClient (code-named Project Independence) at the beginning of 2009, and VMware first announced VMware Client Virtualization Platform (CVP) in September 2008. Neither company has released its client hypervisor as of yet. Perhaps it is proving more difficult than originally expected.
According to Doug Lane, senior director of product management and marketing at Virtual Computer, getting a bare-metal hypervisor to install on a PC and execute one or more virtual machines isn't what's difficult. What is difficult, according to Lane, is moving from there to a point where you can do the following:
- Use a client hypervisor to deliver the type of game-changing management capabilities that provide a compelling reason to move to desktop virtualization
- Give end-users reasons to embrace desktop virtualization rather than view it as something that provides benefits to IT at the expense of user experience and mobility
- Create a deployment model that is dead simple and has no dependency on other legacy products and consoles
- Give IT teams the comfort that you have an end-to-end system with enterprise-class maturity, stability, and scalability
- Have it run on enough PC platforms to matter
Lane says that Virtual Computer is the only company that has accomplished this. To that end, the company announced its new management and security features found in NxTop 2.0. These new features are designed to increase desktop IT productivity and include:
- Deployment of NxTop Center as a virtual appliance. This enables NxTop Center to operate in high-availability mode using Microsoft Hyper-V's automated failover and load-balancing features.
- Staged virtual machine updates. IT can patch a single shared image and deliver the patch to one or more users or groups for testing before a major rollout. Once tested, the patch can easily be delivered to all users.
- Multilanguage support. To aid in international rollouts, NxTop 2.0 provides the ability to create virtual machines in a dozen of popular languages including Spanish, French, German, and Japanese.
- Automated profile migration. NxTop 2.0 simplifies the process of upgrading and migrating to Windows 7 with a new tool that can automatically migrate users from their current XP environment to a new virtualized environment based on XP, Windows 7, or both.
- Hardware Compatibility Checker. Many of the Intel-based laptops shipped in the last two to three years have shipped without Virtualization Technology (VT), a requirement for NxTop Engine. To help IT administrators quickly find compatible machines, NxTop 2.0 provides a tool that can analyze a user's PC and verify that it will run NxTop Engine, taking the guesswork and manual steps needed out of the equation.
A free evaluation download of the full NxTop 2.0 software suite is available as well as a cloud-based live demonstration system. And pricing is on a per-PC perpetual licensing model.
This article, "Virtual Computer addresses desktop virtualization with NxTop 2.0," 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.