Free Citrix client virtualization is coming for the PC and Mac?

Project Independence, co-developed by Citrix and Intel, is now called XenClient. Best of all, the technology is going to be free

During Citrix Synergy 2009, the company announced Citrix XenClient, the technology many of us remember as "Project Independence" developed in collaboration with Intel. For end-users, perhaps the most interesting thing to note during its announcement was the price tag: free. Much like the company's server virtualization hypervisor technology, XenServer, this newly dubbed client technology will also be given away for free. And after seeding the market, Citrix should be able to make money with add-ons and management applications. Or at least, that seems to be the claim to fame at this moment. Makes sense to me.

[ Find out more about Virtual Computer and Citrix | Read more about the Citrix and Intel client hypervisor collaboration or listen to a podcast discussion on Project Independence ]

So what exactly is it, other than client-side technology? Citrix XenClient, as you may have guessed from the name, is a Type-1 native hypervisor that operates on top of a client device such as a desktop or notebook PC -- it is a virtualization hypervisor that operates on bare metal. With it, you can then host one or more guest operating systems. This is akin to the server virtualization technology that you have become all too familiar with such as VMware ESX, Microsoft Hyper-V, or Xen. The technology promises to offer faster and more secure virtualization environments than today's offerings.

So don't confuse this technology with the Type-2 or hosted hypervisor technology that has become quite popular on current client machines. Examples of this technology are VMware Workstation, VMware Fusion, Microsoft Virtual PC, Parallels Workstation, or Sun's VirtualBox. These virtualization platforms install on top of a hosted operating system, like Windows, Linux, or Mac OS X. And they typically suffer from a performance penalty due to the added layer of abstraction and the underlying host OS.

With XenClient, Citrix has decided to take what could be argued as the more difficult path of client virtualization, or at least the road less travelled. However, it isn'tt the only company going after this space. As the current virtualization giant in the industry, VMware made a similar announcement to XenClient during its own trade show, VMworld Europe, back in February. VMware and Intel announced their own collaboration as they work toward another client hypervisor. There are also startup companies in this space, such as Neocleus and Virtual Computer, both of which have produced their own Type-1 client hypervisors.

Citrix stated in the keynote address that it should have the first working version of XenClient sometime in the second half of the year, probably closer to the end of 2009 if anything. But something that really got the Citrix Synergy audience jazzed during the demonstration was XenClient running on Apple Mac hardware. Ian Pratt showed off this early prototype, showcasing what looked like VMware Fusion Unity or Parallels Coherence technology seamlessly running Windows applications in a Mac OS X environment. The only question I have here is how does this play out with Apple's EULA? It's running on Apple hardware, so we'll have to see.

Citrix is a major player in the IT market, and if it has its way, all x86-based machines (both servers and clients) will operate with a virtualization abstraction layer. Where does Citrix see XenClient, and what is its vision for desktop computing?

XenClient is a strategic product initiative with partners like Intel, focused on local virtual desktops. We are working together to deliver on our combined vision for the future of desktop computing.

This new virtualization solution will extend the benefits of hosted desktop virtualization to millions of mobile workers with the introduction of a new client-side bare metal hypervisor that runs directly on each end user’s laptop or PC. This together with an innovative backend desktop management solution for creating, delivering, and updating corporate desktop computing environments will transform the way corporate desktops are delivered and managed, giving IT all the security, simplicity and cost savings of centralized management, with an unprecedented level of performance, personalization and freedom for end users.

Me? I'm still running an older Pentium desktop at home. Perhaps XenClient will give me yet another reason to finally upgrade my hardware. What about you?

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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