The Year of the Desktop


We’ve heard for the past few years that, “This will be the year of VDI”, but virtual desktops just haven’t taken off as we thought they would. The problem was VMware was trying to push everyone to VMware View, and sometimes it just doesn’t fit - the truth is that a virtual desktop fits into less than half of all End User Computing models. Now, with the release of the Horizon Suite, VMware can finally address a larger piece of the End User Computing business.

Project Horizon has been in the works for over three years. VMware started to make a push for VMware View as a full desktop experience, but the desktop is only half of the puzzle. End users also needed applications delivered, regardless of the platform - as soon as the end user had a mobile device or could get to a web browser they wanted access to all of their internal company apps. It began with a VMware ThinApp package and publishing it to an application portal for users to access, much like Citrix has today. This is part of the Horizon Suite of products called Horizon Workspace.

A few thoughts on Horizon Workspace: it is the first solid version of the VMware’s application catalog. VMware has been using this product, previously known as Horizon Application Manager, for some time. This product has a number of components to deploy in your environment: there are five back-end servers, a web client, and a number of OS-specific clients. This version also supports RSA for two-factor authentication. Although it is an application delivery portal, and has very similar feature and functionality to Citrix and those products, the delivery method is not the exact same. Horizon Workspace has web applications and ThinApps, but there is no streaming of a windowed application that is running local to the server like ICA apps. This is just something to keep in mind when comparing the two products.

You may be asking, “Well, it’s nice to deliver applications, but what if I want a full and rich desktop experience?” When you combine Horizon Workspace with Horizon View 5.3 you can! There are actually two ways to deliver a full desktop: first, by publishing the Horizon View client to allow the end user to connect directly through the same client they might have been used to before, or second, by using the new HTML-based client to access a desktop in a browser. This experience is similar to that of GoToMyPC or LogMeIn web-based access methods, but with a VDI session instead. There are some limitations of the browser-based session over the PC- or Mac-based client (e.g. USB, PCoIP, audio, unified communications, and shared and dedicated 3D graphics support). I was actually very impressed with the smooth graphics performance of 3D design applications, such as SolidWorks 2013, when I implemented Horizon View for a local manufacturing and engineering firm.

Speaking of Horizon View 5.3, there are a lot of new enhancements and features available in this release. I don’t want to skip all the good stuff, so check out this vBrownBag session I presented for a deeper dive into the Horizon Suite:

The biggest announcement of the Horizon Suite was the introduction of Horizon Mirage. This is the product originally brought over from the Wanova acquisition, but it has really come a long way and is fully integrated into the VMware End User Computing product suite. Horizon Mirage 4.3 is the other piece of the desktop; it is designed for the physical world, but is built with remote office and remote users in mind. It addresses what I believe to be the rest of what VDI cannot touch. In fact, now in Horizon Mirage 4.3 you can manage Horizon View full and linked clone desktops.

Horizon Mirage 4.3 is a backup, management, and migration tool for desktops. It has a few concepts that break a desktop or image into multiple layers.

There are some considerations when applying this model to your current image or desktop management software. Most importantly, I want to point out that the Application Layer needs to be captured, just like ThinApps. There are other application deployment methods available that companies might already have in place, such as the ability to apply any application to the base layer or deploy independently using a tool like SCCM. Every situation has some unique characteristics; getting some help to design it might be in your best interest.

Horizon Mirage takes managing desktops to the next level, but remember - it’s not a bare metal image deployment tool. For that you would need Acronis, Microsoft SCCM, Symantec Ghost, or some other kid of PXE boot image deployment tool. It relies on the Windows-based Mirage client or Mac running Fusion Pro to manage backup and migration tasks of the current OS into the Centralized Virtual Desktop (CVD). So what does it do so well that something like SCCM doesn’t? Windows 7 migrations are wizard based and actually easy to follow. Backup of an image is fast and consumes less bandwidth than traditional backup tools especially over a WAN. Deployment of a new image is seamless and can be done in the background while a user performs their job. At the end of the day they can be prompted to reboot to install the new image. Management of the desktop doesn’t require poking huge holes in firewalls or using always on VPN connections. One of my favorite features is the flexibility of the client license; you can install the client on ANY machine but only license the ones you want to manage.

Lastly, I want to go over the Mirage components and describe how they fit into the rest of the end user computing model. Mirage really has only 4 basic backend components. First is the Mirage Management Server, which has a MMC console for remote or local access. Second, the Mirage Server which is usually part of a clustered deployment and behind a load balancer for large scale out deployments. Third is the Branch Reflector which is used for remote office deployments to deduplicate data before sending across a WAN link. Lastly, there is also a file portal with allows end users to access files from their CVD from any web browser.

Finally I want to make a few predictions. I currently have no knowledge of the roadmaps for Horizon Suite or integration paths for Horizon Mirage but I will predict that some of these tools and management consoles will start to feed together. I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually you could take a CVD or a View Image and cross deploy it to either a View Pool or a group of physical desktops. I also would not be surprise if VMware provides a zero touch bare metal deployment method into a Mirage CVD.

If you have questions about Horizon or how VMware can help your Desktop Support staff, feel free to engage us. We want to help make this the “Year of the Desktop” – and this time, we really mean it!

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