VMware aims to displace Windows with cloud-based desktop apps

VMware's Project Horizon targets cloud-based desktop apps on any device

VMware is developing a new hosted service that will allow delivery of cloud-based desktop applications to any sort of user device.

VMware is developing a new hosted service with the code name "Project Horizon" that will allow delivery of cloud-based desktop applications to any sort of user device, and perhaps further its goal of diminishing the importance of Microsoft's Windows operating system.

The subscription service, previewed at VMworld this week, will help deliver the right applications and data to users, whether they have an iPad, Android phone, Windows machine or a Mac, according to VMware. Partners will be involved in Project Horizon, presumably to deliver the end-user applications.

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Details on Project Horizon are scarce, but the key seems to be a security model that extends on-premise directory services to public cloud networks, giving each user a "cloud identity," as VMware puts it.

Project Horizon may also play a role in VMware's long-term project to diminish the importance of the operating system, particularly the Windows operating system sold by Microsoft, its greatest rival. (See also: VMware says Windows still matters … sort of)

Project Horizon -- to be available as a hosted, subscription service sometime in 2011 -- will create a "permissions and control structure that worries less about the operating system" than current technologies do, says Noah Wasmer, a director of product management for VMware.

"The role of the operating system is getting diminished every day on the server side," and a similar shift is beginning to happen on the desktop, claims Vittorio Viarengo, vice president of desktop marketing for VMware. For users, "Windows is becoming the offline mode" as they increasingly use applications hosted entirely over the Web, he says.

Microsoft, of course, presents a different argument. Virtualization, particularly on the server side, is just a feature of the operating system, rather than a replacement of the OS, in Microsoft's view. Even on the PC, Microsoft provides virtual desktop technology within the Windows desktop operating system.

To state the obvious, operating systems and virtualization technologies have co-existed for decades, for example on IBM's mainframe, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

But VMware's attempts to move from being a company that simply virtualizes operating systems to one that provides the broader operating frameworks for data centers and desktops is interesting, nonetheless.

Horizon "securely extends enterprise identities into the cloud and provides new methods for provisioning and managing applications and data based on the user, not the device or underlying operating system," VMware says.

Project Horizon aims to provide access to various types of applications including software-as-a-service, legacy applications and mobile apps. One example mentioned by Wasmer is a calendar and contacts application. But VMware is trying to build up interest in the project without getting too specific about it. Wasmer mentioned the phrase "cloud-based desktop," but whether Project Horizon will be robust enough to replace existing desktops remains to be seen.

"We'll deliver whatever applications users need to be productive, on whatever operating system they happen to be using," Wasmer says.

A more immediate example of VMware's attempts to displace the operating system, at least the server operating system, is "vCloud Director," a private cloud building tool that was formerly known as Project Redwood. VMware has announced that vCloud Director will become available Sept. 1, and will essentially extend the resource pooling capabilities in the vendor's vSphere virtualization platform.

VMware says this allows IT to create "logical pools of compute, networking and storage resources with defined management policies, SLAs and pricing," and offer computing services to users in a fully automated self-service system.

VCloud Director takes the basic unit of consumption -- the virtual machine -- and turns it into a "virtual data center," while giving users a catalog of services that can be deployed within a virtual data center, says Bogomil Balkansky, VMware's vice president of product marketing.

VCloud Director will be available in packs of 25 virtual machines for prices starting at $3,750.

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