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Citrix plans 'bare metal' desktop hypervisor

By , IDG News Service
January 21, 2009 12:20 AM ET

IDG News Service - Citrix Systems is working with Intel to develop a "bare metal" hypervisor for client PCs, which proponents say could broaden the use of desktop virtualization by overcoming some of the technology's shortcomings today.

Listen to a podcast about how desktop virtualization is key to reducing power consumption.

Citrix plans to deliver the hypervisor in the second half of the year with the first release of a new product code-named Project Independence, which Citrix says will make it easier to create and centrally manage virtual desktop images for PCs used in the workplace.

A bare metal hypervisor should improve on today's desktop virtualization by providing better security, because the hypervisor runs independently of the client OS, and better performance for end users, because it allows applications to run on the local client instead of a remote server, the companies said.

"What this product will do at a high level is address some of the core challenges and core barriers that have kept client virtualization solutions and usage models from being broadly adopted in the past," said Gregory Bryant, a vice president and general manager at Intel, during a conference call for press and analysts on Friday.

The hypervisor is the layer of software that manages interaction between a virtual machine and the underlying hardware. Most products for the client today are "Type 2" hypervisors, which are installed on a PC's host OS. Type 1 hypervisors are installed with the firmware beneath the OS, directly on the computer's "bare metal."

The new hypervisor should help Citrix keep pace with VMware, which announced its own Type 1 hypervisor at the VMworld conference last October. VMware's product is also due in the second half of this year, a spokeswoman said.

Virtualization has been widely adopted on servers but its use on desktops has been limited. Proponents say it can offer big savings for IT departments because it allows them to create and manage desktop images centrally, instead of on each client individually.

But today's products have drawbacks. In one model, used by XenDesktop and VMware View, desktop images are stored in virtual containers on a server and streamed to end users. That model can create performance issues for end users, since data is constantly shuttled back and forth over a network. It also doesn't allow users to work offline.

Another model, used by VMware ACE, installs the desktop image on a Type 2 hypervisor on the client OS. That provides better performance and the ability to work offline, but critics say security is weaker because it is dependent upon the security of the client OS.

"The Type 2 hypervisor provides no security to stop the host from snooping on what the virtual machine is doing. It can arbitrarily corrupt it and steal data from it," said Ian Pratt, founder of the open-source Xen project and a Citrix vice president. (Read a test of Xen-based hypervisors.)

Bare metal hypervisors aim to combine the best of both worlds. They will allow companies to install two separate desktop images side by side on a PC, meaning an employee could have one environment for work use and another for personal use, said Andi Mann, a research director with Enterprise Management Associates.

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