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Citrix unveils bare-metal desktop hypervisor, ahead of VMware

XenClient creates wall of separation between personal and corporate desktops

By , Network World
May 12, 2010 01:52 PM ET

Network World - Citrix is unveiling its bare-metal desktop hypervisor, known as XenClient, with a test version being released for download this week and general availability expected within a few months.

Client hypervisors allow desktops to run in a virtual machine installed directly on a user's laptop, rather than in a server inside the data center. The approach allows centralized management of desktops, while potentially giving users better performance than VDI technologies that require applications to run on remote servers.

FAQ: Desktop virtualization

Citrix and VMware were both planning to ship bare-metal desktop hypervisors last year, but have suffered delays attributed to the process of developing drivers needed by PC users and persuading PC vendors to support the hypervisors.

But Citrix's release of XenClient signals that the client hypervisor technology is almost ready for enterprise use. XenClient will be ideal for bring-your-own PC scenarios, for companies that want to put more than one desktop image on a laptop, and users who need separation between their personal and corporate desktops, according to Citrix.

For now, Citrix is issuing XenClient as a release candidate and an express kit allowing IT pros to test it out, and connect virtual PCs to existing XenDesktop deployments. Citrix has tested XenClient with partners Intel, HP and Dell, but haven't yet tested the hypervisor with all types of use cases, says Wes Wasson, Citrix's chief marketing officer.

General availability should occur "shortly," within a few months, and will be shipped pre-installed on hardware by major desktop vendors, he said.

Releasing XenClient puts Citrix ahead of VMware in the client hypervisor race, but this is still a maturing technology that probably won't attain wide adoption until 2011 or 2012, says Burton Group analyst Chris Wolf.

IT security pros are wary of bringing employee's personal computers onto the corporate network, and Citrix still has some convincing to do despite promises of greater isolation between personal and corporate applications on XenClient, he says.
"For an initial 1.0 product it has the minimal set of features you would expect in a client hypervisor, in terms of isolation," Wolf says.

Building a client hypervisor is more complicated than creating server-based technology because of issues with audio, USB devices, webcams, wireless networking and Bluetooth, Citrix explains in a video about XenClient. 

But there are numerous advantages. Users can switch back and forth between personal and corporate desktops simply by hitting a hotkey, and yet the personal and business desktops are completely separate from a security perspective, at least according to Citrix.

With a personal desktop on a company machine, Citrix says users have a safer way of installing personal applications without compromising their company's network. IT can set policies preventing users from copying and pasting data between corporate and personal environments, or preventing one desktop image from accessing certain networks. All business apps and data can be synced to the corporate network, so the employee's desktop can be recovered even if the physical machine is lost.

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