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VDI manageability with local execution – right here, right now with VMware Mirage

Windows has been around for more than 25 years. So why is it still such a challenge for IT to deliver Windows images to end users, update app and system versions, and keep everything compliant and protected?

I believe there are several reasons:

  • Mobility changed the game – Laptops have empowered users to be more mobile and more productive outside the office, which means IT can’t push updates to those machines using traditional client/server tools built in the 1990s with the LAN in mind. When I’m working at home or at Starbucks without a VPN connection, IT can’t push a software update to my machine.
  • Hardware failures – another by-product of smaller form factors and increased mobility. When the Windows machine was a tower computer that stayed at my office desk, there was far less risk of damage, spilled coffee on the motherboard, and drive-killing drops.
  • Lost devices – thousands of laptops per year are lost or stolen in airports, taxis and conferences, leading to an increased need for device replacement.
  • App Compatibility continues to vex IT because of the inherent complexity and inter-connectedness of Windows. Apps written for Windows have more dependencies and shared code than any other platform.
  • The patch treadmill – Malware continues to evolve unabated. IT is responsible for keeping desktop images in compliance and up to date with the latest patches for app/OS bugs as well as security vulnerabilities.

As a result, companies spend $3 in OPEX for every $1 of CAPEX on end user hardware (according to IDC). With IT budgets flat and pressure to do more with less, it is incumbent upon every IT organization to reduce the cost of desktop management.

Is VDI the only answer?

Server-hosted desktop virtualization (VDI) unquestionably enables more efficient desktop management. It lets IT manage a single copy of Windows and applications centrally instead of managing thousands of individual PC images, while allowing users to connect to their virtual desktop from anywhere. The total cost of ownership per desktop decreases, thanks to single image management, lower endpoint requirements and reduced impact of lost/stolen devices.

But there are some non-trivial trade-offs to consider when considering VDI:

  • Infrastructure investment to get started is high, since desktop workloads move from end user devices to the data center, bringing all their compute and storage requirements with them.
  • Additional licensing costs enter the equation. For each device that is not already a Windows endpoint covered by Microsoft Software Assurance, you will need the Windows Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) license that runs $100/year per device.
  • VDI environments require specialized skills to troubleshoot. Environmental factors in the data center like network or storage issues directly impact the user experience.
  • Users must have a network connection to work with their server-hosted virtual desktop. While connected, network latency in the UI frustrates users who are accustomed to the immediacy of a local operating system.
  • Non-technical users get “VDI whiplash” switching between their physical access device (typically also a Windows desktop) and the VDI session.

Server-hosted virtual desktops shine in some use cases, and in others the trade-offs are too substantial. Embracing VDI can be a complex, multi-faceted decision that requires significant time and money investments to get right. Wherever you have users that aren’t a good fit for VDI or an inability to invest the resources to do VDI right, you continue to struggle with the status quo of desktop management.

Mirage offers an alternative: VDI manageability, local execution.

At VMworld 2012 in San Francisco VMware introduced Mirage – a comprehensive desktop management solution recently acquired from Wanova. Mirage is similar to VDI in many ways: it allows IT to use centralized desktop images, enables layered, single-image management and greater IT efficiency than traditional desktop management tools. Mirage combines a compelling set of technologies that deliver the same management benefits of VDI, while allowing users to run Windows locally on their existing hardware.

The idea behind Mirage is elegantly simple: Create a logical copy of the user’s hard drive in the data center, and treat it as the primary copy of the user’s disk. Then keep this in sync with the user’s endpoint, which is now considered to be a disposable execution container for the data-center image. Add layering technology that enables seamless migration of the user’s desktop across different OS versions and hardware types, plus some amazingly efficient storage and network de-duplication, and you have Mirage, a new way to look at desktop management.

The benefits of this approach include:

  • Layered, single image management – IT can enforce a base layer of OS updates and core applications across all desktops; user installed apps and user data are maintained separately and are not disrupted when IT delivers a new base layer.
  • In-place Windows migration – IT can enforce a new version of Windows as a Mirage layer, making Windows XP to Windows 7 migrations less disruptive to end users.
  • Persistent personalization – User data and settings are maintained even as the user migrates to newer hardware, physical to virtual or XP win Windows 7.
  • Total desktop protection – All user files, including system files, are maintained in regular snapshots. Users can restore lost or deleted files from past snapshots, and IT can assign the user’s image to a new physical or virtual desktop at any time.
  • Streamlined helpdesk – Why troubleshoot an application issue if you can simply revert back to a point in time when everything was working? Mirage allows you to revert the whole desktop, or revert just the system layer without impacting user data. For hands-on troubleshooting of a computer that’s in a remote location, IT can temporarily assign a user device to a virtual machine, fix the issue within the VM, then re-assign the image back to the user’s PC.
  • Native PC performance – the way users interact with their computer does not change, and working offline is no problem. No hypervisor on the endpoint is required (but Mirage is of course hypervisor friendly).

Best of all, since Mirage manages Windows natively, its benefits can apply uniformly to all variants of Windows desktops in the enterprise: bare-metal physical, server-hosted virtual, and client-hosted virtual, including Type-1 or Type-2 client hypervisors.

So whatever mix of those desktop types is right for your organization, Mirage can serve as a single point of management for them all. Simple, consolidated desktop management is more important than ever, and will enable you to free up resources needed to prepare for the next 25 years.

VMware Mirage is available now. For more details, including how to get a free trial, continue to:


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