At Citrix Synergy last week Citrix talked up their client hypervisor and even released XenClient for you to test. Rumour has it that the next version of VMware View missed a ship date to wait for VMware’s client hypervisor (I have no inside knowledge and am making up rumours as I go). Of course Virtual Computer’s nxTop has been a shipping client hypervisor for months. Client virtualisation is the new desktop virtualisation. It’s being talked of as a great class of product with a big future, but it’s done wrong.
A lot of people seem to think that a client Hypervisor enables employee owned IT, or Bring Your Own Computer (BYOC). Employees are given an allowance to buy the PC they want to use and IT will deliver the desktop they need for work onto that computer. These people miss the critical part. When I’m a user who brings my own computer to use at work I don’t want to have to re-install my own OS. I don’t want IT to remove my installed OS and give it back to me in a VM. I want the OS that my PC vendor designed to work with my shiny new toy, I want all the bells and the whistles, even the flashing lights are important. This means that I don’t want a bare metal Hypervisor with limited hardware and feature support.
I want IT to provide me a package that is their desktop, this means I want a hosted hypervisor. I want that package to have a light footprint on my computer and to be easily removable. I want my OS of choice to own the hardware and the corporate machine to live inside my OS. Personally I’ve been looking for a way to put that package on a USB key I can use anywhere for three years and am still a long way away.
The client hypervisor in it’s current form is for an IT owned asset that runs an IT owned desktop. It might also let me run my own OS but that’s a secondary use case. The client hypervisor is installed before any OS, mine or IT’s. Next IT installs the corporate OS. If I’m very lucky I might be able to run my own OS. If I’m super lucky I might be able to run my OS at the same time as the corporate OS (XenClient can, but IT might not let me).
So when will users want a client hypervisor? When they don’t need to know it’s there. If the hypervisor is an invisible layer under the OS they bought and IT can use a standardised way to deploy their corporate VM to the employee’s PC without affecting the installed OS. This hypervisor needs to be as invisible as the BIOS on their laptop and it probably needs to be more hardware specific than the BIOS, it needs to know the Video card and the sound card so it can virtualise these for my OS and for the corporate OS.
The problem I see is that there needs to be a standardised, vendor neutral, way to build a corporate VM that runs on this hypervisor but the actual hypervisor needs to be hardware specific, but which hypervisor to choose? If Apple make their own Xen KVM and Dell choose VMware and HP choose XenClient what then?
Call me cynical (or old fashioned) but I don’t see a future where client VMs can run unmodified on multiple client hypervisors. I don’t see a future where hardware vendors will have builds of multiple client hypervisors for each of their hardware platforms. So I don’t see a future where client hypervisors work.
Again in the future I see hosted hypervisors running corporate VMs inside employee owned operating systems on employee owned hardware. I wish it weren’t so, but I can’t see commercial reality leading anywhere else.
Keep in mind that a key lesson from the success of iPhone and iPad is that IT must work for consumers (idiots with credit cards), not for IT (us Geeks who know better).
© 2010, Alastair. All rights reserved.