The rise of the client hypervisor

Last month the client hypervisor gets more and more in the spotlight. This is good news, because it is time for some innovation. What options do we have today when talking about client hypervisors?


Most of us are already familiar with the type 2 client hypervisor, running an additional (virtual) client on top of your operating system. Think about VMware Player or Microsoft Virtual PC. While this is a good solution for IT Pros, it has some management challenges. Microsoft pushes its type 2 client hypervisor via MED-V for application compatibility issues when migrating to Windows 7. For now this might be a good solution, assuming you are using it on a small scale base and with the intention to use it temporary, but on the long term the type 2 client hypervisor will not bring us the ultimate IT experience. What I mean is that the ultimate IT experience needs to deliver the whole package, it’s said before but there are no one-size-fits-all products. We need different flavors to fill in the different use cases. The gap between a traditional PC and the type 2 client hypervisor at the moment is about offline and manageability.

We need a type 1 client hypervisor. Why? With a type 1 client hypervisor it is possible to run a virtual machine “directly” on your hardware. No need for an Operating System and additional tools to launch a virtual desktop.

The most important benefits:

  • Run multiple OS versions on the same machine. You are able to choose which environment you will start. Think about BYOC possibilities, or just application compatibility (running both Windows 7 and Windows XP);
  • Hardware independent images. A single desktop image for different hardware types;
  • Offline usage. It is possible to start your virtual desktop without having a connection with a datacenter. This option could also be used to “offload” your datacenter. A lot of hosted virtual desktop (VDI) projects are not launched because of the high investments in storage and virtual infrastructure. What if you can use the local (client) resources but still have all benefits of a virtual desktop.

The main vendors in the type 1 client hypervisor market at the moment are:

Citrix
Since Citrix introduced the XenClient beta, more than a month ago, there was a lot of attention for the client hypervisor type 1. The client hypervisor will, of course, be Xen-based. Citrix XenClient will be managed by Citrix XenDesktop. While Citrix released several documents about XenClient, like the XenClient Express Proof of Concept Implementation Guide and expecting the final release soon. Other companies are getting their client hypervisor on the market for free as well.

Virtual Computer
Virtual Computer announced that its groundbreaking NxTop desktop virtualization solution is available as a free product download. The free download bundle includes NxTop Engine, Virtual Computer’s innovative ‘bare-metal’ client hypervisor, as well as the NxTop Center, a feature-rich management console that enables a wide array of advanced virtual desktop creation and management functions.
Virtual Computer has a Xen-based hypervisor and combined with its management options it has a good PC lifecycle management solution.

One of the hard things to develop with a type 1 client hypervisor is hardware compatibility. Citrix XenClient has a short list of supported hardware for the moment. My Lenovo T61 isn’t supported. But looking at Virtual Computer –NxTop, I could do a NxTop-ready check.
My laptop passed the check, so I should be able to install NxTop. (Maybe later, if I can find some spare time).

Mokafive
MokaFive also introduced a bare metal client. “The idea behind BareMetal is to provide a thin management layer that sits on the bare metal hardware. This is still in development so we don’t want to comment on the implementation details, but the benefits of BareMetal are clear: broad hardware support, extensive policy set, and the best management control in the industry.”
MokaFive already has a solution with a type 2 client hypervisor.

Neocleus
Neocleus already has a type 1 client hypervisor available. While Neocleus also has some management capabilities, it doesn’t have a complete desktop management suite. That’s why they partnered with BigFix. Together they provide the same suite (hypervisor and management capabilities) as Virtual Computer or MokaFive.

VMware
And where is the leader in the server hypervisor market in this story? Well, VMware already announced a type 1 client hypervisor last year. But nothing is released yet, there were some rumors that it would be part of VMware View. While still waiting for the type 1 hypervisor from VMware, it seems they are now more focusing on offline usage and BYOC use cases. This sounds more as an additional feature within VMware View than a type 1 hypervisor.
The latest statement of Vmware led to new discussions about type 1 hypervisor versus type 2 hypervisor.

Conclusion
Client hypervisors are developing, I think a type 1 client hypervisor will have added value in comparison to a type 2 client hypervisor. Of course some innovation is needed, like hardware support. As in traditional environments where you have a mix of desktops and laptops, in the future you will have a mix of type 1 en type 2 clients. These client hypervisors should solve the “headache areas” (security, manageability, offline usage) of the IT department. There will be a time where all mobile devices can benefit from a type 1 client hypervisor, a centrally managed image with local execution and fast switching between different (work and private) environments.

One comment

  • Hi Marco,

    Thanks for taking a look at Virtual Computer and NxTop. It is great to see that you have a NxTop-compatible PC. We have worked hard to grow our hardware compatibility list, and we think this is an area where we excel versus alternative hypervisor platforms.

    I hope you find some time to give NxTop a try, as we are always looking for feedback. If you do decide to try it out, let me know if there is anything I can do to help.

    Doug Lane
    Virtual Computer, Inc.

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