Citrix says new virtualization tool will change lifestyles

Users get a chance to test bare metal virtualization on clients

SAN FRANCISCO -- Citrix System Inc. is borrowing a page from Apple and pitching its new desktop virtualization product, in part, as one of the building blocks to a lifestyle change, at least for corporate employees.

Citrix Wednesday released an early version of a client virtualization system, XenClient, which will run virtual machines on a laptop without an installed operating system, or on bare metal.

A continuous network connection isn't needed and the software will sync up with the servers and backup files once connections are made. System administrators manage clients centrally.

The virtual machine contains the operating system and applications. A user can deploy multiple virtual machines on a client. In exchange, their employers gets to deploy virtual machine on the laptop that is dedicated for work and isolated from a personal system, also running in a virtual environment, on the same laptop.

Steve Lenigan, an IT manager at Republic Services Inc., a waste management firm in Phoenix, Ariz., was at the Citrix conference here where the product was demonstrated. He plans to test it.

"It just looks interesting," said Lenigan.

Lenigan said the laptops that the company supplies its workers are locked down and limit what the users can do. But the ability to run multiple virtual machines for personal use and for work, "will allow us to unlock the desktop without us having to sacrifice our security model that we have in the business world."

And that's where the lifestyle change begins to come in. The ability to divide personal and work environments is one of the reasons why Citrix believes their client virtualization will get consideration.

If companies lock down systems and prevent their users from installing applications they may have a hard time selling the concept, "especially as younger people come into the workforce," said Wes Wasson, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Citrix.

The more locked down system are, the more likely employees "will want to get out of the office at 5 p.m. and go home," he said.

The version of XenClient that's available is a release candidate, and while the company has some clients testing it a potentially production ready release won't be available until later this year.

Another attendee, Joel Stolk, the Citrix team lead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said using virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) "has been a hard sell" because the medical center has had many laptop and remote users. VDI requires continuous connection.

Stolk said the client virtual machine capability of XenClient changes "the business case - it's the last piece of the puzzle."

The major value in moving to virtualized clients is removing the hassle of managing desktops on client machines, Stolk said.

Ian Song, an analyst at IDC, said the biggest limitation is the requirement for Intel 's vPro technology, a management technology in the chip, which is not found on lower cost laptops.

For some users, moving to the XenClient may also require a hardware upgrade and that undercut some of the reasons for a migration, he said.

But Song said that Citrix's market reach will give broader idea to bare metal hypervisors. Citrix isn't the first company with a product. Virtual Computer Inc., in Westford, Mass., for instance, has a bare metal client.

VMware also has virtualization but runs with an OS installed on the client.

The XenClient virtual machine processing is accomplished on the laptop, and this product is going to be targeted a volume corporate laptops, mid-to-high level processing power, said Wasson. But there is nothing about the approach used by XenClient that couldn't be moved down to smaller devices, such as PDAs, he said.

Citrix has been gradually building the product set to support this model. This time last year it released a tool that allows enterprises to create a desktop similar to the Apple's App Store called "Dazzle," which gives corporate users access to any number of applications supported by the enterprise .

The user can access the app for its virtual desktop, and customize as needed.

The limitations facing XenClient today will be more around diversity of hardware support, at least initially until a more USB connected devices are tested, said Wasson.

Citrix officials believe that virtualization may usher in adoption of employee owned laptops.

Citrix already runs a program for its employees where it provides a stipend to buy a their own laptop and also pays for support for three years, said Mick Hollison, vice president of desktop marketing at the company.

That program reduces Citrix's IT support cost but gives employees the flexibility to get a system that best meets their needs.

The employees are responsible for maintenance, which could involve taking a system to Apple's store for repair, said Hollison.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld . Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is .

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