Live from Burton Group Catalyst Conference 2010 Europe: Day 2

Second day here in Prague for the Catalyst Conference 2010. Yesterday reported about a subset of the agenda, providing live coverage of three sessions about Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) cloud computing.
Today the focus will shift on server and desktop virtualization, including a promising session about client hypervisors.

The first session we are going to cover is titled Server Virtualisation, Mobility, and Shared Physical Infrastructure: New Beginnings, performed by Chris Wolf, Research Director at Gartner.

Wolf is on stage.

He starts describing the state of the union for the virtualization market: many companies now consider virtual infrastructures as the default platform for all x86 applications, and this platform is the foundation of emerging standard architecture models designed by vendors like VMware, Cisco, EMC, NetApp, Microsoft and HP, featuring a deeper integration between servers, storage, networks, security and management.

Part of emerging trend is achieving greater density. Wolf mentions the endless debate rack-form-factor servers vs blade systems, and he still recommends 2-way rack servers.

Another emerging trend is adopting more than one virtualization platform. Wolf reports that practically all organizations have at least two: a bare-metal one (type-1 VMM) for production virtual machines and a hosted one (type-2 VMM) on many end-users workstations, for development, testing, etc.
Wolf also reports that customers usually run separate server and desktop business units, choosing VMware or Hyper-V for server consolidation and XenServer with XenApp for client consolidation (aka VDI), while non-critical workloads are served by free products from all vendors.

The adoption of multiple virtualization platforms implies working with more tools and images, in an environment where portability is complex. Of course the benefit of this is that the lock-in is reduced.

On the security front, there’s a disconnection between security and operations. Some solutions are emerging but they aren’t ready to offer truly secure multi-tenant environments. On top of that we don’t have any standard security model.

On the networking front, layer 2 switches are being converted into virtual switches (Cisco is leading the effort with the Nexus 1000V and the Open vSwitch project, supported by Citrix, is following) and other network appliances are following too. This may translate in a revenue shrink for networking vendors.

The effort to extend existing virtual infrastructure to become IaaS private cloud infrastructures is good on paper but it’s extremely difficult. Wolf predicts that it will take up to 5 years to reach an acceptable maturity level. 
The market lacks a number of tools, including capacity management, configuration management, lifecycle management, orchestration, accounting and chargeback ones.

Not only customers need these tools, but they also need a unified management system that features an extensible architecture. The leading virtualization players (VMware, Citrix and Microsoft) are working on this.
On top of that customers need what Wolf calls infrastructure transparency: better abstraction of the underlying hardware and infrastructure so that the only concern is the workload, its SLA and its security policy.
Infrastructure transparency can’t be achieved without a number of initiatives. One of them is the adoption of metadata standards. As Wolf said yesterday during another session, the OVF format is a good start but it’s not enough as it’s not a runtime format.

Wolf states that there is a lot to do also in the data protection and storage area: right now multiple tools are required to recover data, generating a management overhead that could be avoided.
Vendors should work on a data protection/recovery orchestrator that acts following the protection schemes defined by IT administrators and works transparently as part of the self-service provisioning portal.

Wolf closes his session with a list of recommendations:

  • your goal should be multi-tenancy
  • invest in capacity, configuration and operational management
  • rethink IT practices
  • don’t wait for cloud maturity to start building the private cloud


The next session we are covering is titled Server Virtualisation Hypervisor Competitive Difference, performed by Richard Jones, Managing Vice President, Cloud and Data Center Strategies at Gartner.
Jones already presented this session in several trade shows in the last year, including the’s Virtualization Congress 2009, where he has been voted as a top speaker.

Jones is on stage.

He introduces the work done to compare the Citrix, Microsoft and VMware virtual infrastructures, specifying the criteria used to define which hypervisors are enterprise-grade.

After the work (and the several updates that followed) Jones can say that hypervisors can’t be really compared by the data sheets that vendors provide, as they lack attributes that must be carefully evaluated.

The Burton Group analyzed VMware vSphere 4.0 Update 3, Citrix Essentials Platinum Edition for XenServer 5.5 and Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V.

While vSphere and Essentials are both rated enterprise-grade (VMware slightly ahead of Citrix for preferred and optional features), Hyper-V is not mature enough yet. In three areas Microsoft needs to improve:

  • High availability: virtual machines run priority is absent
  • Compute: Hyper-V only supports 1 vCPU per VM for guest operating systems that are not Windows (but to be fair, Microsoft is about to change this with the upcoming Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1, and the stand-alone solution is currently in beta)
  • Management: System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) cannot run in a cluster

There are other, less severe limitations that can be noted about Hyper-V:

  • NIC teaming only works with 3rd party solutions
  • Only 1 virtual machine live migration can be performed at any time
  • Hyper-V can’t scale up to 10,000 virtual machines (8000 is its limit, XenServer can’t go beyond 5120 VMs)
  • Memory over-commitment is not ready yet (but we know it’s coming)
  • NFS shared storage is not supported
  • There are no storage APIs
  • Automated host power on/off is not available (but Microsoft Research is sort of working on this)

And that’s all also for this session.
During the afternoon will provide coverage about the two sessions about desktop virtualization and client hypervisors.

The next session we are covering today is Navigating the Sea of Client Virtualisation Solutions, performed by Richard Jones.

Jones is on stage.

He uses the term client virtualization as a general umbrella to include the many tools that are available for device management, securit
y, lifecycle management, etc.

A problem client virtualization solutions are trying to solve is device management. Total desktop ownership cost is estimated between 2,600 Euros and 4,500 Euros per desktop per year (excluding end user costs).
A major reason of pain is the application upgrade and compatibility when companies built on top of Internet Explorer ActiveX technology and their solutions don’t work on anything but a specific version of the Microsoft browser.
Another key issue is security: companies have to secure sensitive corporate data while allowing access and avoiding data leakage. On top of that a number of contractors, partners and remote employees need access to corporate data on untrusted machines.
A third issue is related to equipment lifecycle: once machines reach end-of-life, all corporate data must be securely removed, and this today costs a lot.

Another problem client virtualization tools are about to solve is the lack of business continuity.

Jones recognizes five kind of common use-cases: data workers (few applications, no administrative privileges), office workers (many applications, administrative privileges, customized environment), guest workers (many applications, administrative privileges, limited-time access), remote workers (device flexibility, bandwidth issues) and mobile workers (offline access need).

There are five classes of solutions:

  • browser-based software-as-a-service (SaaS)
    Products in this class may have weaknesses like browser compatibility requirements, non-integrated authentication, cost for new infrastructure, no offline access to application and data (but this is going to change with HTML5 webapps).
  • presentation virtualization
    Products in this class may have weaknesses like limited application compatibility, cost for new infrastructure, limited graphic support for 3D uses, no offline access to application and data.
  • server-hosted virtual desktops (VDI)
    Products in this class may have weaknesses like the maturity of solutions, the cost for new infrastructure, limited graphic support for 3D uses, the increase of management tools, no offline access to data (this will partially change with the advent of client hypervisors).
  • application virtualization
    Products in this class may have weaknesses like ISVs support, Internet connection dependency for non-persistent streaming, non-centralized storage of application deltas.
  • client-hosted virtual desktops (client hypervisors or offline VDI)
    Products in this class may have weaknesses like data security, specific vendor licensing requirements, limited endpoint management capabilities and guest OSes security risks related to the host vulnerabilities.

Jones suggests that you can mix together multiple solutions in several classes above to address the many kind of workers in the company.
He recommends to approach client virtualization solutions carefully, to focus on specific desktop problems to solve (no solution solves all), to start with application streaming to simplify application management.

That’s all for this session.


The next and last one will cover for today is titled Server-hosted Virtual Desktops: Assessing Vendor Solutions, performed by Chris Wolf.

Wolf on stage.

This the new Burton Group assessment of the hardware virtualization platforms for VDI, announced in May.

Wolf suggests that a VDI solutions requires a long term commitment (3-5 years) to fully return on the investment.

The evaluation criteria includes a number of new factors that are considered for this new comparison: user experience, service advertising and connection brokerage, business continuity, network, storage, back-end virtual infrastructure, management, security, guest OS support, licensing, product support, ISVs support.

The first product assessed is Citrix XenDesktop 4.0 Platinum Edition, which is not considered enterprise-grade because it’s missing security logging and auditing of administrative actions and at least a 3-year support offering.
Other weaknesses of XenDesktop 4.0 are the lack of hardening guidelines, deployment and management complexity, no self-service virtual desktop provisioning, and management scalability limited to 5,000 virtual desktops.

The second product assessed is VMware View 4.0.1 Premiere, which has not been scored enterprise-grade either, primarily because there’s no role-base access control (RBAC), no management integration and no support for Windows guest OSes. 
Other weaknesses of View 4.0.1 are the PCoIP immaturity, the limited support for low-bandwidth WAN scenarios, the support only for VMware vSphere back-end infrastructure, the management scalability limited to 5,000 virtual desktops, the lack of hardening guidelines, and the endpoint security health assessment integration.

Wolf closes the session, after reviewing in details all the evaluation criteria, by saying that only 3rd party vendors at this point could help to enrich the two products to reach the enterprise-grade level.

That’s it for the day and that’s it for the conference. Thanks for staying with us during this extended live coverage.