Sun Microsystems may be caught up in the rumor mill at the moment with talk of an imminent takeover by IBM, but in the meantime it's business as usual as the company looks to extend its hand in the enterprise.
Today, that means an upgrade to its VDI 3.0 platform, aimed at making it more of a stand-alone environment and less dependent on the good graces of VMware, Microsoft and others. The Sun Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Software 3 (VDI Software 3) incorporates a number of Sun technologies like Open Storage, OpenSolaris, VirtualBox and MySQL. Most significantly, it adds its own hypervisor so the platform is not riding on top of VMware anymore, although users can still use it as a VMware brokering system if they want.
Also new is a built-in RDP version, rather than the one found in Vista, allowing you to launch any desktop operating system, or combination of OSes, that you want. So far, the company has tested the system with Windows XP, Vista, 2000, OpenSolaris and Ubuntu. And through the Open Storage platform, you no longer have to save full desktop images for each user on a central storage array. A single snapshot can serve multiple users, dramatically reducing the system's storage footprint.
Earlier this week, I spoke with Chris Kawalek, product line manager for desktop virtualization at Sun. He said the main goal during development was to break free of the server-centric model of most VDI architectures and focus more on what the client needs.
"Server-based VDI products don't focus on client-side activities like plugging in USB devices," he said. "We've designed our platform for doing client-oriented things like USB redirection and 3D graphics. When we wanted a virtual layer, we opted to go with VirtualBox because, over time, it will give us a stronger platform for a better desktop experience."
Some drawbacks remain, however. Apparently, there is still no way for users to work offline, which brings productivity to a halt should the network go down. There is also no support for Mac OS, although Macs can still be connected as long as they are using one of the OSes that are supported.
It's nearly impossible to look at this release outside the framework of a possible merger with IBM, however. Many analysts say the union would give a boost to Sun's entire portfolio, matching its first-rate technology to IBM's crack marketing, sales and service capabilities. Yankee Group's Zeus Kerravala, for instance, tells eWEEK that the Sun VDI platform would fit in well with IBM's server, storage and professional services lineup.
That job might be a bit more complicated than expected, however, now that IBM has tapped Wyse Technology to provide application streaming for its customers who are already using VMware or Citrix VDI systems. While the goal is to overcome latency issues surrounding centralized applications, it remains to be seen how it would all gel under a common IBM platform.
For its part, Sun's Kawalek says the VDI platform is hardware agnostic.
"The product can be installed on any x86 standard hardware platform," he said. "So servers from IBM, HP, Sun -- all are compatible."
Despite all the attention VDI has gotten lately, it occupies a sort of netherworld in the enterprise. On the one hand, showcase installations have demonstrated the technology's viability and cost-saving capabilities in a time of tightening budgets. On the other, questions of performance and security have kept it from hitting the mainstream.
Sun says new platforms like VDI 3 will go a long way toward overcoming those doubts. It just has to prove it.