Holiday Wishes and Thank-Yous

Judging from the Christmas music blaring from about 43 boom boxes around my house, it seems the holidays are upon us. I wanted to let our readers know that Executive Editor Tom Valovic and I will be out on vacation starting Monday, Dec. 22. Tom is coming back the week after Christmas, while I'll be taking off until Jan. 5, slacker that I am.

You can send us e-mail in the meantime, but don't expect a quick response. In fact, to ensure better response, and lower the chances of your e-mail accidentally getting deleted in a massive spam purge on our first day back, it's probably better to hold off on e-mail until then. I, for one, don't look forward to spending the better part of a day responding to 832 e-mails.

Note that we won't be blogging during our time off, so this is probably the last one you'll get this year.

Let me spend a little time here thanking everyone involved in this magazine for a successful first year of publishing. Starting a new print publication in the IT market is a daring undertaking (some might say foolhardy). But Editor in Chief Doug Barney and Publisher Henry Allain saw the tremendous potential in the virtualization space, and wanted to go beyond just a new Web site. The Web site, of course, is crucial to our mission, but most of us come from the old school, where we like to hold something in our hands. And although you can hold a laptop, it's just not the same (and harder to read in the bathroom!)

It was Henry and Doug's vision that brought this magazine to life, and their determination to make it a great publication that keeps it going. We published our first issue last March, and for the first two issues, the March/April and May/June, Doug was a tremendous help in writing stories. We had very little freelance help for those two, as he and I wrote most of the copy. One key reason is that we wanted to educate ourselves about this thing called virtualization, and nothing gets you up to speed faster than writing story after story. Keep in mind that Doug had all his other duties, as Editorial Director of our publishing group, to attend to while he was cranking out mountains of copy for Virtualization Review. The man is a machine, plain and simple.

Last April, we hired Tom Valovic as Executive Editor. Tom had a great background for the gig, both as a former journalist, then as an analyst. An emerging market like virtualization needed someone like Tom. You can see from his writing, both in the magazine and his blog, that he was the right guy.

One of the very best things about the magazine is how it looks. That is completely due to the brilliance of our two chief art guys, Creative Director Scott Shultz and Art Director Brad Zerbel. I'm blown away, every single issue, by the work they do. They can't see me, but I'm doing a Wayne's World-style "I'm not worthy!" pantomime in their direction right now.

Our production staff is just as good. I can't say enough about Managing Editor Wendy Gonchar and Associate Managing Editor Katrina Carrasco, who make us hit our deadlines, and keep the ship on course and the trains running on time. It simply doesn't happen without them.

There are many writers to thank too, including columnists Chris Wolf, Danielle Ruest and Nelson Ruest, former columnist Greg Shields and a host of others. You make my job much easier.

Finally, the biggest thanks of all go to you, the readers of this blog, and the magazine. We simply don't exist without your support. I am truly honored to serve you, and look forward to a great 2009. See ya next year.

Posted by Keith Ward on 12/18/2008 at 12:48 PM5 comments

Reboot Problems with ESX 3.5 and HA

Scott Lowe blogged recently about a problem with VMware's ESX 3.5 Update 3. VMware's KB article says that VMs "may unexpectedly reboot when using VMware HA with Virtual Machine Monitoring on ESX 3.5 Update 3".

The problem affect ESX, ESXi (the free, embeddable version of ESX), and VirtualCenter (now known as vCenter). The article does not say that earlier versions were affected. The article was last updated on Dec. 5, and no further updates have appeared.

There are two workarounds listed, and neither are very appealing. One involves disabling VM monitoring with HA (yuck), and the other is quite kludgy. Let's hope a real fix is out soon.

Posted by Keith Ward on 12/18/2008 at 12:48 PM2 comments

Free Virtual Security Tool Released

Free stuff is always good, especially in a recession. But free stuff that makes your virtual networks more secure should make you sit up and take notice.

To that end, Catbird Security today released Compliance Enforcer, a free tool that inspects up to five virtual networks for security issues, and will quarantine suspect virtual machines (VMs), taking them off the network. I had a chat this afternoon with Catbird CEO Michael Berman, who was naturally excited about Enforcer.

Enforcer comes with a license for up to five Catbird V-Agents, meaning you can monitor up to five different subnets. This will suffice for a large majority of SMBs, Berman points out. Of course, Berman also hopes that enterprises will try Enforcer out on a small network segment or lab, like it, and want to upgrade to the full V-Security suite. Whether that happens, of course, is another matter. Naturally, there's self-interest here on Catbird's part; on the other hand, it is a full-featured product offered for free, and that counts for a lot.

In the course of our discussion, Berman made some interesting points about security. One is that hackers are, by and large nowadays, a criminal enterprise. "There hasn't been a "Code Red" for VMware because people don't write exploits for notoriety anymore. [Those types of hackers are] now dwarfed by criminal entireprises in Ukraine, Brazil and China. If an exploit exists today, it's a subtle exploit. They break in and don't want you to know they've broken in."

Another of Berman's key points is that exploits are rare for the platforms like VMware ESX, Microsoft's Hyper-V and Citrix's XenServer because there are other, more traditional vectors that still work. "The biggest security problem we have today is Microsoft Windows," says Berman. "They're writing exploits for Windows. If the machine is physical or virtual, they don't care. Say someone makes new exploit for Internet Explorer -- does it matter if you're running VMware? No. it matters if you're running I.E. And as more machines become virtual, the monitors we have stop working."

He has a point. We haven't seen exploits yet for hypervisors, virtual switches and the like, but Windows (and, to be fair, Linux has its fair share) will always be under attack.

Enforcer is a hosted solution, so your data is in the hands of Catbird. Keep that in mind as well.

What are you doing about securing your virtual environment? Let me know.

Posted by Keith Ward on 12/16/2008 at 12:48 PM0 comments

VDI With Pano Logic

I visited the University of Maryland, College Park, yesterday to look at a VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure, also called desktop virtualization and hosted desktop) solution in one of their departments. I'll be writing about it at more length soon, but for now I wanted to include some interesting tidbits.

I met with Jeff Cunningham, director of information systems for the Agricultural and Natural Resources department, who had an entire room set up with Pano Logic devices. Cunningham is a long-timer there, having been around for 25 years now. And he's tremendously excited about the promise of VDI for his department, and for the school.

There are about 70 Pano devices in the department, many of which replaced Dell Optiplex 270 desktops. Since the replacement, Cunningham has seen his "putting out fires" time reduced about 25 percent, a number that he expects to increase.

He's also seen, in preliminary and informal tests, a power reduction of about 75 percent. Since U of MD is committed to becoming carbon-neutral soon, his department is already ahead of the curve on meeting those requirements.

Cunningham also says that many of his initial problems with the Pano were solved with the recent 2.5 update; especially problems with USB support. He still has some user complaints, especially about occasional performance problems like speed of startup and sometimes choppy video; but those are better problems to have, he says, than "Hey, my computer doesn't work!" issues.

Cunningham also eats his own dogfood; I saw the Pano device on his desk, so he experiences just what the end users experience. His Pano environment runs on ESX, with good results. When Pano is updated to work with Hyper-V, he says he'll look at how it works on that platform, since VMware remains an expensive solution (Cunningham in no way implied that he's ready to switch platforms; just that he'll investigate.)

That's all for now. Suffice to say that Cunningham is delighted with his Pano experience.

Posted by Keith Ward on 12/11/2008 at 12:48 PM2 comments

Virtualization and the Partner Channel

I'm doing a lot of reporting now for a story for sister publication Redmond Channel Partner magazine, and crack Editor in Chief Scott Bekker. As I did in my previous blog on VDI, I wanted to pass along some insights I've stumbled into as related to the channel partner market in virtualization.

  • First, server consolidation is still the point of entry for most businesses getting into virtualization. No big surprise there, but it's good to check with actual channel partners out there doing this stuff every day. It's easy to get into a "convential wisdom" mindset and assume things are currently happening the same way they've been happening for the last quarter, six months or two years. Especially in an environment changing as rapidly as virtualization.
  • Virtualization services will be a much more lucrative area than selling virtualization products.
  • There is a lot of growing interest among companies in VDI. The vendors I've spoken to uniformly agree that more questions than ever are being asked about it, and lots of small pilot tests are starting to occur in organizations of all sizes.
  • The TCO and ROI predictions for virtualization are very real (unlike what so often happens in IT). It's also quick.
  • There are huge upsell opportunities in virtualization. Once the benefits of server consolidation are seen, it takes no time at all for companies to explore other areas of cost and efficiency savings with virtualization. In other words, if you're a virtualization consultancy or service provider, getting your foot in the door normally leads to that door swinging wide open after a few minutes.
  • VMware is still, clearly, the leader of the virtualization pack. While almost all companies are aware of what Microsoft, Citrix, Sun, Red Hat, et al. are doing, VMware continues to be the first choice -- and it's not close at this point.
  • The recession -- anecdotally -- hasn't hammered the virtualization community yet. And given the nature of cost-savings associated with it, it may escape a lot of the blows that are likely to rain down on other areas of IT.
  • VMware's relationships with its channel partners is improving markedly. Part of that can be explained by the presence of CEO Paul Maritz, who learned the importance of those relationships during his time with Microsoft, still the channel partner gold standard.

My story should be out in an early 2009 issue of RCP. I'll update you when it's out.

Posted by Keith Ward on 12/11/2008 at 12:48 PM5 comments

Reader: VDI Will Become 'Obvious Solution'

I recently asked for your feedback on how ready for prime-time VDI is. Martin Ingram, VP of Strategy for AppSense, has written a thoughtful response, one worth sharing with you in full. Note that AppSense makes destkop virtualization products, so they talk to customers in this space every day. Here's what he had to say:

"My take on this debate is that while I can plot the technology future for client virtualization for about the next 5 years that is not really the point. There are already some groups of users where the currently available technology is fine, there are other groups that need capabilities that are not yet ready. The decision on when to implement is going to be based on when the technology is mature enough for each type of users and will show real benefits.

Over time we will see virtual desktops become the obvious solution for greater and greater proportions of users. As items on Brian's list (and other capabilities) get delivered the applicability of virtual desktops increases but this is not a question of "Do nothing until...". I see this progression is already underway at the customer organizations I talk to."

I think there's a lot of sense in what Ingram says. Do you?

Posted by Keith Ward on 12/04/2008 at 12:48 PM0 comments

Is VMware VI Too Simple?

Phil Koster, a systems engineer who blogs under the name "Joe, the Consultant," has an informative post up about VMware issues. His basic premise is that VMware has made VI so easy to set up, that it's easy to not know your stuff and miss a bunch of important factors, like storage, security and networking. You need to learn how this works (or at least RTM) in order to have a properly functioning VI environment. Good stuff.

What's your opinion? Let me know if VI is too easy to set up.

Posted by Keith Ward on 12/03/2008 at 12:48 PM6 comments

VMware View 3: My View

Looking back over this week's blogs, it seems Tom and I have VDI on the brain. And it's only been made worse by today's announcement from VMware of VMware View 3. It's All VDI, All The Time!

Actually, this is an impressive start for VMware. I certainly didn't expect to see a functioning desktop virtualization product this soon after VMworld. Much of the focus there was on VDC-OS, and although View/vClient was part of that, I suspected that we would hear more about network virtualization and cloud-related stuff before the client side. Shows what I know.

There is stuff missing from View 3, as Brian Madden points out. The reason it was released less than three months after VMworld, according to Raj Mallempati, group product manager for desktop products, is that VMware wanted to take advantage of the momentum VDI has among the IT public. "No vendor is [currently] providing a complete, comprehensive [VDI] solution, Mallempati told me this afternoon. That's true -- but neither is VMware, even with this release.

(As an aside, Mellampati says that it's "View 3", as opposed to "View 1", because the previous version of Virtual Desktop Manager (VDM) was 2.0. He was careful to add, however, that View 3 isn't just an upgrade from VDM 2 -- rather, management is only part of the comprehensive suite of products that make up View.)

Two key features missing from this release are the bare-metal client hypervisor, and the final version of Offline Desktop. Mellampati says to expect both sometime in 2009, but would not get any more specific than that.

He emphasized that although Offline Desktop is being marketed as "experimental," that it isn't "beta" software in the traditional, buggy sense. "It's not because the product or feature is not production quality," Mellampati says. Rather, it's that VMware wants more customer feedback to determine how feature-rich to make it. "We want to make sure we understand the workflow of the use cases," Mellampati continues. For example, how would a salesperson use it -- are the check-in and check-out features critical? He says VMware wants lots of feedback before shipping the final version of Offline Desktop.

The difference between the "Enterprise" and "Premier" editions in terms of functionality is huge. Premier includes Composer, Offline Desktop and ThinApp, at $100 more per concurrent user. Given that difference, I don't see almost anyone opting for the Enterprise edition. Neither does Mellampati, who says "I expect most people to go for the Premier edition." The amount of storage savings that's possible through Composer and its use of a master image, storing only differential information, could be huge. I almost wonder why Enterprise edition is offered, since most of the cool stuff comes only with Premier. After all, why would you want a VDI solution without offline capability?

Mellampati sees a great amount of potential in VDI, and says customers are beginning to clamor for it. That may, or may not be -- there is growing evidence that although desktop virtualization is a buzz word, actual implementation is very complicated and can be quite expensive, perhaps keeping it from taking off as quickly as vendors hope. Still, Mellampati points out that the ratio of desktops to servers in the business world is about 10:1. That's a lot of potential revenue to tap.

What's your take on VMware View 3? Are you considering it? Will you consider it in the near, or far, future?

Posted by Keith Ward on 12/02/2008 at 12:48 PM3 comments

Should You Hold Off on VDI?

Brian Madden has an interesting discussion going about virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI, also known as hosted desktop). His premise is that while Citrix is generally thought to be ahead of VMware in the VDI space, owing much to its work with Presentation Server (now XenApp) over the past 15 or so years, VMware's recent announcements about VMware View and vClient will help it take the lead, with Citrix trailing.

Brian then goes on to list what he sees as the five technical requirements for a comprehensive, usable VDI solution that will truly take off. Next he compares solutions from each vendor (Citrix and VMware) and how they stack up in providing that functionality. He concludes that Citrix is 1/5 of the way there, and VMware, when its announced upgrades have been implemented, is 2/5 or 3/5 of the way there. Here are his five must-haves:

  1. We need remote display protocols that support ALL applications.
  2. We need an offline / client-based capability.
  3. We need to be able to let many users share a common disk image.
  4. We need real user environment management / user workspace management.
  5. We need users to be able to install / package their own applications.

All that analysis leads to what I think is a startling conclusion. Since they both fall so far short, Brian states: "Unless you have a very specific tactical need, DO NOT USE VDI TODAY!"

Brian goes on to state that in his opinion, all five capabilities will be available by mid-2010, but to avoid VDI until then.

This especially interested me since we're doing a VDI cover package in our December/January print issue, including a thorough review of XenDesktop and an analysis of the current VDI landscape.

I disagree with Brian's premise while agreeing with his facts. VDI has come a long way in a short time, and has significant benefits for an organization, from the admins to the end users. Yeah, it's far from perfect, as he points out. But it's like saying, "Don't use Hyper-V yet because it doesn't have live migration." Although it's true that Hyper-V won't offer live migration until 2010, it still has many benefits for the right organization, and shouldn't be dismissed because it's not feature-complete yet.

Hey, my iPhone doesn't yet offer turn-by-turn navigation with the GPS, but I'm not about to ditch it because of that missing feature.

Questions for you, readers:

  • How important is the offline capability in a VDI solution for your environment?
  • How important is it for users to install/package their own applications?

It seems to me that keeping users from doing just that is a benefit, rather than a drawback, of VDI. Since Brian lists it as a key feature, I'm interested to know, from your perspective, if you agree or disagree.

Give me your thoughts, or post them here.

Posted by Keith Ward on 12/01/2008 at 12:48 PM2 comments

Symantec Changes Course on VMotion Support

Behold the power of the blogosphere! Last week I reported, along with a number of other bloggers, that several important Symantec products aren't supported on VMotion, VMware's technology that moves virtual machines around with no downtime.

I missed it at the time, but a couple of days later, Symantec changed its tune and now does give "best effort support" to Symantec AntiVirus Clients and Symantec Endpoint Protection Clients.

There's no way a correlation can be proved between the publicity of this situation and the quick fix, but it sure doesn't seem like a coincidence to me. What's much more important, though, is that Symantec saw the error of its ways and wasted little time in correcting it. Now, VMware environments are that much more secure.

Posted by Keith Ward on 11/25/2008 at 12:48 PM0 comments

Happy Virtual Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, for those of us in the U.S., is a couple of days away. Thus, our blogging output will drop, essentially, to zero for the next few days (blame it on tryptophan). For probably my last blog of the week, I'd like to list some of the things for which I'm thankful -- both of the virtualization and non-virtualization variety.

I'm thankful that there's more choice than ever in the virtualization space. Hypervisors are plentiful and free, letting you choose which one, or ones, work best for your environment. In addition, new companies are springing up almost daily to add to the smorgasboard of good stuff. The competition will only make things better.

I'm thankful for the fabulous IBM "green" ads, which are not only hilarious, but are spreading the message of how virtualization can help the environment while simultaneously saving companies money. And they're doing it the right way -- not focusing on the technology, but the benefits.

I'm thankful that gas is down to $1.75 a gallon in my neck of the woods. Maybe I'll buy that Hummer after all.

I'm thankful that although the server consolidation wave is still the leading edge of virtualization, that companies are looking at other unusual uses for virtualization, including disaster recovery, networking and even cell phone usage.

I'm thankful that the Redskins seem to have -- finally -- found a real quarterback.

I'm thankful for these virtualization blogs, that keep me informed and entertained:

Finally, I'm thankful for my wife and family, who make every day an adventure. Life is sometimes frustrating, but it ain't ever boring.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Posted by Keith Ward on 11/25/2008 at 12:48 PM2 comments

Parallels for Mac 4.0 Having Problems

Regular readers of this blog will know that I was enthused about the latest version of Parallels for Mac, which allows you to create a Windows environment on your Mac. Well, if you've started using it, you may be less enthused than me, since there are some problems that are affecting customers.

I got an update from Parallels last night informing me that "Some of Parallels' customers had difficulty upgrading to 4.0," the latest version. A new build is available for download, so if you're having issues, try using this latest rev.

This page, detailing some of the fixes, shows that there are some serious issues with the previous 4.0 build. There are apparently lots of blue screens of death and other problems. Here's a partial list, from the Parallels page:

At times Parallels networking drivers don't start after the restart of Mac OS X - fixed.
- Copy-paste operations may fail in some cases when the virtual machine is in Coherence - fixed.
- Copy-paste operations may fail in some cases when non-text data is being copied to Windows - fixed.
- Inability to switch to a Windows application using Application Switcher when the virtual machine is in Coherence - fixed.
- Redundant network icons appear in the Mac OS menubar after switching between the view modes - fixed.

That's just a small sampling of the overall list. I have to say, Parallels, that I'm not impressed. It's very good that you were able to get fixes out the door this quickly, and owned up to your mistakes. But this is not one or two isolated problems; this is a host of issues, and most should have been found before 4.0 was ever released.

Have you experienced issues with Parallels 4.0? Let me know what's happened in your case.

Posted by Keith Ward on 11/25/2008 at 12:48 PM9 comments