Virtualized infrastructures may be "the mainframe for the 21st century," as VMware CTO Stephen Herrod said in April, but the company will move increasingly toward virtualization and management of smaller devices during the next year or two.
The strategy won't change much about the way the company currently operates, according to VMware executives and analysts who follow the company. But VMware will begin to make more noise about its plans for desktop and mobile virtualization products beginning with the VMworld conference in San Francisco Aug. 31.
The company may announce at that point its plans for the next edition of its VMware View desktop virtualization products and plans to add virtualization clients for a variety of smartphones and other handheld devices to enable them to become secure, managed participants in mainstream corporate applications, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.
VMware executives wouldn't comment on specific announcements, but did say the company would continue to push development of the desktop virtualization market and its products for that market, with the expectation that sales will begin to take off starting in mid-2010 to 2011.
"I'm a huge believer in the desktop opportunity," says Tod Nielsen, VMware's chief operating officer.
"Every IT executive I see talks about those 500 million desktops in the enterprise," he says. "They hate them. They're hard to provision, hard to manage, hard to secure, and if they have to go touch every one of them to accomplish something, it's a big problem."
Despite recent enhancements that allow virtual desktops to operate even disconnected from the server that controls them, sales of VMware View have been relatively slow, and the market for desktop virtualization in general is not growing quickly, Nielsen says.
"On our earnings call [CEO] Paul [Maritz] said 20 to 30 percent of our sales time is spent on proof of concept of desktop virtualization," Nielsen says. "We don't think that's going to be a revenue kicker until 2010 and into 2011. 2009 is more about proof of concept; 2010 is when this race is really going to take off."
Desktop virtualization means more to VMware than just control of laptops and PCs, however, Nielsen says. It also includes handhelds, smartphones and a range of other devices that could become highly mobile, wide-area-networked clients for mainstream business applications, if customers take to the handheld-virtualization technology VMware is developing following its acquisition in November of the French Trango Virtual Processors, whose Mobile Virtualization Platform could put a lightweight version of VMware's ESX on iPhones, Blackberries, Windows Mobile and other mobile operating systems.
"Right now it's expensive for an ISV to develop onto phone operating systems because you have to write a different version for everyone," according to Steve Bonney, vice president of business development at Bayscribe, a software developer that builds high-volume, server-based dictation systems for medical facilities.
"That way you end up giving doctors a $500 smart phone to access medical records and another to access the dictation system while they've got a Blackberry already in their pocket."Run a virtual client on that and ESX in the cloud, then you can port applications to any handheld."
The Trango technology is a good start, as is building it into the VMware View suite, but VMware would make handheld virtual machines more attractive to ISVs and end users with better audio, video and image capabilities, Bonney says. "I'm hopeful VMware will push hard on that mobile technology and invest in rich media on their thin client stuff," he says.
What's Behind Desktop Virtualization Holdups Desktop virtualization in general, and VMware's approach in particular, contains more challenges than just market acceptance to grow significantly, however, Rose says.
Nearly every virtualization vendor's approach is to run virtual desktops on physical servers in the data center. Companies are cautious about adding physical servers in the data center now, even those loaded with many virtual desktops, due to concerns including lack of space and power costs, he adds.
VMware did take some significant steps toward a distributed model of virtual desktops-in which the individual PC or other local server acts as controller or data-synchronization intermediary between the physical PC and the backend server-when it released beta versions of its VMware Offline Desktop in March, Rose says.
Though it's still an experimental product, some testers have found problems getting it to install.
"Right now the use cases for centralized virtual desktops are fairly limited, so it will continue to be a tactical development for now," Rose says. "In five-years-plus, as desktop virtualization expands out to edge devices, then there's more of a possibility for it."