Intel, Citrix Collaborating on Desktop Virtualization


Intel and Citrix are planning to bring desktop virtualization technologies to a wider enterprise audience by combining their respective capabilities to make running and managing virtual machines within corporate desktops and notebooks easier. Intel and Citrix plan to combine Intel’s vPro management and security technology with Citrix’s Xen hypervisor and other virtualization applications that will allow IT departments to run several secure virtual machines within the same corporate client. The announcement by Citrix and Intel also looks to counter what VMware plans to offer with its vClient VMware View products.

Intel and Citrix Systems are looking to combine their virtualization and hardware management technologies into one overall offering that will make it easier to secure and manage multiple virtual machines running within one corporate client.

Citrix and Intel are planning to announce their joint development agreement 21st January. The collaboration between the two companies will combine Intel’s vPro technology – a chip bundle that makes managing and securing a laptop or desktop easier – along with Citrix’s virtualization technology, including the Xen hypervisor and other products such as Xen Desktop and XenApp.

The result is a desktop or laptop that can run several virtual environments that are secure and isolated from one another. At the same time, the IT department can manage the desktop image and software and operating system updates from a central, secure location, while allowing the user to benefit from the performance and graphics capabilities of their PC.

The key to this development is a hypervisor – the piece of software that makes virtualization possible – that resides bare metal within the PC’s firmware.

“What we are really trying to address are some of the core challenges and some of the core barriers that have kept client virtualization models and solutions from being adopted in the past,” said Gregory Bryant, vice president of Intel’s Business Client Group.

“What we want to offer are support for mobile and support for local execution of virtualization on the client so that the user experience is better,” Bryant added.

While Intel and Citrix announced their collaboration Wednesday, executives from both companies declined to discuss any specific products or roadmaps at this time. Citrix, which is developing the technology needed for client virtualization under the codename “Project Independence,” does not plan to offer specific products for the IT market until the second half of 2009.

While Citrix and Intel are working on their efforts to enhance client virtualization, VMware – still considered the leading provider of x86-based virtualization technology – is also working to offer a similar set of products for corporate clients. Later this year, VMware plans to offer similar technologies through its vClient and VMware View products that will not only offer client virtualization but also bring those same types of capabilities to other devices such as smart phones.

While many IT vendors have been talking about VDI or virtual desktop infrastructure solutions and products in 2008, what Intel and Citrix are offering is different but it does combine some aspects of what is found in VDI.

In the VDI model, the desktop image and applications are virtualized, managed and stored within a centralised data centre and the image and applications are then transmitted or streamed to a thin-client PC or another device that sits on a person’s desk. While this model offers security and centralised management, it is difficult to access data when a user is not working within the corporate network. At the same time, employees lose out on the full desktop experience when it comes to processor and graphics performance.

In the model that Intel and Citrix are developing, the hypervisor sits bare metal within a PC’s firmware, which allows for better security since the different virtual machines are isolated from one another within the physical hardware. At the same time, a user can take advantage of the graphics and processing power of a fully functional desktop or laptop.

What Intel and Citrix are offering will also allow a user to work within a virtual machine that is no longer connected to the network. This is an important step since many enterprises are focusing more on mobility and allowing more employees to use laptops, which allows them to work from home or a remote location. When these remote users then reconnect to the corporate network, the information is synchronized and the IT department can then update the desktop image and run any necessary software or security updates.

The Citrix and Intel model uses some aspects of VDI by allowing the IT department to manage all the desktops images and applications within a centralised data centre where the servers are also virtualized. At the same time, the IT department can bundle the operating systems and applications into a virtual appliance and send those resources out to the clients when needed.

The IT department can also set different polices, such as not allowing a laptop or desktop to access USB memory sticks.

“What you have is a virtual machine that is personal to the user and they can run whatever application they like,” said Ian Pratt, vice president of Advanced Products and Virtualization and Management at Citrix. “The second virtual machine, which is supplied by the company, is run by the IT administrators and kept separate.”

Since the hypervisor resides within the vPro chip bundle and the firmware of the individual PC, a company employee can keep a totally separate virtual machine that has personal information and that virtual environment is totally separate from the corporate desktop image. This allows employees to use their personal laptops for work, while create a more secure environment for bringing these outside notebooks within a corporate network.

This also allows Intel and its OEM partners to sell more expensive laptops that use the pricier vPro chip bundle. (Intel first began selling its vPro technology with desktops in 2006 and then began offering the chip bundle with laptops in 2007.)

The Citrix platform that will sit on top of the Intel vPro chip bundle will use the hardware hooks and capabilities that Intel has built into that platform as well as Intel VT virtualization technology. Intel and Citrix did not indicate if any PC vendors have signed up to offer these technologies within their corporate clients. However, Intel and Citrix both indicated that they hope to move the technology to handheld devices, such as smart phones, in the future.

In a discussion with reporters before the announcement, Intel did not indicate if another virtualization company wanted to develop virtualization on top of its vPro platform.