Key takeaways from VMworld 2014

The new products heralded at VMworld 2014 weren't as thrilling as those from years past, but attendees can expect the tech VMware talked about -- Project Fargo, CloudVolumes and improved graphics on Chromebooks -- by the close of the year.

This year's VMworld was less exciting than ones past, but it was more reassuring about the future of VMware and its EUC business unit.

Prior to last year, VMworld -- and Citrix Synergy --  were over-the-top shows that were laden with promises that were rarely delivered upon, at least with regards to end-user computing (EUC). In recent years, however, both Citrix and VMware have been  more focused in what they talk about and what they show at their respective conferences.

What's interesting is that the desktop virtualization message at VMworld 2014 bore a strong resemblance to the one that we've seen from Citrix for some time now. VMware execs demonstrated follow-me applications in the second-day keynote, which harkened us salty old Citrix admins back to 2008.

Some may say VMware is copying Citrix, though I believe that it's a sign of the maturation of the EUC group at VMware. After all, a little over 18 months ago we were wondering if VMware might be selling off the EUC group to focus solely on vSphere and cloud-based products.

Granted, leveling the playfield isn't really the most exciting stuff, but that doesn't mean VMworld 2014 left us unhappy. Thousands of people not directly working with desktop virtualization were introduced to CloudVolumes, which VMware acquired just a few weeks ago.

CloudVolumes, Project Fargo make a splash

CloudVolumes is a new way of delivering and managing applications. Apps are packaged into virtual disk files and more or less bolted on to a master OS image, either virtual or physical. It's part app management and part layering, and it's something that VMware needed (and something Citrix still needs). We also learned that -- for the time being at least -- VMware is going to leave CloudVolumes as a standalone product, supporting old customers and even selling the product to Citrix shops.

Along with the demo of CloudVolumes, VMware showed off Project Fargo. Fargo is basically a way of spawning clones of a running virtual machine (VM). It uses something called copy-on-write, which creates a new version of a file or even disk block when it needs to be written, and it shares objects that just need to be read. It's actually technology that's been around for a while, just used in a new way with some additional new concepts.

The bottom line is that it makes new VMs usable in under five seconds instead of 20, 45, 60 seconds or more. Project Fargo wasn't shown on the expo hall floor so I wasn't able to get hands-on, but it should be released in the very near future.

VMware, Google, Nvidia team up to improve VDI graphics

One other thing that sticks out in my mind when thinking about the week is a Chromebook demo from Nvidia. You may have read here that I'm not a fan of Chromebooks in the enterprise due to underwhelming performance, though I'm holding out hope that we'll eventually find a good use case, probably as the hardware gets better. Nvidia's demo gave me hope.

Nvidia showed an Acer Chromebook 13 that retails for $279 connected to a View session running Photoshop and Illustrator, which an artist was using to design poster-sized graphics at 600dpi. It uses VMware's Blast 2 HTML5 protocol, and I must say that the experience looked amazing.  It's worth noting that you can pre-order the Chromebook now, but the software stack that drives it isn't yet available. It uses a new version of Blast, which is also in tech preview.

If the Chromebook itself provides a better-than-average user experience with local apps, we should start to see more use cases in organizations. We may also see a resurgence of Chromeboxes, the desktop counterpart to Chrombooks.

With Project Fargo and CloudVolumes, plus talk of identifying and addressing gaps between Horizon and XenDesktop/XenApp, there will be a very short period of time before VMware and Citrix are neck and neck. Of course, most of what we saw is still in tech preview, but we expect everything to come out in Q3 or early Q4. After all, VMware is taking VMworld to Barcelona in mid-October, and we're already hearing rumbles about new announcements then.

It will be an interesting conclusion to conference season, and I'll especially be looking to see what comes from Citrix as VMware draws ever-closer to matching them feature-for-feature, product-for-product. Even if customers aren't moving from one platform to another as fast as I thought they would, they're certainly paying attention.

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