REDMOND, Wash., April 2, 2007 – For many IT professionals within large organizations, maintaining control over their desktop environments is becoming an increasingly tall order. The cost of deploying and administering PCs – sometimes tens of thousands of PCs – across an enterprise can be significant, especially without the proper infrastructure in place to aid in the automation of these tasks. Add to that the growing complexity created by more mobile and temporary workers as well as new data security and compliance requirements – such as Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA in the United States – in regulated industries, and it is little wonder that some large enterprises are exploring alternative approaches to traditional desktop management.
With the combination of Window Vista Enterprise Edition and the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack, customers can secure PCs, centralize applications and increase productivity while decreasing deployment costs. In addition, the advent of fast networking and virtualization has opened the door for large enterprises examining new architectures that centralize Windows. Last week, at the Microsoft Management Summit 2007 (MMS 2007), Microsoft detailed the upcoming availability of licensing for two new centralized architectures based on Windows Vista Enterprise Edition. For details on the new offerings and what they mean to customers, PressPass spoke with Microsoft’s Scott Woodgate, director in the Windows Business Group.
Scott Woodgate, Director, Microsoft Windows Business Group
PressPass: At MMS 2007, you disclosed additional deployment options for Windows Vista. What are these changes designed to address?
Woodgate: Some of our larger, more highly managed and heavily regulated customers have been asking us for more new Windows Vista deployment models and licensing so they can see how well nascent architectures based on virtualization and fast networking function within their environments. We are responding by adding two more options to the numerous ways customers can deploy and manage Windows Vista Enterprise. These two new options will enable our customers to begin testing centralized desktops and diskless PCs in their production environments alongside their existing deployment model and determine which combination provides the right mix of centralized IT control and end-user flexibility for their respective businesses.
PressPass: What exactly are the changes you announced?
Woodgate: For Software Assurance customers using Windows Vista Enterprise, we’re adding two new ways to license and deploy the operating system. They are:
1) The license right to use Windows Vista on diskless PCs
2) The availability of a subscription license called Windows Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktops (VECD) which allows customers to use Windows in virtual machines centralized on server hardware.
PressPass: What are diskless PCs? How do customers benefit from running Windows on a diskless PC, and how does it work?
Woodgate: We think of a diskless PC as simply a PC that runs Windows but does not store Windows or data locally because it does not have a hard drive. The customers that have been requesting diskless PCs tell us they want the ability to move their Windows data and applications to centralized storage hardware such as a Storage Area Network (SAN), while still maintaining the local computing characteristics and experience of a PC.
We are working with our partners so they can provide the software to enable diskless PCs and they will likely enable two different scenarios for customers. In the first scenario, each employee’s hard drive is stored individually on centralized storage hardware. In the second scenario, shared images are used by a group of users. Our licensing enables both of these scenarios so that customers can work with our partners to determine if these are valuable architectures within their desktop environment.
PressPass: What about Windows Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktop? What is it, how does it help customers, and how does it work?
Woodgate: VECD enables customers to deploy and run Windows Vista Enterprise in virtual machines on server hardware. It provides a Windows experience that is centrally executed in the datacenter and delivered out to either PCs or thin clients.
Using VECD with PCs provides a flexible combination of local and remote computing including mobility and off-line usage. Using VECD with thin clients lets customers who are always connected use minimum footprint devices. Both options provide a complete Windows experience for end users connected to the corporate network, typically delivered over Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) – a multi-channel protocol that allows a user to connect to a computer running Microsoft Terminal Services. It also allows IT administrators to centrally manage, provision and store Windows images. Of the two options, we think using VECD with PCs is often a better choice for most customers because it still allows local and offline use of productivity applications, such as Microsoft Office, while providing centralization for line of business applications.
PressPass: How much do these new offerings cost?
Woodgate: The license to use diskless PCs is available at no charge for Windows Vista Enterprise customers – it’s essentially a change to the existing Software Assurance license, providing customers more flexibility. VECD is available to Software Assurance customers for an annual, per-device subscription fee. The fee varies based on whether your business is licensing PCs or thin client.
PressPass: How will customers benefit from these centralized desktop options?
Woodgate: Most customers who ask for these options have sizable IT departments and highly regulated, highly managed IT environments. They’re looking to centralize their Windows experience using for certain segments of their user base that are always connected in the hopes of benefiting from centralized management.
However, these are still nascent technologies and new architectures, and we think that only a select few customers are planning to broadly implement these centralized desktop models today. The customers that are exploring these new deployment scenarios are early adopters, and they will help prove out the usefulness of centralization over the next few years. The changes we’re making enable them to do that and to see whether their expected benefits pan out in production.
PressPass: How do customers acquire the needed technology for these options?
Woodgate: The technology in this space is evolving, so customers deploying with diskless PCs or VECD in the short term are likely to develop in-house solutions or cobble together the supporting technology that exist today. Our hope in making these options available is that the market will continue to innovate on technical solutions in this space and we are working with our partner community to make that happen.
PressPass: Does Microsoft provide software solutions for VECD?
Woodgate: For VECD, Microsoft has a growing portfolio of virtualization technology. Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 is a cost-effective server virtualization solution available today. Microsoft SoftGrid provides application virtualization, enabling IT pros to more easily deploy and update applications within the existing desktop environment. In addition, SoftGrid’s dynamic application provisioning combined with policy-based management reduces the number of OS images needed for VECD and diskless PC deployment, since applications can be installed in real time into images without needing to be pre-configured for individual users.
PressPass: Doesn’t Terminal Services already offer centralized storage and execution of Windows today?
Woodgate: Yes, several customers will find that Windows Terminal Services meets the same set of needs that VECD aims to address, and for most businesses, the most cost-effective option for centrally managing their desktop environments continues to be Terminal Services. Terminal Services is available today in Windows Server 2003 and in Windows Server “Longhorn” and it offers customers a server-based ability to provide either whole remote desktops or individual remote applications to users and machines. Terminal Services has a mature management infrastructure for centralized desktops across hardware and software in the industry today, and coupled with SoftGrid for Terminal Services, application compatibility issues are substantially reduced.
Functionally, Terminal Services is really a superset of VECD. Terminal Services is a mature, proven and highly scalable technology for centralizing desktops and applications. In comparison, VECD is new and we consider it an early-adopter model. VECD likely has a lower price-performance ratio than Terminal Services – due to the hardware requirements of virtual machines – but it does have the benefit of the same application compatibility and isolation boundaries as Windows Vista.
PressPass: What partner opportunity do diskless PCs and VECD represent, if any?
Woodgate: For partners who serve our large enterprise customers, these new options represent new opportunities to innovate and sell software and hardware. There is a lot of innovation required to build complete software solutions for virtualized and centralized desktop scenarios and diskless PCs. Diskless PCs, SANs and servers are all potential hardware opportunities.
PressPass: Looking ahead, what is on the horizon for Microsoft in this space?
Woodgate: Now that we’ve licensed Windows Vista Enterprise in these new ways, we’re interested in getting feedback from the Software Assurance customers that will take on the role of early adopters and start trialing diskless PC or VECD in production over the next few years. And of course, we will continue to examine new and flexible ways to provide Windows solutions to our customers based on their needs.
Later this year, we will release System Center Virtual Machine Manager to increase physical server utilization, centralize management of virtual machine infrastructure and rapidly provision new virtual machines. Looking ahead to Windows Server “Longhorn,” codename for the next version of Windows Server, we will introduce a new hypervisor-based virtualization architecture that will provide customers better reliability, greater scalability and dynamic capabilities to virtualize most workloads in their infrastructure. Windows Server “Longhorn” also will include Terminal Services Gateway – a feature that will enable customers to access both their TS and VECD desktops remotely.
Beyond that, Microsoft will be making broad investments to offer customers a set of virtualization products that will be more dynamic. These investments will span multiple disciplines, ranging from the desktop to the datacenter, and will fuel our overall virtualization strategy.