Sun upgrades virtual desktop storage, lacks offline access

VDI 3 is Sun's first major desktop virtualization overhaul in a year.

Sun is overhauling its virtual desktop software with new features that reduce storage needs by creating clones of virtual machines, and let users operate multiple virtual desktops on the same client.

Sun's Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) Software version 3, the first major update in a year, is also designed to give users access to more client devices and operating systems. Sun has been selling thin client devices know as Sun Ray for a decade, but VDI can run on other thin clients, Macs and PCs, says product marketing manager Chris Kawalek. VDI is installed on servers in the data center, letting client devices access desktop images over the network. As of now, Sun's virtualization software does not allow any offline desktop access.

The improvement users will be most excited about is the creation of virtual machine clones that consume virtually no disk space, Kawalek says.

"Each user's virtual machine is 8, 10, 12 gigabytes," he says. "In a lot of cases, most of that virtual machine is identical to other users' virtual machines. That's a lot of wasted disk space."

To solve the problem, Sun integrated VDI with its Open Storage technology, an open source software platform that manages any sort of industry-standard hardware, whether it was built by Sun or its competitors. Instead of storing every virtual machine in its entirety, VDI now stores only a master image and files containing the differences between that master image and each user's virtual machine. Sun is testing to determine average reductions in storage needs but doesn't have any hard figures yet, Kawalek says.

Sun, which is the subject of rumors that it is about to be acquired by IBM, is releasing VDI 3 Tuesday at prices ranging from $40 to $59 per user, per year, with support.

In previous versions of VDI, Sun did not have its own hypervisor and relied entirely upon VMware on the back end to host virtual machines, while the Sun technology operated as a connection broker. In version 3, Sun is embedding a hypervisor based on its own VirtualBox technology, but customers still have the option of using VMware.

VDI 3 supports a range of operating systems, including Windows Vista, XP and 2000; OpenSolaris; and Ubuntu. Macs can be used as client devices to connect to one of the supported operating systems, but the Mac OS itself cannot be delivered through the VDI software.

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