Citrix's XenClient promises to shake up the way client systems are provisioned and managed, using a combination of virtualisation and synchronisation to provide secure corporate images that can be delivered and updated remotely.
However, the project is running late. Citrix released the XenClient Express trial and evaluation version during its Synergy event in San Francisco this May, while general availability of the product was originally slated for the end of 2009 when Intel and Citrix first disclosed their plans.
XenClient is now expected to ship sometime in the second half of 2010, according to Ian Pratt, vice president of advanced virtualisation products at Citrix.
"Whenever you are doing something which is new, there are challenges to overcome. No-one has done a Type I client-side hypervisor before, and we still seem to be ahead of the competition in this market," he said.
The technology has actually been with customers in private trials for nine months, Pratt added, and the XenClient Express release is basically just opening the technology to a wider audience for feedback ahead of general availability in the coming months.
Testers are now getting a client-side hypervisor and a server-side component that runs in the datacentre and can remotely provision Xen-enabled clients with virtual machine images.
However, customers do not actually need to use the server part, according to Pratt, and can just use XenClient as a way to run multiple operating systems side by side on client systems, if they so wish.
This is expected to appeal to the technical staff in IT departments, and is one way that Citrix hopes to drive viral adoption of XenClient in the enterprise.
"One of the key things is that most of the people who are playing with it at the moment are admins, and they like the fact that they can run multiple virtual machines on a laptop without taking a big hit on performance," said Pratt.
But the centralised management part is expected to be the main attraction for businesses as a whole, enabling an administrator to create a corporate-standard virtual appliance consisting of a client operating system and a set of applications, and then publish it to groups of users along with attached policies governing how it can be used.
Workers get this image by registering their XenClient-enabled system with the virtual machine synchroniser in the datacentre, after which they can choose from the published virtual machine appliances that are available to them.
The chosen image is then synchronised down to their system across the network, ideally making use of infrastructure such as Citrix Repeater, where available, to ensure the most efficient delivery.
By attaching policies to these virtual machine images, administrators can control what users can do with the virtual machine, such as whether they are allowed to connect devices like USB memory sticks.
XenClient is designed periodically to check back with the virtual machine synchroniser for updates to the virtual image and its associated policies. If a laptop is reported stolen, this allows a company to set a policy to lock out that device, which will be implemented the next time it connects to the network.
If necessary, firms can also set a lease time on virtual images so that they will cease to run if the user has not connected to the internet within a certain time, preventing XenClient from checking in with the virtual machine synchroniser.
VMware has had a similar capability in its VMware ACE product for some time, but here the virtualisation layer runs on top of a host operating system, potentially leaving the virtual machine vulnerable to malware or to having its memory probed by professional attackers if they acquire a stolen laptop.
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