Wanova's Windows Desktop Virt Solution Bypasses VDA Licensing, Hypervisors

An executive at Wanova shared how desktop virtualization can be done using Windows Server 2008 R2 over a wide area network, while avoiding much of the usual licensing and storage headaches.

In a phone interview conducted late last week, Barry Phillips, chief marketing officer at the Campbell, Calif.-based Wanova, described a different approach to traditional desktop virtualization and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) architectures. Before joining Wanova, Phillips served as the group vice president and general manager of the Platform Product Group at Citrix, which is a strong Microsoft partner on matters of desktop virtualization.

VDI typically uses a remote desktop protocol to connect thin clients to a server in a datacenter. On the other hand, desktop virtualization typically uses hypervisors to run a virtual desktop on top of a local machine's operating system.

Both approaches will deliver a desktop to end users, but Wanova appears to have found a third way that veers from these traditional desktop virtualization and VDI approaches. Its system doesn't require the use of hypervisors and can be used with thick clients (regular PCs or laptops), rather than requiring thin-client devices. Moreover, the licensing is just Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 licensing (even using the OEM licensing on the clients). An organization doesn't need to have Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) licenses in place from Microsoft to use Wanova's system, according to Phillips.

While Microsoft recently announced some cloud-based management initiatives associated with Windows Intune that will be useful in supporting a world of connected devices, where the bring-your-own-device concept is a friendly one at the workplace, it turns out that connecting those devices to the network may involve some licensing complications for organizations to consider. Whether a device requires a VDA license or not seems to depend on the organization's client licensing within the company, and whether or not the remote device is a Windows RT device or not, and maybe where the device is used.

In any case, Wanova's approach is entirely separate from such considerations.

"There is absolutely no issue in terms of VDI licensing -- it doesn't require VDA or SA [Software Assurance] because we're just using Windows the way you normally would use Windows," Phillips explained, in a recent phone interview. "It somewhat helps us because there is a lot of confusion there in terms of how Windows licensing works. Whether you're accessing from home, from work … [and] there are lots of service providers that become very cautious about violating Windows licensing and they'll move to somebody like us because of that. The good thing for us is it has absolutely no bearing on us at all."

How It Works
Wanova makes the Mirage cloud-based desktop management system that clones a desktop image to a datacenter housing Windows Server 2008 R2. The cloned object is called a "centralized virtual desktop" (CVD). It's a single instance of the client that IT pros manage. Any changes made between the client and server get synched via the CVD, which acts like a "two-way cache," according to Wanova's architectural white paper. The company uses various layering, deduplication and single-instance storage techniques to optimize the synchronization across an organization's bandwidth. The system doesn't depend on a having a high-speed connection in place and will still work when users are off line.

"We have a patent on the fact that you have your primary copy in the datacenter (single image management); you have your local copy running natively (not server-based computing on the actual machine); and then the deduped synchronization that happens both ways," Phillips explained. "This is where we give IT all the management advantages of VDI. We provide users this local experience -- they can take advantage of the GPU and CPU and the memory, which is very important as Moore's Law takes effect…that's huge."

IT pros just manage a single desktop image. That image is always kept in the datacenter, but users run a local copy of the operating system and applications natively on their desktop.

"Wanova provides the same manageability benefits that VDI does," Phillips said. "We will centralize all of the physical desktop images (your laptop and desktop) into the datacenter or into the cloud. And once you have all of those images in there, then you are able to use the same sort of single-image management that you would have with VDI."

The company's whitepaper claims that this architecture supports a greater number of clients on Windows Server 2008 R2 than a traditional VDI approach. For instance, 1,500 to 2,000 CVDs can be supported on a standard server vs. 20 to 40 virtual desktops using traditional VDI.

"The costs of our licensing are pretty comparable to VDI," Phillips said. "Of course, we don't have to deal with SA or VDA…. But really where you start to see the major differences is in the datacenter infrastructure because you have to buy many more servers and you have to buy fast storage too [with VDI]. With us, the storage is basically at rest. With VDI, the storage is like the hard drive -- you have to very high I/O storage, which is very expensive."

Phillips explained that Wanova's system will perform synchronization about once an hour, adding that "we have a patent on the fact that you have your primary copy in the datacenter and a local copy on the desktop and we sync it. The image runs locally, so there's no Windows licensing issue."

The system is also capable of zero-touch Windows 7 upgrades from Windows XP, which takes about 30 minutes. The user can be working during the process, Phillips explained.

Is It VDI?
So can Wanova's solution be called VDI?

"It's the complete opposite of VDI. The piece that we have in common with VDI is the fact that all of our images are centralized and they are managed via layering," Phillips said. "I firmly believe that in the future, all PC images will be in the cloud because you get the benefits of doing the single-image management. There will be some users who will work on those on a thin client, on a terminal, and of course they are going to require pretty high-speed connections, and that's called VDI. And there's going to be some people -- probably the majority when you think of the number of the PCs out there -- that will want this local access and take advantage of Moore's Law of computing...and that's us."

Privately held Wanova is about four years old, but its team spent two years in product development before starting to ship its products. The company's chief technology officer developed Wanova's solution from scratch after seeing the limitations of VDI solutions for remote users, Phillips explained. Wanova has provided its solutions to organizations as small as 40 to 50 seats, and as large as 20,000-plus seats.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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Reader Comments:

Wed, Sep 19, 2012 Paul Seamark United Kingdom

Lets be honest, the chance of a blue screen is much more likely in a virtualised OS than on the bare metal desktop. In fact you could argue it's even less likely if it's a delivered and carefully locked down and a managed image thats being delivered to the Wanova agent. I've used a number of client hypervisors and other than being useful for Developers (who need to have multiple OS up at once) and IT geeks to play around with - is a client hypervisor actually useful in any other way? It just adds problems and although there have been many improvements in the various products available there is always going to be a performance overhead for the hypervisor.

Tue, May 22, 2012 EVVJSK

How long until Microsoft sees what you are doing and changes their licensing scheme to prevent you from doing this (i.e. will this work under Windows 8)? Seems like you might have something worthwhile, that means Microsoft will likely squash you as soon as they can . Best of Luck !

Thu, May 3, 2012 Tom Nikl Wanova HQ (Campbell, CA)

Wanova Mirage can run on a type 1 or type 2 hypervisor, but most of our customers want to run natively because of all the issues with hypervisors. We’re being used for Windows 7 migrations for customers between 10,000 and 200,000 users. They would not consider using a client hypervisor. Of course, Windows 8 will ship with a free type 1 hypervisor that does not have hardware compatibility issues. This will be sufficient for BYOC use cases. If a Wanova user faces a blue screen they can leverage the Wanova bootable media or Intel’s vPro Technology (or a combination of the two) to quickly restore a bare metal device back to the end user’s complete previous system.” Tom Nikl Technical Marketing, Wanova

Wed, May 2, 2012 Sham Sao Boston, MA

Regarding the statement "Moreover, the licensing is just Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 licensing (even using the OEM licensing on the clients)." in the article above, the same is true of client hosted virtualization using a local hypervisor as well. Organizations only need to pay more if they are running MULTIPLE instances of Windows 7 on a single PC, something which a client hypervisor offers the option for (but does not require), while Wanova does not provide this capability at all. Also, Wanova's capability effectively functions like an agent within Windows, so if Windows ever blue screens, the Wanava user is out-of-luck, whereas someone using Windows 7 on a client hypervisor could instantly recover since a problem with Windows would not compromise the hypervisor.

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