I think that being in the tech industry for so long has started to make me a little jaded to new technology. But once and a while some new project comes along and I think it’s just the coolest thing since sliced bread! Recently I’ve been lucky to be involved with a new technology we are working on here at Citrix and it’s got me and anyone I show it to saying the same thing, “That’s fricken cool, how can I get it on my system”. It’s our new bare metal client hypervisor we just announced based on Xen virtualization technology codenamed Project Independence.
I’ve been working with the Xen products both open source and commercial for over three years now and even in the very beginning I had people ask if they could run this stuff on their laptop. And at the time the story was yeah but it’s not going to work the way you want. You see initially we were really focused on making a world class server virtualization platform so the focus was making everything work great for server virtualization. We were focused on making network and storage I/O fast and keeping the CPU overhead really low for server apps. This was all needed and it actually laid a lot of the ground work for what we are building now.
But running this stuff on a laptop opens up a whole new set of challenges. Building a client hypervisor requires supporting really fast 3D/2D graphics, you have to get sound in and out of the system, allow people to plug in USB webcams and printers, burn DVD’s, plus you have to deal with undocking, power optimization, getting battery information from the hardware, I could keep going. It’s a lot of work, but lucky for us we are not building it alone. Intel and others in the Xen community are all helping build an awesome client hypervisor. The goal in the end is that the user should not have to give up anything they do today with their laptop computing experience just gain flexibility.
Sure there are products on the market today that let you run a second OS on your laptop but guess what they are all applications that run on top of your existing OS. So you startup Vista or XP and then you launch an application to boot up a second virtual machine. And then it’s slow, not everything works quite right, and it relies on your first OS working right. It’s not the best user experience.
So here is the user experience with the Citrix client hypervisor. You hit the power button on your laptop and it boots up into Vista, XP or whatever you choose as your personal computing environment. What you don’t see is that the Xen hypervisor actually came up first and then started up a primary virtual machine plus while you are watching Vista boot it’s also booting up a second VM in the background. Once you load up in your personal environment everything just works same as usual on a personal laptop. You have your own apps, your own files (lots of music and movies for me), and I can do anything I want. But here is the cool part you hit a few keys on the keyboard and bam you’re in a totally separate virtual machine running all your work applications. It’s totally isolated from your personal setup. IT gets to lockdown the corporate setup and keeps everything nice and clean, and I get to have my own personal environment where I can do whatever I want.
I can tell you right now on my standard corporate laptop it’s a nasty mix of my personal stuff and corporate stuff. Alongside Office I have iTunes and all my personal and business files are mixed in My Documents. It’s not pretty, it’s not safe, it’s hard to manage, and there is a better way. And it’s coming soon to a laptop near you.