Wanova Redefines Windows Desktop Management and Provisioning

Managing and maintaining Windows desktops and laptops has become a major challenge in the enterprise–Wanova's Mirage simplifies the process by using a unique approach that offers speed and simplicity.

By: Frank Ohlhorst dnu

Wanova is offering a new paradigm for managing, supporting and protecting Windows desktops in the enterprise. The company's Mirage product, which entered general availability in March, is designed as an alternative to deploying complex VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) solutions.

During my testing of Mirage, I found that Mirage offers many of the advantages of VDI (centralized desktop management, application delivery, enhanced support and fast provisioning), without the primary disadvantages–Mirage eliminates the need for connection brokers, hypervisors and display protocols.

That means fewer moving parts, fewer products to integrate and manage and less hardware needed. Since Mirage uses a basic client–server approach and runs the managed desktops on endpoints (desktop PCs), I did not have to set up any server-based computing hardware in my data center; this is where Mirage potentially trumps any VDI solution on the market. It eliminates the need to add processing, high-speed storage and other infrastructure in the data center

Mirage breaks down into three major software components: a server, which stores virtual copies of Windows desktops; a browser-based management console for controlling the virtual desktops; and an intelligent client application, which handles updating and synchronizing the endpoint.

I put Wanova's new desktop management paradigm to the test by installing Mirage on a Windows 2008 R2 server and setting up a half-dozen Windows XP client systems (support for Windows 7 will come in the next version, due before 2010 ends). Mirage costs under $200 per seat, and the company offers volume discounts and other incentives to bring the price point down further.

One of the best ways to tackle what Mirage is all about is to think about the challenges an enterprise network administrator faces daily when supporting user desktops. Those desktop PCs tend to be the weak link in the IT chain and can experience a host of failures, ranging from improperly installed software to improperly patched applications to accidental file deletions. Those problems impact user productivity and can take hours to resolve. Further complicating the situation is distance–those desktops are often located elsewhere, separated by floors, if not thousands of miles.

Mirage addresses those pain points by centralizing the desktop PC–in other words, the user's desktop environment is stored in the data center, where administrators can fully manage it. However, the user's desktop is still executed locally on the user's PC–while this may seem contradictory, it is indeed how Mirage functions. That methodology illustrates the biggest difference between VDI and Mirage–the desktop executes locally and does not require a host in the data center, and users have local control over their desktops.

The secret sauce behind Mirage is the CVD (centralized virtual desktop), which is a combination of a Base Image (BI, or OS layer), which contains the desktop OS, the machine layer (installed applications) and the user layer (user personalization, settings and preferences). Most VDI solutions dispense with the user layer, forcing users to use a cookie-cutter desktop, which they cannot personalize.

The CVD layers can be separately managed by the administrator and then streamed to the remote desktop PC using policies defined by the administrator. The idea here is to decouple the software from the hardware, and then assemble the various layers (often referred to as a layer-cake approach) on the end point to deliver a fully functioning desktop that does not require a hypervisor and executes on the local PC to maximize performance.