VMware nods to containerization with tweaks to virtual desktops and apps

In theory, this should reduce the number of servers needed to package apps

VMware has turned to containerization to improve the performance of virtual desktops and apps.

No, this is not a radical shift for Virtzilla – it has always championed the concept of virtual machines. Rather, it's a recognition that SaaS at scale can be delivered more elegantly with cloud-native concepts, and that some of the principles of containerization can ease the infrastructure requirements associated with the delivery of virtual apps and desktops.

The SaaS story is the simpler of the two. VMware has rebuilt the back end of its Workspace ONE service using microservices and other cloud-native technologies. Workspace ONE is VMware's platform for delivering an app to any device.

Renu Upadhyay, VMware's veep of product marketing for end-user computing, told The Register the back-end revamp means Workspace ONE SaaS customers get a more scalable platform, while VMware can add features more easily. We're told this is non-disruptive – Workspace ONE users will just see new interfaces and features in coming weeks, plus the chance to work at larger scale.

VMware's further use of container-inspired tech to deliver virtual apps and desktops is an advance on app layering, the technique it presently uses to run apps separately to virtual desktops while still enabling interaction between the app and the OS.

As explained in a VMware blog post, app layering gets the job done, but requires dedicated hosts and copies of apps for each user. Each host and app must also be patched and maintained.

Upadhyay told The Register the effort required to do so is no longer tenable because the work-from-home boom brought on by COVID-19 spawned expanded usage of desktop and application virtualization.

VMware has therefore revisited its App Volumes app layering with a tech it has called Apps On Demand, which attaches virtual apps to hosts in real time. As a host reaches capacity, a new one can be spawned. The result is that users can run a population of hosts capable of handling average usage, and rely on the availability of resources in a private cloud – or cloud-bursting – to spawn additional hosts to handle peak loads.

Attaching apps to hosts in real time uses techniques similar to those that let containers spawn and work with shared OSes. But Upadhyay said that's not Apps On Demand's best trick – spawning apps while also tracking users' profiles and managing infrastructure is the really hard part.

VMware told The Register Apps on Demand is applicable to its own Horizon Apps product, but can also work with apps published by Citrix, or with Azure virtual desktops. With Citrix shunting users to new licenses, VMware may able to make mischief with this tale of reducing virtual apps' hardware footprints while also increasing the scale of its other end-user offerings. ®

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