Will VDI as a Service Spur the Sector?

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2011-02-15 Print this article Print

VDI as a Service

How many IT managers would relish the prospect of outsourcing Windows-based client-server desktops to a hosted service that knew what it was doing? This represents nirvana for a lot of people.

The space gained some added gravitas when IBM came into the picture in January 2011 with its own VDI package. Because it needed to include mainframes within the solution, it required about two years to do all its quality-assurance testing and determine best practices. Finally, Big Blue's Virtual Desktop for Smart Business launched Jan. 24.

The channel-enabled IBM enterprise-desktop package provides anytime/anywhere secure access to personal desktops on many devices-PC or Mac, Windows or Linux (SUSE, Ubuntu or Red Hat). It is designed primarily to run on IBM System x mainframes but works equally well on x86 servers, Antony Satyadas, IBM solution strategist, told eWEEK.

IBM brings system monitoring, help desk, collaboration, analytics and custom applications for ISVs to the table. IBM-sanctioned systems integrators, such as Novato, Calif.-based CMI, supply the hosting capabilities, while Austin, Texas-based Virtual Bridges, with its Verde VDI control system, offers the management interface secret sauce that IBM required.

Virtual Bridges' central management and reporting works through a single console; IBM estimates 200 desktops can be run from a single IBM server. Virtual Desktop for Smart Business can be deployed either on a customer's own infrastructure or through a business partner-provided private-cloud environment.

The IBM Virtual Desktop (pictured below) enables Windows or Linux desktops to be hosted and managed centrally and will work with a range of devices, including tablets, netbooks, laptops, thin clients and servers. One caveat: It's not yet optimized for smartphone screens.

"We're seeing a great deal of interest in this from the health care industry, among others, because a lot of doctors and health practitioners want to use their iPads when doing their rounds," CMI President Steve Giondomenica told eWEEK. "They don't want to be tied down to a desk every time they want to look up a patient's records. This new virtual desktop works very well with iPads and other tablet PCs."

Citrix long has been among the early leaders in this segment, and has a loyal and growing clientele. Its partner, Kaviza, a promising Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company founded by former Sun Microsystems veterans, began optioning its VDI software for hosted services in 2010. Users of mobile PCs-including notebooks, desktops, iPads, iPhones and Android smartphones-now can access virtualized Windows desktops using Kaviza's virtual desktop agent along with Citrix Receiver.

Kaviza's software is installed on a server with a hypervisor, Citrix Xen or VMware ESX 4.1, which enables enterprises to run Windows across multiple desktops from one or more company servers. Citrix can handle a hosted version through partners like Rackspace, NaviSite and others.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., is currently testing a ground-breaking 250-seat, 1,250-account deployment consisting of a joint Citrix/Kaviza software package.

"It's a secondary desktop [in a window] that any user can bring up on their screen; their desktop [client] is outside of enterprise-network boundaries," Livermore National Lab's IT manager and project lead Robin Goldstone told eWEEK. "Every time an employee checks in, he or she gets a completely fresh new virtual desktop. No business documents are ever retained on the client; it all stays in the data center.

In mid-2010, Unisys came out with its own hosted enterprise VDI system that has been well-received by a number of enterprise customers in addition to its own internal staff, Patricia Titus (pictured), Unisys vice president and chief information security officer, told eWEEK.

"If we think highly of a particular technology, we always want to try it out on ourselves," Titus said. "We created a consumerized version of the hosted desktop that uses lightweight apps that can go onto consumer devices [such as iPads, iPhones and others]. In fact, we created a BYOD-[Bring Your Own Device]-to-work program to give people device choices. Obviously, because we have the same challenges everybody else has, we need to do more with less.

"This is a new business for us. We're really encouraged by the prospects," she added.

A screenshot of the main console of IBM's new Virtual Desktop for Smart Business shows its simple Web-based presentation.

Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on Salesforce.com and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and DevX.com and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

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