Will VDI as a Service Spur the Sector?

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2011-02-15

Waiting for the World to Awaken to SAAS' Potential

Cloud computing's software-as-a-service model may one day dominate the world of IT, but across the vast expanse of the world's IT departments, that morning hasn't yet seen its dawn.

For all its efficiency, cost savings and centralized control, SAAS hasn't yet convinced most of the world's IT decision makers that it is worth a leap of faith.

"There's no question that SAAS, even though the technology is ready for the enterprise, isn't being adopted at the rate that some people thought it would be by this time," data center analyst Greg Schulz (pictured) of StorageIO and author of "The Green and Virtual Data Center" told eWEEK.

"Companies are going to go with what works. If a client-server system installed seven years ago still works and gets the job done, they will stay with it but keep a close eye on it at the same time. If the budget opens up, a refresh is needed and the tech is there, then they may make a change. But the conditions all have to be right," he said.

IT leaders express continuing reservations about data security, 24/7 access to data in a public cloud, and whether a provider will still be here years from now. If it's outside the firewall, it's not completely controllable, and IT managers tend to like complete control.

But over the long haul, this hesitation due to skepticism should work out to be a good thing. It is giving software developers and SAAS providers more time to innovate, work out bugs and prepare a better overall product. For instance, in 2009, companies considering Amazon's IAAS (infrastructure as a service) EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) had to worry about the service's lack of PCI compliance. In 2010, a newly PCI-compliant EC2 meant that Amazon's service switched from being a PCI liability to being a potential compliance solution.

Along similar lines, new SAAS-based product offerings are now moving out to what was just a short time ago uncharted waters, for example, cloud-hosted "big-data" analytics, e-discovery, and in one of the areas of computing most closely associated with on-premises solutions, the hosting of individual desktop systems.

Is SAAS VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) the missing link in getting virtual desktops off the corporate wish list and into regular use? The enterprise client-server system may have run its course with Win 7, and VDI has been a tantalizing alternative for about 12 years. Large new deployments by Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, GE and Wells Fargo indicate that big enterprises are now buying into this. What does the future hold?

Will VDI as a Service Spur the Sector?

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.

Big-Data Analytics, E-Discovery

Big-Data Analytics as a Service

At a February 2011 meeting of the CTO Forum in Half Moon Bay, Calif., about 60 C-level executives from diverse large enterprises such as NASA, Visa International, Google, MGM Resorts, Kaiser Permanente, Facebook and SAP Labs all came with different IT agendas. But they all agreed on one thing: The tools do not yet exist to handle big-data analytics (petabyte-level data storage and above) the way they need to be handled now, much less the way they will need to be handled in the future, as big data gets even bigger.

Because most big-data-generating companies are already cloud-savvy, SAAS figures to be prominent in the sector. Cloud services that can tackle big data in specific areas at a time are now available. Promising players in this space include EMC's Greenplum, which at the recent O'Reilly Strata Conference released a free community version of its analytics database. The Apache Hadoop project, which develops open-source software for scalable, distributed computing of big data for enterprises, also is gaining momentum in this area.

As a sidebar, upstart virtual database provider Delphix, a new startup from Avamar founder and former EMC executive Jed Yueh, brings a unique contribution to solving the big-data analytics problem. With its ability to tether production databases to any number of copies for any type of use (such as patching, reformatting, e-discovery and analytics), and keep everything synchronized, big-data analytics in a SAAS model are now a reality. It's not a surprise that Delphix has been getting a lot of calls lately; nobody else-not even Oracle-has been able to perfect this trick.

E-Discovery as a Service

Evidence collection for litigation purposes, long considered the private domain of law firms or legal departments manually searching through storage and racking up huge hourly costs, is now getting the SAAS treatment.

If a company is holding documents in cloud storage-or any storage silo-that might be required for a legal case, they now can be identified and processed for the court in a more timely fashion. Clearwell Systems, which has long specialized in finding necessary data for litigation and audit purposes, now enables users to discover information in e-mail and SharePoint documents from Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite.

Using Clearwell's new software, users can identify and collect data from Exchange Online and SharePoint Online for e-discovery requests in response to litigation, regulatory inquiries and internal investigations.

Once collected, the data from the cloud storage is immediately made available for e-discovery phases, such as processing, analysis, review and production. 

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