Try not to roll your eyes at this statement: Virtual desktops for enterprises large and small are now a ready-for-prime-time alternative to conventional client-server networks.
Yes, you undoubtedly have heard that one before-about every year since 1998, or perhaps even earlier than that. But thanks to widespread broadband availability, vastly improved networking hardware and software from competing vendors, and the fact that many C-level executives frankly are up to here with upward-spiraling licensing fees, VDIs (virtual desktop infrastructures) in several forms are getting closer looks from more potential users than ever.
The idea of deploying processor-less terminals connected to a central enterprise computer system goes way back to the dawn of digital IT. The benefits of a virtual desktop system have long been apparent: faster deployment and disconnection of employee desktops as needed, lower licensing costs, less complexity, automatic software updates and security patches, easier and more efficient policy enforcement, and so on. All of those features are gold for most enterprises.
Although VDI often can require a non-trivial up-front investment in hardware, software and training, market competition is helping bring pricing down. Also, the inherent problems that shackled VDI for a long time-latency and security issues-are being solved by improvements as each new-generation system becomes available.
VDI deployments still have limitations involving the number of users and geographic locations of clients. However, with market demand on the rise, it is a given that there is more innovation to come that will solve those issues.
A subsector of VDI that is earning the most attention at this time is client-side VDI; it differs from server-based VDI in that each actual client, as well as the server, holds a VDI agent-whether it be a hypervisor-like one or a simpler connector to the server.
A big advantage to this: When an Internet connection is cut off, it doesn't affect a file in process, as it would with a standard VDI deployment. The user can keep working on the file on the client as usual, and when the connection is restored, the client and server automatically sync up both versions to result in the most recent version of the file.
Here's a look at several virtual desktop providers that are innovating on VDI's client side. These company/product snapshots are in no particular order.