PCs Litter the Path to VDI

The option to use virtual desktops is becoming more feasible, but stiff hardware requirements, steep licensing costs and cloud alternatives should give IT managers pause about the technology.

Although I'm keeping my Mac desktop systems, I'm dumping my Windows desktop system and using a thin client and VMware's View 4 virtual desktop infrastructure for my Windows needs.

In some ways, this is just a continuation of my Windows desktop evolution since I've been running a Windows XP virtual machine on my Mac using Parallels Desktop for just about a year (for Outlook access to my corporate e-mail account).

The more I use Windows as a virtual machine in a LAN environment, the less need I see for me to have a PC sitting at my desk. And if I worked in a midsize to large organization, it would make even more sense to centralize the desktop infrastructure in a data center. Instead of trying to remotely update hundreds or thousands of desktop systems, the end-user OS and application files could be configured and patched centrally.

The latest desktop virtualization offering from VMware makes it possible to virtualize workloads that were once practically immovable off of end-user hardware. Using its own PCoIP, VMware enables View 4 to support as many as four monitors. The proprietary protocol also increases the ways those monitors can be positioned (some in landscape and some in portrait orientation), so that graphics-intensive applications can be supported in a virtual desktop environment.

I'm not saying that virtual desktop infrastructure, or VDI, is the be-all-end-all solution for fat client deployment. VDI still isn't a good fit for mobile users or, for similar reasons having to do with network reliability, for users who in connect over slow WAN links. In addition, there are plenty of high-value display-intensive applications that aren't well-suited (yet) for virtualization, including video production.

I am saying that VDI is a valid option to consider when replacing existing end-user hardware. The most obvious choice for VDI are large pools of stationary end users, such as a call center or order processing department. But the improvements made in platforms such as VMware View 4 make virtual desktops a reasonable deployment choice for an even wider variety of end-user compute workloads.

However, even as the option to use virtual desktops becomes more feasible, there is an underlying infrastructure requirement that dictates an evolutionary approach to VDI implementation. Even though fat client hardware isn't deployed to the end user in a VDI scenario, there are real hardware resources that must be added to the data center to host the virtual desktop systems.

The next hurdle to clear is licensing. As a reviewer, I don't actually buy the OS and other client licenses that support my underlying infrastructure, and the pricing for nearly all volume licensing is a trade secret to which I am not privy. However, I am concerned with license costs and provisioning when it comes to VDIo say that it's going to get complicated is putting it mildly.

Finally, VDI is by no means the only technology that is evolving as a viable option for providing end-user compute resources. Cloud-based applications from a host of vendors, including Microsoft, are emerging as a reasonable choice for providing business-critical applications to end users without the obligation of providing and maintaining a fleet of PCs (and/or Macs.)

With all that said, I'm looking forward to my virtual desktop experience. So far, the "instant on," centrally administered (albeit by me), super-speedy data center hardware it avails me is putting a smile on my face.

Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at csturdevant@eweek.com.