Desktop virtualization is beginning to draw interest from enterprise IT managers, who don’t have to look far to see the benefits that can be derived from the technology.
The big brother of VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure), server virtualization, has set off a veritable gold rush of IT projects that are paying off with drastically reduced hardware budgets, slashed deployment times and flattening utility charges.
The bottom line is that VDI appears set to break out of “bleeding edge,” ready to move on to “leading edge.” In addition, the cycle time to “state of the art” will likely be quite compressed given both the advances being made by the vendors and the interest on the part of desktop managers who are looking for technologies that will reduce operational costs, extend equipment life, centralize management and provide productivity improvement to end users.
Organizations that have large fleets of PCs that are used to run only routine Office applications, an e-mail client and a Web browser are about to come under intense pressure to provide these resources even more cheaply.
VDI is getting set to mow down those who continue to locally station full-power PCs for routine office workers.
Although still quite new-and with many kinks yet to be worked out, not the least of which are complex and costly licensing schemes-VDI should be near the top of the strategic projects list even for “knowledge workers” who may use applications and peripheral hardware that can stymie the first- and second-generation VDI products currently available.
In addition, when the potential for “green savings” of VDI is added in, VDI becomes even more interesting. For example, data centers can “green” desktops by centralizing these desktop workloads in a data center where CPU cycles can just as easily be doled out to virtualized servers to process batch jobs when not needed for end users. At the very least, idled virtual desktops can be easily shut down in an automated fashion.
Experts Share View of VDI
eWEEK Corporate Partners, along with representatives from North Carolina-based First Flight Federal Credit Union, shared their interest-and hesitations-about VDI. eWEEK Labs implemented a pilot installation of the latest version of the Citrix XenDesktop 2.1 virtual desktop product to see firsthand the benefits and pitfalls of putting desktop workloads in a data center instead of on a PC stationed and controlled by an end user.
Of the IT professionals I spoke to, one of the main reasons for hesitating to implement a VDI program had everything to do with cost and almost nothing to do with the technology itself. Indeed, a Citrix Platinum XenDesktop license is $395 per concurrent user. The VMware View 3 Premier Edition is priced at $250 per concurrent connection.
When cost is taken out of the equation, the main technical concerns had to do with ensuring that network architecture was set up to prioritize VDI traffic. Handling specific workloads-either for users who routinely work with CAD/CAM or video production or for workers who were usually not connected to a network-still presents significant technical challenges for VDI products. SBC (server-based computing) isn’t always suited for these types of use cases, although the vendors are already solving the disconnected use case with application virtualization, which puts the application on the users’ machine and synchronizes changes when reconnected to the network.
Some special use cases, such as processor-intense engineering or video applications, may not ever really be suited to SBC-based products.
Although the marketing departments of the big three virtualization vendors aggressively push their product stack-in other words, running everything from the hypervisor to the management tools from one provider-there is already emerging a surprising amount of interoperability in VDI. In my tests of XenDesktop 2.1, Citrix’s product could almost as easily use the back-end server virtualization infrastructure provided by VMware or Microsoft.
Similarly, my review of Microsoft’s System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2007 found that it was able to work with VMware virtual machines in an ESX environment. IT managers should look for interoperability when evaluating VDI technology. Desktop virtualization has potential as both an operational cost reducer and productivity enhancer. During my tests, I used the latest versions of Microsoft Office on older laptops that didn’t meet the minimum technical specs to run these applications. Applications can just as easily be run on systems using a no-cost Linux. In the much changed economic period, VDI could extend the useful life of PC equipment that in the recent past might have been tossed out.
VDI can also mitigate the bad habits of users accustomed to running with administrator privilege. User changes can be easily undone at the end of the session. Using VDI, a new, unsullied desktop can be provided at the start of each workday.
Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at [email protected]