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 firstname.lastname@example.org.