Like the tides, interest in the virtual desktop seems to ebb and flow in the IT industry. On the one hand, people are intrigued by the possibility of calling up their own desktop environment on multiple devices, but on the other, the logistics to make it all happen while maintaining current performance levels are fraught with difficulty.
Nevertheless, the idea persists. Citrix’ Dan Allen reports that work toward eliminating the need for persistent desktops and lowering the networking and storage requirements for VDI is progressing through advanced Flash storage architectures and application management solutions. Using techniques like write caching and shared NFS datastores, all of the leading virtual desktop platforms should be able to scale to multi-thousand deployments without breaking the infrastructure needed to support ongoing data operations. At the same time, many of the performance issues that currently plague VDI functionality should fade away within the next year or so.
Public cloud solutions also remain on the radar for VDI enthusiasts. Tech analyst Jasmine McTigue points to policy-driven firewalls and UTM appliances as potential solutions to perennial security concerns, while network virtualization and new VM administration tools will finally provide the fine-grain control and configuration management capabilities that enterprise admins desire. And with new virtual SAN platforms like the Datacore SANsymphony and VMware Virtual SAN, both the scale of storage hardware and the network bottlenecks that VDI produces can be addressed in a cost-effective manner.
New fabric technologies aimed at hyperscale deployments can be leveraged in support of VDI as well. According to Big Switch Networks CEO Doug Murray, solutions like the Big Cloud Fabric can now be optimized for specific workloads, including VDI, by doing away with the static core-aggregation-edge model of traditional network infrastructure in favor of the core-and-pod style of the large web-scale providers. In this way, organizations gain the flexibility they need to support dynamic application environments using commodity hardware, rather than tying specific infrastructure to select applications.
VDI also gets a lift from hypervisor-converged environments, says tech consultant Keith Townsend. As software vendors transition their offerings from DAS to full-featured virtual SANs, the hypervisor is emerging as the base for infrastructure convergence. This may add complexity to the provisioning and configuration process, but it delivers the flexibility and ease of management needed to support advanced architectures like VDI and text/dev. And in some cases, this level of functionality can even be built atop legacy DAS and physical SAN environments.
But is all this really evidence of a turning tide for VDI, or is it just more wishful thinking? It’s probably a little of both. Despite all of the networking and storage gains of recent years, no one is talking about VDI performance on par with local desktop resources, so at best the virtual desktop will move into the call center and other low-level environments. C-level functions are likely to remain on top-tier data infrastructure.
But this does not mean the virtual desktop is of little value to the enterprise. The sheer volume of low-level functions in the typical enterprise suggests that virtual desktops are in a healthy growth market, driven largely by the need to streamline infrastructure to its barest essentials in the face of mounting data loads.
The desktop that was once king is now one of many princes as smartphones, tablets and the like vie for the attention of the knowledge worker. A virtual desktop, then, stands a very good chance at becoming an integral component of this mixed-client environment.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.