Virtual Desktops: They’re a Breeze in the Cloud

Arthur Cole

Desktop virtualization was once considered a novel, but largely impractical, development. It would be great to save on hardware costs by shuttling desktop images from a centralized repository to dumb terminals, but the extra storage and networking costs usually produced a net loss.

As well, there were the personalization issues, latency and other “user experience” problems that effectively killed the idea for all practical purposes.

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But then, a strange thing happened. First came the cloud, which greatly alleviated the infrastructure burden for enterprises looking to implement virtual desktops. And then came the mobility movement, which gave the enterprise a strong incentive to provide a single user interface across multiple access devices. Combined, these two developments suddenly turned desktop virtualization from an unwieldy experiment to a must-have technology in order to maintain a competitive edge in the 21st century.

It’s no surprise, then, that a number of cloud-based desktop virtualization platforms have hit the channel in recent months, all of which purport to contain the magic formula that strikes the proper balance between operational efficiency and broad user flexibility.

Service providers, naturally, are quite eager to deploy yet another new tool as they seek to develop full-fledged data environments for the enterprise. Dallas’ Dynastack, for example, recently unveiled the OpenStack-driven Hybrid Cloud Desktop Solution, which enables full user provisioning of desktop profiles, security formats, applications and even storage preferences. As well, it distributes images to multiple devices using a variety of web browsers using a proprietary architecture that provides lower latency than leading solutions from Citrix, VMware and Microsoft.

Small providers like Dynastack are hoping to get into the virtual desktop market early in the hope that they can secure strong customer bases before top-tier providers gain serious traction. That job is becoming more difficult by the day with the likes of Amazon moving ever closer to a full VDI solution. The company recently upgraded its Cloud Drive with a new syncing service that integrates more closely with desktop applications. Ostensibly, this is designed to provide the same functionality that has brought acclaim to providers like DropBox, but it isn’t hard to imagine that once file-syncing becomes common in the public cloud, full desktop delivery won’t be far behind. Indeed, AWS is already up with CloudBuddy, which provides data access and management, sharing and other services across multiple access devices.

For enterprises and service providers alike, there is also a growing number of VDI platforms geared specifically for deployment on cloud infrastructure. Virtual Bridges, for example, recently released its namesake platform designed for multi-tenant environments. The system provides for role-based deployment of desktop images, giving organizations greater control over the distribution and delegation of those images. The package also provides bandwidth management and other functions designed to optimize underlying infrastructure utilization.

At the same time, a Canadian company called Userful is out with the Userful Multiplatform system that allows Windows or Linux desktops to be delivered to zero-client devices. The system offers broad customization, allowing enterprises to optimize images for web, Office or open source applications while enabling users to switch between images to suit their needs. The platform can be deployed in a matter of hours and features a range of management options such as automated failover and multiprotocol remote access.

Despite these developments, it is important to keep in mind that even new cloud-based architectures do not overrule a fundamental aspect of desktop virtualization: it’s not for everyone. Primarily, it is a solution for lower-level employees, such as call center operators or sales teams, who perform specific tasks on their desktops. Executive-level users often turn to their computers for more diverse reasons, ranging from email to analytics and productivity functions.

But with the cloud as a foundation, at least enterprises now have a more convenient means to distribute operating environments across multiple environments. And that should help get employees out of the office and into the real world.

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