Will the enterprise ever shed its current desktop infrastructure?
The virtual desktop has gone through too many iterations to count as the IT industry searches for the magic formula that will convince the enterprise that a tower in every workspace is not only expensive, but inefficient and less productive to boot. But for all the advantages that pooled desktop images, centralized repositories, cloud-based services and even mobile client access are supposed to bring, organizations still stubbornly stick to the old way of doing things.
The latest push comes from VMware, which recently acquired desktop as a service (DaaS) pioneer Desktone, with an eye toward uniting the Desktone platform with its own Horizon View system. While details are still fuzzy, the rough outline would have Desktone acting as a multitenant architecture on the service provider end while Horizon would retain its status as the enterprise-side solution. By integrating the two within an overarching cloud infrastructure (vSphere), the hope is that enterprises will soon come to view the desktop as simply another service to be implemented on either the public, private or hybrid cloud.
This would fit nicely with VMware’s overall cloud strategy, which seeks to put nearly all enterprise operations on a virtual footing that resides atop a broadening field of commodity hardware. Along with the Desktone acquisition, the company has announced a bevy of new automation and management systems designed to foster fully transparent interoperability across in-house and third-party service architectures. With on-demand access to any number of applications and services, the enterprise will finally be able to shed much of the responsibility for building and maintaining data infrastructure by repurposing its own IT operations into a service brokerage rather than as the data and infrastructure gatekeeper.
The hardware component of this vision is already taking shape. Dell recently announced a new PowerEdge VRTX platform designed to support Horizon View and vSphere converged infrastructure using the new Ivy Bridge processors from Intel. The goal is to allow the enterprise to increase the density of VDI architectures (it has delivered more than 60 percent increase in user density via Windows 8 images in testing) even while it enhances graphics performance for the user interface and provides support for unified communications, advanced client-side capabilities and other tools designed to provide a better user experience than traditional desktop infrastructure. And the platform already has built-in support for Desktone.
All of this is probably causing some consternation at Citrix, which has long tailored its Xen virtual platform for VDI rather than general virtualization. But Citrix is not without its backers. Toshiba, for one, offers support for both Citrix and VMware on its new Virtual Desktop Service (VDS), a DaaS platform that the company hopes will gain traction as the enterprise sheds its Windows XP base. The only catch is that no matter which VDI or DaaS platform you choose, it has to be managed under Toshiba’s own Desktop Manager stack, which then allows users to access Windows images from any iOS, Mac OS, Windows, Linux or Android client through a Toshiba gateway.
That last point may prove to be a stickler for many enterprises as it would place them at the mercy of a single provider to enable desktop access to their workforce. Then again, the same situation would exist in a pure VMware or pure Citrix desktop infrastructure, and there is something to be said of a single-vendor integrated solution in that if anything goes wrong, you know who to call to get it fixed.
Of course, it still isn’t clear if any of this will be enough to finally push the standard desktop out of the enterprise mainstream. After all, mobile devices are quickly becoming the solution of choice when it comes to communication and social collaboration, leaving the desktop for labor-intensive tasks like database management and word processing.
The goal at the moment seems to be to bridge those two worlds with a single desktop architecture, but this may ultimately be an overreach. There will certainly be a need to share files between disparate platforms, but you don’t need an integrated desktop image to do that. As Windows 7 and 8 users have already found out, mobile desktop functionality doesn’t work very well on the desktop just as the desktop image is too clunky for the smartphone.
Virtual desktops may prove effective for many applications, but they aren’t the answer to every need.