Will the cloud prove to be the enabling technology that finally allows the virtual desktop to get off the ground?
That seems to be the hope anyway, judging by the recent rush of VDI solutions that purport to leverage the cloud as a means to distribute low-cost desktop images across disparate networks. But since both VDI and cloud computing are relatively new technologies without a lot of field experience, it's hard to judge whether this is something real or simply a means to market existing technology.
Either way, the trend seems to be strengthening old alliances and producing new ones.
Microsoft and Citrix, for example, have reaffirmed their commitment to each other with a new agreement that binds Microsoft management capabilities with the latest suite of Citrix VDI products. Under the deal, Citrix XenApp and Microsoft System Center will be able to jointly manage both distributed and hosted applications, while the Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V) platform will deliver applications over the Citrix Receiver and Dazzle application storefront modules. The companies say the move will simplify the deployment and management of virtual desktops both within the enterprise and on external architectures.
For VMware users, the newest VDI offering comes from Pano Logic, which has added support for the cloud-ready vSphere 4 infrastructure to its Pano System virtual desktop platform. The latest version can now be tied to the vSphere 4 ESX, ESXi and vCenter Server 4 components, along with VI3 and View Manager 3.1 modules, and adds tools like policy-based installs and updates and remote user logoff and disconnect. One key benefit of linking to the vSphere platform is scalability, according to the company, in that it allows VDI servers to be expanded twice as fast compared to traditional architectures.
A number of startups are also looking to get in on the action. A company called Gladinet is eyeing the cloud as a virtual PC infrastructure by delivering an IP-based disk drive as part of its Cloud Desktop product. The system offers open-systems integration with cloud services like EMC Atmos, Google Docs and Amazon S3, offering a single cloud-storage client the provides access to cloud-based backup services using the company's local virtual drive technology. The company says the aim is to allow for virtual PC operation without tying the user down to a single cloud storage provider.
But probably the most interesting start-up is a joint Israeli-Palestinian system called the G.ho.st Virtual Computer that acts as a Web-based OS that can be accessed by any computer with an Internet connection. The system provides 15 GB of free file storage, as well as file sharing, instant messaging and an open directory of free Web applications. Company officials say the system is crucial for their own operations, considering the Israeli home office is separated from the Palestinian engineering staff by soldiers and a concrete wall, with special permits required for each face-to-face meeting.
Part of the appeal of putting virtual desktops on the cloud is the same as putting thin client technology on the virtual infrastructure: you're going to build it anyway, so why not leverage it to the fullest extent? That argument has proved only nominally successful so far, however, as enterprises are still more concerned about performance and security than use of resources.
However, there is every reason to believe that as the cloud becomes more ubiquitous and people grow more comfortable about storing their data on the outside, it's only a small step to pulling down a cloud-based virtual PC.