VDI for the Long Haul

Arthur Cole

Desktop virtualization has barely gotten off the ground but proponents are already moving on to the next step: remote or hosted desktop infrastructures.

The idea is basically the same except that rather than centralizing desktops on a server and parsing them out to thin clients over the LAN, the remote concept moves the entire operation to the WAN. Naturally, this leads to all manner of bandwidth and performance issues, but by tweaking optimization and acceleration technologies to suit both applications and operating systems, the industry is pushing centralization and consolidation capabilities to new levels.

Wyse Technology took a major step forward this week with the launch of the Virtual Desktop Accelerator (VDA) platform. The company says it has broken the 300-odd mile barrier of current remote platforms to allow service over thousands of miles without hitting significant network latency, packet loss or other hang-ups. The system is also all-software, so it can be deployed without network changes or hardware upgrades. The company is pitching it as an environmentally friendly means to consolidate data centers under common virtual platforms like XenApp, XenDesktop, VMware View and Microsoft Terminal Services.

And speaking of Terminal Services, that platform is about to get a makeover under the next release of Windows Server 2008 which, among other upgrades, will see expanded support for remote desktops. The entire package, in fact, will be renamed Remote Desktop Services and will gain improved graphics and audio support and better integration of shared applications. Due out in October, Microsoft hopes the system will keep the performance differences between local and remote applications largely invisible, at least to the user.

Sun Microsystems, meanwhile, is looking to overcome the commoditization factor of its VDI platform that comes from shunting standard desktop images to remote and mobile workers. The company has turned to Ringcube Technologies' vDesk platform to enable greater personalization and customization for the Sun Ray thin client by allowing individual workspaces to be stored on PCs, laptops or USB devices.

Other vendors are hoping to draw new partnerships around the idea of remote desktops. Canada's Teradici, for example, has formed a partner program around its PC-over-IP (PCoIP) system aimed at heavy data applications like engineering design, digital content creation and video editing. The company hopes to draw in VARs, system integrators and OEMs with an eye toward compiling a complete remote data center platform covering everything from network design and configuration to disaster recovery and security.

The ultimate goal of all these initiatives, of course, is to lower costs and increase performance levels, ending the capital and operational burdens of outfitting and maintaining traditional PC infrastructures. Word on the street is that VDI platforms are getting close to parity with PCs, and can be made more secure as well.

Most enterprises remain leery on those last two points but are nonetheless intrigued by the cost savings. If the VDI backers contend that you can lower your costs without hampering productivity, they'll have to prove it first.

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