VDI deployments are expected to kick into high gear in the coming year, finally ushering in the promise of centralized desktop images delivered to thin clients over standard enterprise networks.
This may or may not require a network upgrade, depending on the level of throughput that is currently available in a given enterprise. Most observers say 10 GbE will be a minimum requirement, considering that VDI will be carried over the same infrastructure that handles all manner of data, which will increasingly come to include storage as network consolidation plans shake out.
But all of this begs the question: What about the wide area? Does it look like the WAN, which usually involves some sort of public backbone somewhere in the chain, will be able to handle the extra burden of virtual desktops?
Ultimately, the answer is yes, but it will take a bit of work to get there.
WAN acceleration technology is rapidly becoming the norm for application delivery out to the branch office, and many of these systems are being tailored for VDI as well. As Expand Networks explains in a recent white paper, one of the chief obstacles in accelerating VDI architectures over the WAN is the fact that most VDI platforms use server-based protocols like Microsoft Terminal Services RDP and Citrix ICA for remote access, and these generally don't mesh well with the unpredictable data environment on the WAN. Expand has countered this problem in its acceleration platform with a special plug-in that optimizes the smaller packet structure of server protocols.
Other techniques are also available, according to tech blogger Brian Madden. One of the simplest is to avoid VDI altogether for the moment in favor of some of the earlier desktop virtualization approaches. You could also opt for things like remote client management through bare-metal hypervisors or local application streaming. But even if an acceleration platform is necessary, that will still be a lot cheaper than paying for a faster WAN service.
An independent WAN optimization system may not be necessary before too long, as many of the same technologies are finding their way into the leading VDI platforms. Citrix' new XenDesktop 4, for example, has expanded its HDX module to provide for improved Flash multimedia performance while cutting bandwidth usage some 90 percent. That data reduction stretches across both the LAN and WAN and is useful for everything from webcam and VoIP services to better audio and 3D graphics.
Over in the UK, Ericom Software says it has an improved version of the Ericom Blaze Microsoft RDP acceleration and compression system that improves network performance by 25 percent and reduces bandwidth consumption 25-fold. The system is geared toward graphics-rich content like browsers and PowerPoint displays and is compatible with all RDP hosts, including Terminal Services, virtual desktops and remote workstations. The system is already available on the Itona line of Linux and Windows XP thin clients from VXL Instruments.
One of the things that VDI has going for it is that it leverages many of the changes already taking place in the data center: virtualization, high-speed networking, resource consolidation and, now, WAN optimization. And while VDI certainly looks to be a cheaper solution that traditional desktop infrastructure, the jury is still out as to whether it can provide a suitable working environment for users accustomed to their own setup.
One thing is certain, though, acceleration will go a long way toward bringing remote workers into the fold.