It's almost universally accepted that virtual desktops will never provide the same user experience as real ones. Of course, that doesn't stop people from trying.
Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) will only truly come into its own if one of two things happens: Either the technology will advance to the point that performance comes as close to the traditional desktop as to be indistinguishable, or entirely new applications and data environments emerge to make VDI a fully distinct, but no less powerful and valuable, enterprise platform.
For the moment, the industry seems to be following both tracks, with the latest generation of mobile-ready systems promising new ways of doing things even as they embrace the performance-enhancing technologies of the traditional desktop.
A case in point is Nvidia's new VGX platform. The company has essentially made it possible to access cloud-based PC images from multiple devices, including smartphones and tablets, regardless of the operating system they use. At the same time, it provides GPU acceleration suitable for running high-end applications, such as 3D design and visualization, that have struggled under traditional virtual desktop environments. The system utilizes a new line of server boards sporting four GPUs and 16 GB of memory, as well as a GPU virtualization module that integrates with leading hypervisors. At the same time, a User Selectable Machines (USMs) system provides graphics customization and other management functions.
Since storage is such a key component of any virtual platform, many developers are turning toward Flash arrays as a means to improve both the speed and reliability of VDI services. Pure Storage, for example, recently updated its Purity Operating Environment for the FlashArray300 series with things like enhanced data integrity and always-on encryption. The company is driving toward all-Flash storage architectures for enterprises and cloud providers as they contend with the high-performance, high-throughput needs of virtual desktop and server environments.
If VDI were a simple matter of technology, however, it would be the dominant form of data access already. As the UK Register's Trevor Pott points out, the road to truly stateless desktops cuts across processes, procedures, governance and other territories, many of which get right to the heart of enterprise and user attitudes and expectations. For instance, how do you intend to handle desktop configuration issues like patches, security and application deployment? Will configs be confined to a single server? What if it goes down? How regularly will the VDI template be updated? It seems that many issues that used to plague traditional desktop architecture will need to be re-addressed once the virtual world comes along.
For a while, it seemed that desktop virtualization would be relegated to niche applications, say, in the call center where system conformity and centralized processing take precedence over specialized, creative application sets. Mobile technology and the cloud have changed all that, providing both the means and the motive to get users up out of their chairs and interact with data environments in innovative ways.
There's still work to be done on both the server and client side, but at least the knowledge workers are finally realizing what virtualization can really do. And they are starting to hunger for it.