There's a new war on for control over the desktop that is as bitter as anything we've seen since the days when Microsoft battled IBM over the merits of Windows versus OS/2.
It's way too early to say who will win this war, but IT organizations everywhere are already starting to take sides. The war began in earnest when VMware rolled out is VMware View virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) software that allows multiple instances of Windows desktop to reside on top of a virtual machine hosted on a server.
The basic idea is that by running the entire desktop infrastructure on the server, IT organizations will be able to sharply reduce systems management costs. VMware has taken this concept in two additional directions. It now provides application virtualization capabilities via an offering called ThinApp and has partnered with a company called Pano Logic, which sells low-cost terminals that are known as "zero-clients" because they contain no processor or software. All the software rendered on these devices is delivered via VMware running on a server.
In general, VDI is still an emerging technology. Much work still needs to be done in terms of supporting mobility and graphics intensive applications. In addition, VDI shifts a lot of the processing costs over to the server, which is likely to need additional bandwidth and storage to effectively support VDI. The current rule of thumb is that each processor core on a server can support six to eight desktop instances. How best to go about managing these virtual instances of desktop systems is also up for discussion.
Both Citrix and Microsoft acknowledge there is a role for VDI and application virtualization, but strongly object to VDI being thought of as the one and only right approach to desktop virtualization. They argue that terminal services and thin clients are forms of desktop virtualization. Whether an IT organization should use terminal services, thin clients or VDI very much depends on the application performance requirements of each individual customer.
Clearly, there is a lot of momentum building around VDI. But the hype machine is admittedly way out in front of VDI reality.
The question is to what degree will your organization embrace VDI alongside existing investments in terminal services and thin clients or do you ultimately see VDI superseding all previous forms of desktop virtualization?