Just what, exactly, does Microsoft have to gain from virtual desktop technology? Not a lot, apparently, which is probably why the entire concept is getting the cold shoulder from Redmond.
But that could prove to be a serious mistake, especially if the concept makes it out of the fringe and into the mainstream of enterprise computing.
For the moment, it seems Microsoft is willing to let Citrix do the heavy lifting when it comes to virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). Citrix unveiled a slew of new VDI capabilities on XenDesktop 3 last month, including new high-definition media tools and a doubling of hosted desktops per server. A key upgrade for IT is a new integrated profile management system that makes it easier to maintain personalized desktops for individual users.
While Microsoft has tossed a few VDI features into Hyper-V -- offering easier access to Windows 7 features like the new Aero Glass interface from the Start menu -- it's fair to say that the company has been downplaying the technology's usefulness in the modern enterprise. Which is a shame because, according to Keith Ward, editor of Virtualization Review, Microsoft could have a whopper of a system by pairing VDI capabilities with tools like Live Migration and the latest improvements to System Center Virtual Machine Manager.
The reason for Microsoft's hesitancy is easy to understand, according to eWEEK's Cameron Sturdevant. Microsoft's core business model relies on fat clients loading up on Windows, IE, Media Player, et al. That's why you need to take company executives with a grain of salt when they say VDI won't be of much use beyond 100 seats or so.
All this is music to the ears of VMware, says author and tech blogger Brian Madden. VMware is pushing VDI like crazy, expecting it to be a winner as corporations seek to trim expenses in a down economy. It also offers the company a way around the Terminal Server framework that Microsoft has backed for more than a decade. And anything that can place VMware between Microsoft and underlying hardware is a friend indeed.
So where does all this leave the rest of us? It you are a Windows shop, there's no reason why you need to stick with Microsoft if you want to virtualize your desktops. The easiest approach will probably be through Citrix, although VMware is likely to be more forward-leaning when it comes to tying your VDI into advanced architectures, like the cloud.
Meanwhile, Microsoft still has the means to turn VDI to its advantage, but only if it has the stomach for it.