Spreading VDI Through the Cloud

Arthur Cole
Slide Show

When Is It Right for a Business to Consider Desktop Virtualization?

Tips for determining whether desktop virtualization is right for your business.

Is it possible that virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is already past its prime?

It's sort of a trick question because it certainly looks like the concept is as sound as it ever was, it's only the infrastructure component that seems to be changing.

Traditionally, VDI involved thin clients tapping into centralized, virtualized operating environments. The idea was to cut down on hardware and licensing costs, while increasing user flexibility and system scalability. Over the past year or so, however, the conversation took a new direction: Why bother hosting your own desktop environment when you can just ship the entire operation to the cloud?

The idea certainly hasn't escaped the attention of leading cloud providers, which see it as another way to differentiate themselves from the current run-of-the-mill SaaS/PaaS crowd. Rackspace recently launched a Citrix-based hosted virtual desktop platform through its RackConnect program. The package is aimed at enterprises and third-party solution providers, delivering XenDesktop and XenApp services to client PCs, smartphones, tablets and other devices.

Indeed, the ability to provide a unified working environment across a range of access devices has emerged as one of the key selling points of cloud-based VDI architectures. And firms like eyeOS are capitalizing on this trend by offering free downloads aimed at breaking the one-to-one relationship between hardware and operating system. eyeOS offers file synchronization between desktop and mobile devices and supports social networking through document sharing and real-time chat.

The ease of establishing cloud-based desktop architectures is also throwing wrenches into some carefully laid-out plans. Take Google, for example. That company went through a lot of trouble to tailor its Chrome OS for the netbook segment. Now, along comes ISYS Technologies, which is getting ready to launch the ChromiumPC, a modular desktop built for Chrome. By adding various modules in the company's lineup, users will also be able to run Linux and Windows, limiting any plans that Google had of forming a tightly controlled OS environment the way Microsoft did.

Still, the prospect of thousands of competing desktop platforms carries with it the same concerns surrounding disparate cloud services, namely, limited compatibility, vendor lock-in and lack of flexibility. That's why some industry leaders are looking to bring some order to the chaos. Desktone, one of the earliest desktop-as-a-service providers, recently launched its own blueprint for hosted VDI services. The aim is to provide a framework for service providers to build desktop offerings, standardizing key components like the basic software platform, and operational reference architecture and the start environment.

It's a sure bet that the idea of placing desktops on the cloud will dredge up all the security and availability concerns that dog other cloud proposals, but these aren't likely to hamper the movement for very long. With adequate mirroring and integrity measures in place, there's no reason to think the cloud will be any less troublesome than on-premise infrastructure - it's just that when a cloud goes down, more people will be affected so you're likely to hear about it more readily.

And if the cloud can be trusted to handle increasingly critical applications and infrastructure, there's no real reason to leave the desktop behind.

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