VDI: Has Cisco Made a Breakthrough?

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Top 10 Benefits of Virtualization

Virtualization has taken a firm hold at most enterprises these days, but the fact is we've only just begun to unleash the true potential of the technology.

Will desktop virtualization ever break into the mainstream? Although the number of seats continues to grow-anywhere between 5 and 10 million, according to some estimates-that still represents a tiny fraction of the PC universe.

So as the industry starts to gravitate toward more server, storage and network virtualization and all the cloudy possibilities they entail, many are waiting with bated breath for the killer platform that will push VDI to the forefront of the enterprise evolution.

It's no surprise, then, that Cisco's launch of the new Virtualization Experience Infrastructure (VXI) has drawn so much attention. Here we have what seems to be a concise virtual desktop framework pre-configured for heavy data applications like rich media and video and designed to support the leading VDI platforms, including VMware, Citrix, EMC, NetApp and Wyse.

The package contains a number of existing Cisco technologies, such as the Collaboration, Data Center Virtualization and Borderless Network architectures, along with a couple of new ones, namely the VXC 2100 and VXC 2200 "zero client" devices. Cisco users will also find support for much of the company's legacy infrastructure, including many of the UC virtual and end point applications, the Quad platform, ACE load balancing, the Adaptive Security Appliances, and the Nexus, Catalyst and other lines of switches and routers.

For the virtual desktop software itself, the package supports both Citrix XenDesktop 5 and VMware View 4.5, with management, security and storage support for EMC, NetApp and multiple Microsoft applications. The idea is to provide as much compatibility with existing infrastructure as possible to ease the integration process so users will quickly see the cost benefits of VDI infrastructure, which the company says can cut PC support costs in half.

VMware will also have the benefit of a new collaborative effort designed to pair View 4.5 with the UCS platform. The package includes new channel partnerships, as well as validated designs aimed at speeding up the desktop deployment process and tighter integration between the UCS management and view's policy and administration modules. Citrix, meanwhile, already had an integration deal with Cisco pairing the UCS platform with XenDesktop.

And that leads us to the question: Once you get past the headlines, how much of this is really new here? Author Brian Madden points out that this is essentially a giant reference architecture being used to cobble together disparate systems into a single product-one with a 724-page configuration guide. Even the VXC thin clients are pretty much the same as any other thin client out there.

So in the end, are we left with a revolutionary new platform that will kick VDI into high gear? Or is it just another way to tag VDI onto existing virtual platforms if and when the business case calls for even more leverage of underlying virtual infrastructure?

It's probably a little bit of both, meaning that when the time is right, adoption of VDI will probably go a little more smoothly than we thought.