Virtual Desktops: The Next Generation

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You can always tell when a technology is about to go mainstream; the cutting edge starts to blur the lines with competing or related technologies. PCs become multimedia devices. Cell phones become ... well, you name it.


The same seems to be happening with the highly praised virtual desktop. While it was once viewed as virtualization's answer to the thin client, a new generation of systems is hitting the market claiming to usher in everything from fully centralized computing to the "virtualized workspace."


First up is ClearCube, which just announced the Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) Solutions Suite, designed to provide virtual desktop management from standard blade servers. The company claims that the system not only reduces PC hardware and software costs, but cuts down on the cost of the central blade infrastructure. The system is built around the V7000 chassis that holds up to 10 V7100S dual-processor PC blades, with two additions to the company's I/Port line, the I8440 and I8442, acting as clients. This network is overseen by the new Sentral 6.0 management stack that governs all of the leading virtualization platforms: VMware Server and ESX, Microsoft Hyper-V and the Citrix XenServer.


Symantec, meanwhile, is looking to put the virtual desktop on the move, leveraging technology from the soon-to-be-purchased nSuite to provide what they describe as "a new endpoint virtualization platform" that pulls together applications and other resources to be accessed via a Web interface from virtually anywhere. While still in the final stages of development, the company says the system combines a range of software delivery tools like on-demand application streaming and SAAS connectivity.


There's still something missing from all of these proposals, according to Peter Rawlinson of AppSense Ltd. Most users give their desktops unique personalities through user settings governing everything from wallpaper and screen resolution to personal applications and spell-check dictionaries. He recommends an additional component to virtual desktop models that draws out and recreates embedded user data each time a new working environment is created. Perhaps AppSense might be hard at work devising such a system?


Still another issue is how all of these virtual solutions stack up against the older concept of Server-Based Computing (SBC), says Jeff Muir of Citrix' Advanced Projects Group. While traditional SBCs like Microsoft Terminal Services are limited in available applications and place multiple users at the mercy of a single kernel, virtual desktops still lag native performance and require a great deal of duplication of both OSes and applications across virtual machines.


Server virtualization is quickly becoming commonplace in the enterprise, but the desktop version has only just begun making inroads. That means there's still some time before many of you need to start comparing systems side-by-side. But as the definition of virtual desktop continues to evolve with each new generation, it will likely portend even greater changes to the way IT is run.