Virtualization Cuts The Fat Out Of Desktop Infrastructure


Solution providers are getting more diet aids to help midrange business customers slim down their desktop PC infrastructures—thanks to help from vendors wanting to bulk up their virtual desktop PC technology in anticipation of this still-new, but fast-growing market.

With desktop PC virtualization, a PC workload can be one of multiple virtual machines sitting on a hardware server, either in the customer's data center or at a remote site. The user has some type of computing device, such as a traditional desktop or laptop PC, or even a desktop appliance, which is a thin client to which peripherals, such as a monitor and keyboard, are attached.

Virtual desktop technology is on the verge of cutting much of the fat
associated with desktop PCs in much the same way that server virtualization has started reducing midrange businesses' server overhead, only on a larger scale.

A much larger scale, according to George Loridas, South Central territory manager for Ryjac Computer Solutions Inc., an Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider.

The need for virtual desktop PCs in the midmarket will be huge, Loridas said. "Look at the potential for virtualization. Everyone's doing storage virtualization. Everyone's doing server virtualization. But if you look at the number of PCs in a company compared to the number of servers, it's 10-to-1, 50-to-1, 100-to-1," he explained.

Loridas, whose company works with desktop virtualization technology from VMware Inc., Palo Alto, Calif., and Provision Networks, which was acquired by Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based Quest Software Inc., said that desktop virtualization can be very attractive to midrange customers for a variety of reasons.

For instance, he said, the thin clients used with virtual desktops can consume under 10 watts compared to 350 watts for a typical PC. That can mean a difference in power usage of about $50 per PC per year, he said. "If a company has 250 PCs, times $50, that's $12,500 per year in electricity savings."

Because the desktop PC image—including the operating system and applications—is encased in a file, virtual desktop PCs can be provisioned on-demand and can follow users no matter which device they use to access their applications, Loridas said. And updating and patching those images is much easier than traditional desktop PCs, he added.

Operating system and application licensing costs are lower as there is no need to have a license for a PC that's not in use. "If someone quits, their PC sits idle, but still has a Windows license allocated to it," Loridas said. "With virtual PCs, if a PC is not in use, the licenses are returned to the 'tool crib.' The next guy who signs on takes an unused license."

Desktop virtualization is just as important in the midmarket as it is in the enterprise, Loridas emphasized. "An enterprise has 20 people on its IT staff," he said. "A midmarket company has only one or two overworked people."

Next: The Playing Field

The Playing Field
In the past few weeks, a number of vendors have rolled out new products and programs geared toward helping slim down a company's desktop PC infrastructure.

Citrix Systems Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last week released the final beta version of its Citrix XenDesktop desktop virtualization software. Several vendors, including Wyse Technology, San Jose, Calif.; IGEL Technology, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and Hewlett-Packard Co., Palo Alto, Calif., support Citrix XenDesktop with their server and thin client product lines (see "Three Sides Of Citrix XenDesktop," right).

For its part, VMware last week unveiled new professional services offerings for its desktop virtualization technology that can be implemented by the company's own engineers or by VMware-authorized consultants, said Jerry Chen, VMware's senior director of desktop solutions.

Those services include assessments, virtual desktop infrastructure and virtual application design, and solution implementation, Chen explained.

Also new last week was a technology agreement between VMware and Sun Microsystems Inc., Santa Clara, Calif., under which Sun Ray thin clients and Sun's Appliance Link Protocol (ALP) can be used with VMware's virtual desktop infrastructure. "We're extending our offerings' ecosystem," Chen said of the maneuver. "We're giving customers a choice and helping accelerate adoption."

That's happening everywhere. Earlier this month, ClearCube Technology Inc., an Austin, Texas-based virtual desktop hardware and software vendor, spun off its software business as a new company, VDIworks. The move stems from a need to make sure ClearCube's hardware and software are clearly vendor-agnostic going forward and not tied to each other, said Amir Husain, CTO of ClearCube.

This is especially important as Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash., starts to become a major factor in the desktop virtualization market, Husain said.

"A big piece of this is to provide customer choice," he said. "VMware is No. 1 [in the desktop virtualization market] now. Will it be in 12 months? We don't know. So being vendor-agnostic is important. Our technology works with VMware, Microsoft and Citrix Xen."

Going forward, VDIworks, also Austin, will continue to produce the Sentral software that runs ClearCube's virtual PC blade platform on an OEM basis, Husain said. It will also work with other vendors who wish to OEM the software to turn their own hardware into virtual desktop devices that work with any hypervisor-based platform.

"We don't think customers should be locked into a hypervisor," Husain said. "We offer holistic management from the thin client to the connection broker to the physical host that runs the hypervisor to the hypervisor itself. We manage them all, including the entire spectrum of hypervisor offerings."

Next: New Kid On The Block

New Kid On The Block
Late last month saw the entry of a new vendor, Qumranet, Sunnyvale, Calif., into the desktop virtualization market.

Qumranet, the commercial sponsor of the Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) solution for desktop virtualization for Linux on x86-based hardware, unveiled Solid ICE (Independent Computing Environment), a scalable desktop virtualization solution for providing users the same high-performance experience of physical PCs.

Solid ICE is aimed at overcoming the low-resolution graphics and poor audio/video characteristics of most virtual desktop solutions, said CEO Benny Schnaider.

"We decided we need to focus on what the end user is seeing," Schnaider said. "The biggest obstacle to desktop virtualization is to convince the end users. If they are captive users, they can't complain. But if IT wants to convince users to move to virtual desktops, they need to look at how to increase the end-user experience."

Qumranet does this with its own Special Protocol for ICE (SPICE) driver, which provides a graphics rendering solution optimized for virtualization environments. SPICE also includes shared memory technology that allows multiple virtual desktop PCs running the same application to share memory related to the application to increase performance, Schnaider said.

Qumranet is currently looking at how to develop its indirect sales channel.

It is an exciting time for the virtual desktop PC market, said Marshall Lucas, CTO and director of technology services at Electronic Strategies Inc., an Indianapolis-based solution provider that works with both Citrix and Wyse, and has been running the beta version of XenDesktop.

"We're seeing the virtualization of desktop PCs become more and more prevalent, and more and more accepted in our financial, law and kindergarten through 12th-grade school customers," Lucas said. "These organizations just don't have the staff they need to manage their desktops."

ESI has been doing thin client computing for five years using Citrix's XenApp technology, but is now getting inquiries from customers about whether or not to switch to virtual desktop technology, Lucas said.

"A lot depends on whether the end user is a power user or a task-oriented end user," Lucas said. "If there's a lot of customization required, we may take them to XenDesktop. But if there's a lot of standard applications, we may go XenApp. I could see them running a mixture of both. This gives us flexibility."

Next: Sidebar: Three Sides Of Citrix XenDesktop

THREE SIDES OF CITRIX XENDESKTOP

Customers will find that for most applications, Citrix XenServer virtual desktops offer the same performance as traditional desktop PCs, said Calvin Hsu, principal product marketing manager for the company's XenDesktop product.

Citrix XenDesktop is available in three versions. The Enterprise Edition includes core functionality and the ability for a single-management interface to work with virtual desktops across multiple servers. The Standard Edition does not include the image provisioning or multiserver interface. The Platinum Edition has all the capabilities of the Enterprise Edition, along with remote support, remote access, application provisioning and WAN optimization.

The annual license fee for XenDesktop is $45 per virtual desktop for the Standard Edition, $95 for the Enterprise Edition, and $140 for the Platinum Edition. In addition, Citrix's Subscription Advantage program offers perpetual licenses for the three editions for $75, $175 and $275.

—JOSEPH F. KOVAR