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Most enterprise administrators have viewed Virtual Desktop Infrastructure as a way to deliver enterprise desktops to users more efficiently. However, VDI can deliver more than just a typical business desktop; the technology can also be used to deliver specialized business services.

A case in point is bank hardware vendor Diebold, which is now running a pilot program to deliver ATM (Automated Teller Machine) services via VDI. Diebold’s program aims to transform how enterprises deliver business services by divorcing the dedicated/proprietary hardware from the business service through virtualization technology.

In a phone conference, Mark Kropf, who works in Diebold s Emerging Technologies division, explained that most ATMs in the United States today are based on a built-in PC processor, which runs a version of Microsoft’s Windows XP. He added that over time those installations have become complex and difficult to manage. Kropf acknowledged that going the VDI route will give Diebold and its banking customers the ability to more efficiently deliver ATM services.

"We do have a process to go in and retrofit an ATM with a zero client device and uplift the ATM to extend its useful life," Kropf said. Diebold is building its virtualized ATM solution using Cisco products. The success of Diebold s project will have a lasting impact on the VDI market by demonstrating how VDI can be used to do more than just physical enterprise desktop replacement. There is a potential for additional growth.

In a study last year, ABI Research predicted that the worldwide market for hosted virtual desktops is forecast to grow from about $500 million in 2009 to nearly $5 billion in 2016. North America and Europe will comprise the majority of the market for virtual desktops throughout the forecast period. If VDI can be extended to more than hosted virtual desktops, the market could grow even more significantly than ABI Research has predicted.

Diebold has an OEM relationship with Cisco to help create the zero client devices for the ATMs. Diebold has standardized on the Cisco UCS server platform for their server core and backend services. Kropf said that the VDI deployment in the server core is very dense since the memory and CPU specifications for a virtual ATM are much lower than is required for a typical user desktop.

Cisco UCS, which was announced in March 2009, is a converged server platform that is optimized for virtualization and VDI deployments, which has continually evolved to offer more capabilities and services. Kropf noted that moving towards VDI has not been without its fair share of challenges for Diebold. When Diebold started the project more than two and a half years ago, each virtual ATM required more than 100M bps of bandwidth.

"VDI is very focused on the user and we have a kiosk setup and the UCS performance numbers were based on server virtualization," Kropf said. "So we’re constantly testing and learning more about our density and how far we can push it."

"There are so many things that this opens up. And that is why instead of working in a silo and taking five years to develop this, we’ve announced this early and we’re working with customers," Kropf said. "We see this as a story that will continue on in our industry and our cloud computing future."