Making Sense of Desktop Virtualization
More than a few IT organizations have made the plunge into desktop virtualization only to discover that this latest IT cure can easily wind up being worse than the disease. The issues that many of solution providers wind up confronting range from the fact that the costs associated with implementing certain types of desktop virtualization are a lot higher than they initially thought, the performance of those applications often leaves much to be desired, and end users tend to rebel against the rigidity of the application environment. On top of that there is also contention over how to support mobile computing devices.
Concerns about cost are especially prevalent in virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) environments where most of the processing is shifted back to virtual machines on the server. This puts a lot of pressure on the I/O performance of the servers and storage systems, which frequently forces customers to upgrade their systems. That usually solves the problems, but some customers simply can’t afford those upgrades, which has given rise to a cottage industry of tools designed to optimize VDI performance.
There’s no doubt that VDI is one of the more popular forms for desktop virtualization, but a lot of VDI projects are stuck in pilot stage or have been rolled out on a limited basis because of performance and cost issues. Of course, that issue has created something of a cottage industry around VDI performance that spans everything from wide area network (WAN) optimization to storage.
For example, Atlantis Computing came up with a virtual appliance that optimizes storage performance for VMware View and Citrix XenDestop environments. Now Atlantis is extending that capability out to Citrix XenApp (formerly known as Presentation Manager) that is based on a more traditional form of desktop virtualization known as terminal services. According to Seth Knox, director of marketing for Atlantis Computing, as IT organizations look to deploy Citrix XenApp on top of virtual servers, they are running into the same performance issues being experienced by organizations adopting VDI.
But if desktop virtualization wasn’t already complicated enough, Intel and few of its allies have been pushing an approach called Intelligent Desktop Virtualization (IDV) that relies more on the processing capabilities of the client. The basic idea is to simplify systems management by managing desktop environments running on top of what is known as a Type 1 hypervisor. This approach is less costly to deploy and has the benefits of being able to more easily support mobile computing devices. At the moment IDV adoption is nascent, but Intel is expected to more aggressively promote the concept later this year.
Of course, there are a variety of other approaches to desktop virtualization. Pano Logic, for example, just announced that it has shipped over 100,000 devices that create a zero-client implementation of VDI that is much easier to install and manage that VMware View or Citrix XenDesktop. Because there is no actual endpoint to manage, Mike Foder, vice president of customer success for Pano Logic, argues that this centralized approach to desktop virtualization is a lot more cost effective than any other approach.
Naturally, most solution providers are also waiting to see how aggressive Microsoft will be in promoting its own flavor of desktop virtualization. While it seems Microsoft has endorsed the basic concept, the vast majority of its efforts appear to be focused on getting corporate customers to upgrade to traditional implementations of Windows 7 and Windows 8.
While every vendor wants solution providers to focus on their specific platform, the reality is that there doesn’t appear to be any consensus about what’s currently the best approach to desktop virtualization, which means that if solution providers are going to specialize in this area they will need to know what type of virtualization to apply when based on the use case involved. That may be a daunting task given all the options available, but solution providers should take comfort in the fact that wherever there is mystery and complexity, there’s usually a fair amount of profit.