Business Hardware

How the Cloud Changes the Virtual Desktop Landscape

While cloud computing and virtualization, along with a focus on small and midsize businesses, are expected to be major trends at this year's VMworld show, the virtual desktop infrastructure players are looking to make some news this week as well.

Three big players - Citrix, Dell and HP - each made announcements last week regarding virtual desktop offerings, including new software from Citrix and new hardware components from Dell and HP. At least one analyst says the preparation for VMworld shows the growing importance of VDI technology in an increasingly cloud and mobile world.

Over time, the IT workspace of employees will be dynamically assembled from a handful of places, predicts Mark Bowker, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. Some applications will be stored locally on whatever device the employee is running, other IT services will live in an enterprise data center, while others will be hosted externally, in a third-party public cloud. But users will have the opportunity to access all of their information, both personal and professional, from whatever device they they're using at the time, be it a PC, mobile phone or tablet. "What we're seeing is a shift away from the device-centric model, and toward a user-centric model," Bowker says.

The potential of such a move is appealing: All your devices synched together and access to all your information no matter where you are. One key to getting to this landscape, he says, are virtual desktops. But, "we're not there yet." Vendors are making moves though.

Last week Citrix launched the company's newest VDI-in-a-box software update, Version 5.1, which is a product that has traditionally been aimed at the small and midsize enterprise market. With today's upgrade, Citrix has extended capabilities previously only available in the XenDesktop and its other large-enterprise offerings to the mid-market. Specifically, the 5.1 software includes what Citrix calls the personal vDisk, which creates a master copy of a virtual desktop that can then be distributed throughout an organization. This would have many of the common features everyone in the organization would need, such as preinstalled e-mail or CRM applications, and then users can customize beyond that themselves. The offering boosts Citrix's virtual desktop offerings in all segments of the market, Bowker says.

Dell, meanwhile, announced some of the first integration of technology it purchased from Wyse earlier this year, including a newly upgraded class of zero client devices. These hardware offerings allow IT departments to centrally provision and maintain desktops for employees.

Brett Waldman, senior research analyst of cloud and virtualization system software at IDC, says the Wyse acquisition is still fresh, so he expects Dell to continue to innovate in the space, especially since Dell just also recently purchased Quest Software, an IT systems management company. "If they can take software from Quest and Wyse and combine them together, you could create a really value-add on top of software from Citrix or VMware," he says. Traditionally VDI has required servers, storage, networking and hypervisors. Dell, with its recent acquisitions, could have the opportunity to provide an end-to-end offering in the space, he says.

HP is looking to be a one-stop shop for VDI too. The company announced last week enhancements to its thin and zero clients to support VMware View and better imaging performances. While HP hasn't been as active on the mergers and acquisition front in this space as Dell has, he says HP still has an opportunity to combine its thin and zero client offerings with desktop management tools.

Overall Waldman agrees the move to virtual desktops for the enterprise will be slow.

"More and more enterprises are looking to deliver cloud and mobile applications, which should drive this space," Waldman says. "It just may take a long time." Provisioning systems and integrating them with legacy applications can be challenging, creating a hurdle for some organizations and holding back adoption. If for example, employees use thin or zero clients as their primary desktop, that requires their mobile devices to have a constant connection to the Internet to access the desktop. While mobile connectivity is good, "there are still plenty of dark spots out there," he says, leading some CIOs to worry about implementing a solution. The more players like HP, Dell, Microsoft and to a lesser extent Cisco, offer end-to-end hardware and software solutions, that could ease the on-boarding process, he says.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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