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The basic concept behind desktop virtualization is to make it easy for workers to access their files and applications any time, anywhere and through any intranet or Internet-connected device. According to Information Technology Intelligence Consulting (ITIC), in 2009 about 13 percent of firms were using Microsoft's Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), but that figure doubled to more than 25 percent by fall 2011. Other platforms, such as Citrix's XenDesktop and VMware's VDI View, are also gaining in usage rates.
"The basic benefits that flow to IT from having the operating system, applications and data reside in a centrally managed IT facility include lower IT administrative costs (such as upgrading an OS once at a central site rather than at each individual desktop) and greater security," said David Hill an analyst with the Mesabi Group. "There is a potential issue that is gated by storage performance, as many virtual desktops trying to access storage all at once can create a bottleneck with consequent response time degradation (notably peak loading times, such as the time that everyone wants to check their e-mail at the start of the day."
But eliminating physical desktops means a great deal of storage is required for the virtual desktop. And all those desktops must be backed up accurately and be fully up to date or user revolt is likely.
Here are several top products to consider when looking at virtualizing the desktop.
1. Dell/Citrix VDI-in-a-Box
Desktop Virtualization Solutions (DVS) Simplified is being marketed as a VDI appliance. It consists of a Dell PowerEdge R710 server pre-configured with Citrix VDI-in-a-Box software v5.0, Citrix XenServer v5.6, VDI Manager (for virtual desktop management and desktop agent software. Dell and Citrix are both promoting this combined solution as a way to simplify and speed desktop virtualization deployment.
But that isn't going to be the end of the line for Dell in this area. The company recently acquired Force 10 Networks (10 GbE switches) and AppAssure data protection software to ensure that anyone switching to VDI review its backup tools and procedures to ensure he or she is up to the task. AppAssure supports Windows-based virtualization systems such as Microsoft Hyper-V, VMware vSphere and Citrix, but it still maintains ongoing partnerships with CommVault and Symantec
"Dell sells into over 80 percent of the world's 25 largest cloud and Web 2.0 companies (including Google and Yahoo), has been the largest seller of VMware licenses for years, and has a dedicated Hyper Scale computing group focused on developing/selling highly virtualized cluster and cloud solutions," said Hill.
2. Nimble Storage
Nimble converged storage arrays are certified by VMware for VDI. The company promotes itself as having VMware-proven reference architectures accessible through the VMware View Rapid Desktop Program, which is aimed at quickly deploying VDI systems.
Nimble's reference architectures incorporate Nimble CS-Series arrays to facilitate storage of end user environments. Its Cache Accelerated Sequential Layout combines flash with high-capacity drives.
"Customers I've spoken with over the last six months have found that traditional storage systems just don't have the price/performance they need to deploy," said Tony Asaro, an analyst at INI Group.
3. Virsto Software
A survey by Virsto Softwareconfirms just how hot the VDI area has become. It found that 67 percent of respondents plan to engage in a VDI project within next 12 months. Among this group, 76 percent cite cost reduction and ease of management as the primary reason for embarking on a virtualized desktop initiative. However, 46 percent of current VDI projects are stalled due to cost and performance issues.
Virsto provides VM-centric storage hypervisor software, which claims to slash the cost of storage per virtual desktop. Instead of centralized storage, Virsto works to reduce the needed capacity required by up to 90 percent, while delivering up to 10x better end user performance and reducing the time to provision and patch desktops by up to 99 percent.
"Virsto reduces the cost of VDI storage by over 70 percent and makes it easier to manage and provide a superior desktop experience," said Mark Davis, CEO, Virsto Software
4. Nutanix Complete Cluster
Nutanix makes a scale-out storage system to support virtual servers known as Complete Cluster. It integrates compute, networking and hypervisors with storage. Most use cases are VDI. Its architecture reserves SSDs for I/O-intensive functions, bypassing SSDs for low-priority virtual machines and automatically moving infrequently used data to hard drives. A virtual machine can write data anywhere in the cluster.
The Complete Cluster is a series of 2U blocks. Each block has four server nodes running a standard hypervisor, complete with processors (a total of eight CPUs with 48 cores), memory (from 193 GB to 768 GB of RAM) and local storage (1 TB SSD and 20 TB SATA). The storage includes PCI Express (PCIe) solid-state Fusion-io ioDrives to optimize performance. Each additional node can become part of the Complete Cluster. Nutanix claims it has tested up to 50 nodes in a cluster for a performance of 375,000 random IOPS and 28 GBps in 26U of rack space. The Nutanix Complete Cluster Starter Kit is $75,000.
Not everyone is a fan of VDI. The critics say that it requires heavy lifting with servers, storage and management all having to be involved -- not to mention costs. One alternative is web-based desktops or webtops. The argument for webtops is that they provide the same basic end result of desktop virtualization while adding end user tools, a way to manage user accounts or create groups, a company directory and applications directory, a help desk and an easy way to add gadgets like news feeds.
Accordingly, OS33 provides a cloud computing IT delivery platform that can be employed to provision a web-based desktop fully populated with all of their hosted IT assets. The claim is that it is less-expensive, easier to deploy and more feature-rich than VDI. OS33 sits as the gateway between cloud resources, whether public or private, to provision virtual desktops and other services.
Drew Robb is a Los Angeles based freelancer specializing in all aspects of technology, engineering and renewable energy. Born and raised in Scotland, he received a degree in Geology/Geography from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.