At the recent VMWare Partner Exchange conference in Orlando, Fla., one of the main focal points was VDI. While VDI sounds like something you might pick up in a foreign land, it is actually another in a long line of IT-related acronyms and stands for virtual desktop infrastructure. Many attendees at Partner Exchange believe that VDI is finally poised for wide adoption in businesses and government agencies across the country.
VDI, or "desktop" virtualization, is closely related to the wildly popular concept of server virtualization. Basically, you run multiple logical machines on a single physical piece of hardware. In the case of server virtualization, most folks generally run between four and 20 servers on one physical machine (although some report running many more). With desktop virtualization we generally see a ratio of one physical server hosting between 50-100 user machines.
Basically, users log into a VDI server from a relatively cheap terminal or low-end PC. The user environment (typically Windows-based) is actually run on the VDI server. All the user terminal really does is provide a view into the processing taking place on the server. This is similar to the old days of mainframe computing where all the processing is done on a powerful central computer and the machines on the desks are limited, often referred to as "dumb" terminals.
Advantages of a virtualized desktop environment are similar to those of a virtualized server environment. Chief among these, of course, is cost, along with ease of maintenance.
as for cost, organizations that adopt a VDI strategy opt to have most of its users on dumb terminals. Such terminals typically go for $300 to $500 each, obviously much cheaper than a standard PC or laptop. Some also might argue that the life cycle of terminals is longer than the standard three years that we see with PCs and laptops, but that remains to be seen.
Maintenance of a virtual desktop infrastructure is also easier than a traditional distributed environment. Instead of having your IT folks visiting every user’s desk to look at their PC, the bulk of the maintenance and support can be done centrally — even when remote locations, such as neighbor island offices, are involved.
VDI solutions from Citrix and even Microsoft have been around for more than a decade. So why all the fuss now? Good question. While those solutions have matured on their own, we are now seeing convergence of virtualized servers and virtualized desktops. The promise of a fully integrated virtualized environment is interesting to many, again, for the same reasons: cost and ease of maintenance.
VMWare has owned the server virtualization market and is now going strong after the desktop space. Sure, VMWare’s VDI solutions still need some seasoning. But VMWare is coming from a position of strength, and what this will do to the overall market remains to be seen.