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2010 and the Fate of Your (Virtual) Desktop

Do you think that converting your clunky, maintenance-burdened physical desktop OS to a clunky, maintenance-burdened VM will save you some money? Think again.

Unfortunately, one of the trends that’s sweeping in with the new year is desktop virtualization, aka Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). I think that the idea of VDI is good but the execution fails miserably. The mere thought of “traditional format” VDI makes me queasy. Replacing a fat, local desktop operating system for a fat, network-based desktop operating system isn’t very appealing to me for some reason. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Oh, that’s right, I remember now—it’s the fact that it’s a bad idea. The hardware expense and the amount of bandwidth required are both too high for practical implementation.

There’s also the fact that you aren’t removing any component out of the support stream for currently accepted VDI compared to that of traditional desktop computers. You still have hardware at the user’s desk. You still have a fat desktop operating system sitting on a virtual machine instead of on your physical one. You still have to patch and protect all of those virtual desktops with antivirus software and antispyware software. And, unless you’re willing to lay out the money for a high-priced network infrastructure and very high-end virtual host server systems, your performance will compare favorably with stagnant pond scum on a calm day.

The Problem

Desktop computers are expensive to purchase, manage and maintain. They require constant hardware and software surveillance, user training, housekeeping and physical care (cleaning, cooling). The answer, to virtualization vendors at least, is VDI.

VDI’s remedy is to move the desktop operating system onto server infrastructure and centralize deployment, management and maintenance. Pulling the operating system away from the user minimizes the number of desk-level calls made by technical support representatives. Most of the maintenance performed by technical staff occurs on the server-contained virtual machine. Minimizing support costs by reducing the number of trips to the desk, calls to a help desk and hardware failures reduces the overall IT burden for companies.

The Dilemma

My problem with current VDI implementations is that they don’t save money and therefore don’t live up to the promise and hype. Ask any virtualizaton software vendor about virtual machine density and observe the resulting body language revealing discomfort and anxiety. Ask for a realistic, production value for virtual machine density and you’ll understand the dilemma. At five to eight virtual machines per host system, you’re spending more than you’re saving on this “money-saving” technology solution. When vendors can show a virtual machine density of 40 to 50 per virtual host system, the cost outlay is justifiable.

Part of the cost vs. performance dilemma comes from the fact that your current network infrastructure likely won’t support the amount of data needed for VDI. Gigabit Ethernet might work for you if it’s correctly designed and segmented but higher bandwidth is recommended (10Gb+). Low virtual machine density and high network bandwidth needs make current VDI implementations unreasonable. And then there’s the cost of the management software needed to manage your newly virtualized desktops. Unless converting your local desktop operating systems to VDI will result in cost savings, there’s no point in doing just to have your cool technology bragging rights.

The Solution

The solution for VDI is simple and far less expensive than you might think but it doesn’t use traditional virtualization techniques or vendors. Parallels has the answer: Containers. Containers offer a reasonable VDI solution offering low cost, high density in normal network bandwidth ranges (100Mb to 1Gb).

Best known for its work with ISPs, Parallels’ container-based virtualization holds your much sought after VDI solution. Whether you use Linux or Windows for your desktop operating system, containers hold the best solution for minimizing costs associated with moving your physical machines to virtual ones.

For those of you who still cling to a fat desktop virtual machine solution and one-to-one ratio for user desktops, then you should check out KVM. KVM offers that fat desktop and high performance that you require for bandwidth-hungry desktop applications.

Typically, when I hear the acronym VDI, I think of it as an acronym for, “you must be kidding” instead of its actual virtual desktop infrastructure. I cringe at the thought of how many pounds a company must spend in order to save a penny or two. There are ways to make VDI work for you but it isn’t based in traditional thought. VDI is a solution that requires creativity and some of that uncommon ‘outside the box’ thinking you hear so much about.

Comments on "2010 and the Fate of Your (Virtual) Desktop"

jcurtin

Hi Ken,

I recommend that you update your field knowledge a little bit before you spread misinformation like this in the future. VDI is not synonymous with VMware and Citrix. If that were true, your comments would be true, but it is not.

Virtual Bridges is a venture-backed company that has been offering a VDI solution since before VMWare ever coined the phrase. Virtual Bridges\’ VERDE VDI solution is available in partnership with IBM and Canonical and also supports Red Hat and Novell.

VERDE is not your typical VDI solution. First of all, it has been shipping as a KVM-based solution for almost sixteen months- the first in the market. Before that is was based on QEMU. It currently supports Windows 7, XP, Windows 2000 and all major Linux distros such as Ubuntu, Red Hat and Novell as guest environments giving users maximum flexibility. The VERDE infrastructure runs on Linux servers from Ubuntu, Red Hat or Novell.

Some things you should know…

VERDE pioneered true dynamic provisioning that uses a gold master imaging model so that instead of managing many images in the virtual environment as you imply, users only need to manage a few gold instances that are provisioned dynamically at authentication time. The VERDE approach is not a throw-away instance like thin provisioning, nor is it a stateful VM that persists on disk, but instead is a dynamic session that incorporates a gold master of the OS and Apps and couples this with unique user information so that each dynamic session is personalized for each user but the administrative burden around the OS and apps is dramatically lowered.

Each time a use logs in, the write-protected gold master is loaded into memory and coupled with the user\’s persistent date (docs and settings) to create a unique, personalized session. When the user logs out, the OS and apps in memory are flushed so that any corruption from malware or unauthorized installation of applications does not persist making VERDE sessions impervious to malware corruption, yet retaining the users unique information and settings.

VERDE also operates well on low bandwidth environments through a unique approach using either our optimized protocol or our Cloud Branch capability. Our Cloud Branch capabilityeffectively eliminates WAN latencies by allowing gold masters to be managed centrally but execute on local branch or managed-customer sites, without any management or intervention at the branch or managed-customer site.

Because we use KVM virtualization technology, and because we do not do any bit duplication or persistent storage, other than the users personal data and settings, our densities are in the order you mention as viable. In fact, when you look at VERDE, plus server hardware, plus per user storage needs, VERDE is in the neighborhood of $200 per user, compared to over $1000 per user for Vmware or Citrix. By offering the ability to use either Windows or Linux clients, the economic burden of the MS VECD can also be minimized.

Ken, VDI is the future, just not the VDI that you are thinking of.

Parallels is a TS hosting model. This is not VDI. Citrix and Vmware have tried to extend a server-hypervisor-based model to VDI and it is not efficient. Please look at VERDE for what VDI really is capable of.

Don\’t throw the VDI baby out with the dirty server-virtualization vendor bathwater. VDI in the form of VERDE does deliver the benefits that users are looking for.

If you want to learn more about VERDE check out http://www.vbridges.com.

Reply
jfluhmann

I was a little disappointed with this article. I\’ve been looking into Virtual Desktops for a while now and have found that there can be some really great cost savings and maintenance relief. We\’ve been test driving VirtualBridges (jcurtain++) and have been very impressed. Replacing one of our computer labs with a Virtual Bridges setup rather than our standard physical desktop refresh cuts the cost by more than half. What\’s more, I\’m able to use the server(s) for other things after school lets out and students are not needing the desktops, thus maximizing my resources and investment in the servers. The Virtual Bridges solution has been, by far, the best VDI solution I\’ve come across.

Also, with some of the after hours/continuing education classes that are taught where I work, a VDI solution lets me easily provision out {n} desktops for those students without having to make changes to my local resources to accommodate the software they need. VDI also lets me provide those desktops to faculty/staff/students at home.

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khess

Well, if you note in my article, near the end, I say that KVM is one good solution for VDI and that\’s what Virtual Bridges uses. My distaste for VDI is valid. It \”can\” save money but the money outlay makes it not worth it unless you use a better than average technology. Actually, as I\’ve said before, VDI is an interim solution and not a long-term one.

I\’d like to have a demo of a real live VDI client and a description of your architecture if you\’re using VDI on a large scale. It would be interesting to compare what you spent/spend on it vs. using laptops/portable computers.

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gabopagan

What a dissapointing, poorly researched article.
I have 100 Windows XP desktops running on two IBM HS21 blades with Vmware. Client is extremely happy. Support is much easier since there is only one image. Patch management is a snap.
Another client, a college campus, moved all the labs to VDI, running different Windows and Linux images on the same thin client depending on class.
I could go on, VDI, along with traditional solutions like Terminal Server and Citrix provide better desktop availability, application delivery and security than any other solution out there.

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j3w3ls

I\’m a computer technician in a research environment that requires a graphical user interface. We use No Machine (NX) as a load-balancing gateway to access 8-core processor workstations, each with 48GB of RAM. Since using NX, my workload has decreased dramatically, and people are happier using their own laptops/workstations (if anything, VDI has decreased the number of workstations in use). VDI is a win-win for us – the researchers have access to more resources, its more cost effective, and energy efficient.

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cjcox

VDI should be viewed as another option in your IT arsenal. There is a class of user for which VDI is going to work well, and the cost savings could be substantial if VDI works for a large percentage of users.

But, if VDI doesn\’t work for the majority, it could very well not be worth the extra effort. VDI takes a little bit of work to setup, if it\’s only used in a couple of instances, it\’s certainly not worth it.

Reply
mteixeira

We should ask ourselves why do we need a desktop. We need Apps, and till now the only way to have them was desktops (or PCs in general)

now we can have apps in the cloud (be it private or public)

bandwidth is still a problem but not as much as you may think (except if we\’re considering Design and Illustration. However, as adobe demonstrated you can have a photoshop like app in the browser. Video editing is a problem, but you could never have that in VDI either.

I believe the future is in some sort of browser appliances.
Servers should serve services, not full blown operating systems

I wonder if VDI is worth the trouble while we shift our models.

Reply
khess

NX is a very cool solution. I wrote a Desktop article on it a couple of years ago. It\’s in the archives on this site. Terminal Services is also a great way to go–I wrote an article on that for Sys Admin back in 2002.

@mteixeira – you have the right idea–thank you.

@cjcox – well said. \”Traditional\” VDI will work if you are a light user: word processing, email and Internet browsing. If you\’re doing heavy lifting, fugettaboutit.

Reply
srosen

Nice free advertisement for Virtual Bridges. We use Parallels where I work for VDI and it works very well. It isn\’t just for hosting so who misinformed you? We looked at all options before taking a chance on Parallels.

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