Re-Thinking VDI with Lower-Cost Alternatives

The answer to that question relies heavily on your definition of breakthrough, of course. And even though the ROI leans heavily in favor of some form of desktop virtualization or thin-client hardware deployment, I can’t help but detect a certain amount of hesitancy for the full-blown VDI infrastructure plans currently on tap from the top vendors.

Part of that may be due to the relative newness of virtualization in general. Many enterprises are just getting their feet wet in the virtual pool and may be looking to get some experience with this new architectural layer before expanding it into other areas.

That little pause may be just what the smaller vendors need as they try to capture market share with their own brands of PC-sharing technologies that can lessen both PC costs and underlying network complexity, even if they don’t fit the classic definition of “desktop virtualization.”

Companies like Pano Logic, for instance, are busy forging ties with traditional hardware manufacturers in the hopes of tapping into broader channel distribution environments. The company’s “zero client” system now makes up the heart of Fujitsu’s VDI infrastructure, linking client devices to a centralized VMware environment running Windows instances. The package includes the Pano Manager software and a small client-side device that provides the gateway between user keystrokes and mouse clicks and returning monitor images from the central server.

Another alternative is NComputing, which provides a client-side device, the U170, that lets you share a PC across multiple users. And while each user does not get a unique operating system the way a hypervisor-based system would provide, it does allow a single PC, which typically operates at less than 10 percent capacity, to serve 11 or so users comfortably, while still leaving enough room for processing spikes.

New to the field is a company called Kaviza, which has devised an all-software approach that it says can provide an immediate desktop infrastructure using commodity hardware without requiring major forklift upgrades. The company’s VDI-in-a-box system supports Windows 7 and provides a standalone Java client that maintains access to desktop images without a traditional browser. The company has already reached bundling agreements with IBM and Dell, as well as thin-client provider Wyse.

The rise of these various desktop alternatives gives credence to the adage, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” Full VDI solutions certainly have their advantages — most notably, the ability to leverage the virtual environment that is already fostering server consolidation and cloud computing.

But the lower-cost solutions have the advantage of being quick to deploy and relatively easy to manage. If you are looking to cut desktop ROI but are still leery of the major VDI platforms, they are certainly worth a look.

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