Desktop virtualisation: still not a perfect view

Desktop-virtualisation

The latest version of VMware’s VDI product, View 4.6, was released several weeks ago with a few new features, most notably PCoIP tunnelling – or more accurately View security servers that actually understand and accept the PCoIP protocol.

This is a feature that was sorely lacking in the last revision and will help bolster the PCoIP vs ICA argument in favour of PCoIP, helping to ensure those environments that rely more heavily on their WAN infrastructure. It also guarantees a much better (although still not perfect) end user experience, especially for CAD users and those using graphic design software, who often prefer to run their applications on the PC rather than the Virtual Desktop for a better visual impact.

However, there is still the issue of profile management technology – the lack of a suitable integrated application that can deal efficiently with virtual profiles has not yet been addressed. Without this feature, users have to rely on third party software to separate desktop from profile and gain the ability to access and personalise the same profile from different machines and devices.

VMware have actually been working on the issue, purchasing the profile management solution originally developed by RTO Software to use as an integrated feature, and since then we have all been waiting to see when it would be ready.

Those in the know had already slated this for release with View 4.5 and those same insiders placed the reason for the delay down to compatibility issues with the software; then, as rumours of View 4.6 grew, we all asked again what the likelihood of an integrated profile management solution would be. Has VMware bought a “dead parrot” or will they manage to iron out the issues with Windows 7? Unfortunately, it seems we are going to have to wait a little longer for the answers – perhaps they will come with View 5?

In the meantime, having to rely on third parties for profile management software adds some costs and hassle to the process, although some people actually believe it is a worthy investment and, because of the additional features that some alternatives provide, investing in this may bring more benefit than waiting for the integrated solution.

VMware’s archenemy Citrix, on the other hand, already features a basic profile management application in XenDesktop, User Profile Manager, making it somehow more appealing in particular to companies looking to do large-scale deployments, which incidentally are the ones who see a real ROI in virtualising their desktop at the moment.

In fact, it is not the maturity of VDI technology that is holding back organisations from adopting it – the upfront costs are still a major problem for many companies. Organisations struggle to get budgetary sign off for VDI as the overall upfront costs are still compared to those of a traditional PC purchase. What many forget is what VDI stands for “Virtual Desktop Infrastructure”, the Infrastructure being the most important word in the title: you cannot perform a like for like comparison and expect VDI to stack up against a PC purchase.

VDI must be “Viewed” as a set of technologies that combine to simplify, secure and streamline the deployment of desktops whilst increasing the supportability, therefore reducing the overall support costs of the desktop support service. However, many organisations need to see an immediate or short-term ROI as they are trying to cut costs fast, but the ROI of VDI, although evident and not confined to financial benefits, extending to management and flexibility as well, can only be seen in the long term – 5 years at least – and at the moment seems only convenient for large and global deployments.

Although it is true that the larger the scale of the project the greater the ROI will be, that does not mean that a smaller client, say 200 seats, cannot dramatically benefit from implementing a VDI solution. After all, not everybody uses VMware or Citrix – there are a plethora of VDI vendors whose solutions can be combined together to create a very custom, yet far cheaper solution that those of the big players.

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Will Rodbard is a senior consultant for Plan-Net, where he specialises in virtualisation technologies for server, client and storage. Will has been working in IT for over 10 years, 8 of which were spent working on large scale desktop and server deployment projects for both the public and private sector.