Virtualization and software-as-a-service are two of the hottest trends in business technology. Why not marry the two? That's just what Citrix-backed start-up Desktone is doing.
Desktone plans to sell "desktops as a service" through service providers with Desktone's Virtual-D Platform, starting with business customers. Already, Desktone has signed up Verizon Businesss and European and Asian carriers as hosters, and IBM as a partner. Desktone streams just the graphical interface of an entire operating system -- Windows XP only for now -- and all of its applications to a PC or thin client from a service provider's data center, where all the computation takes place.
The service was designed mainly with business customers in mind. The premise is this: Even though virtualizing a company's desktops can save money, it can be still be labor intensive and expensive to implement virtual desktop infrastructures because such a strategy requires investment in storage and new servers as well as on-site management expertise via new staff or training. However, businesses could potentially outsource desktops to service providers on the cheap. Verizon hasn't set prices, but estimates it could cost roughly $75 per month per user, or about half of the cost of on-premise desktop virtualization according to Verizon's calculations.
In the Desktone model, all of a company's server-based apps like Active Directory and line-of-business software remain on-premise and communicate directly with the service providers' infrastructure via a secure Internet connection if needed to be accessed by an employee or referenced by another app. IT managers also get a Web-based console to manage virtual image libraries, monitor performance, and gain remote access into virtual machines for troubleshooting. And the connection broker technology that manages how client devices link up with virtual machines was built with the help of Merrill Lynch, which is using the connection broker for internal use but isn't testing the service.
Desktone and its early partners are still ironing out the wrinkles, and partners like Verizon won't likely be broadly selling desktops as a service until at least the end of this year. In interviews, Desktone and Verizon both promise high service levels, but since downtime means no access to computing resources, applications could be limited to non-mobile PCs.