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Virtual Desktop Infrastructure: Rolling Review Kickoff

Rolling Review Kickoff
VDI lowers operating expenses while providing an extra dose of security--users can't install software, so a major attack vector is effectively closed down.
Citrix XenDesktop 3.0
Citrix XenDesktop 3.0 brings a small technology advantage to our Rolling Review of virtual desktop infrastructure products.
Ericom's WebConnect
Ericom's PowerTerm WebConnect makes a strong case for becoming a part of your VDI infrastructure.
Leostream Connection Broker
Connection Broker 6.0 is a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) product designed for organizations that have standardized on VMware ESX and VirtualCenter.
MokaFive creates a portable virtual machine that can run independently on any laptop or PC.
Sun Microsystems VDI 3
Sun Microsystems' new and improved virtual desktop offering, VDI 3.0.
Sychron OnDemand Desktop
OnDemand Desktop provisions and deploys VMs fast, but has a few quirks, too.
Virtual Iron 4.5 VDI
Since this review ran, Oracle says it will use the Virtual Iron suite to complement Oracle VM, its own server virtualization software. We have included this article for historical purposes.
Rolling Review: VMware Shows Agility In View 3
Since this review ran, VMware has revved View to version 4. We have included this article for historical purposes.
Wrap Up
The players in our review ran the gamut from smaller vendors that primarily act as connection brokers to brand-name server virtualization players.

Between today's harsh financial realities and the traction that Web 2.0 application development is gaining, it's quite possible that your next PC upgrade will involve a virtualized desktop infrastructure--a thin operating system and a browser.

As with server virtualization, total cost of ownership is not the only benefit: Virtual desktop infrastructure, or VDI, also speeds up bandwidth-intensive applications for remote workers and lets small IT staffs deploy new applications and perform reboots on demand quickly to large numbers of desktops in far-flung locales. Still, when budgets are tight, costs are top of mind, and VDI lowers operating expenses while providing an extra dose of security--users can't install software, so a major attack vector is effectively closed down.

VDI has some shortcomings, however. End users may not be enthusiastic, and even a simple VDI environment requires a serious back-end infrastructure. For example, VMware advises hosting just five to eight desktops per processing core and 1 GB of RAM per desktop for its Virtual Desktop Infrastructure system. And don't forget back-end storage: Hosted desktops require the same dedicated storage that virtualized servers do. So, if your desktop image is 10 GB after you've installed XP, Office, and all updates and applications, multiply that number by 50 when budgeting for drive space for even a small VDI implementation.

Connection brokers can mitigate some of the processing load, and disk deduplication should help reduce the amount of storage needed to host VDI virtual machines, but the resources needed are still significant. Sites with limited rack space or that are nearly maxed out on amps or cooling in the data center should be warned. Planning ahead thoroughly has never been so important.

Our lab environment consists of a back-end hypervisor running on a 64-bit Hewlett-Packard DL 360 G5 with plenty of storage and 10 GB of RAM. We'll install front-end connection brokers and other supporting components on several HP DL 360 G3 servers with 4 GB of RAM and dual Xeon quad-core processors. We'll load-test each vendor's offering using a combination of thick and thin clients, and we'll use an application analysis and network simulation appliance from Shunra Software to see how products handle network latency. We'll also test the Virtual Access Suite connection broker, which leverages VMware's Virtual Infrastructure to transform desktops and applications into on-demand virtual services.

Our business needs center on Bits and Bytes Legal Services LLC, a fictional startup that provides legal and litigation services for high-tech companies. B&B plans to scale to 100 employees--25 lawyers and 75 paralegals--over the course of 12 months in four high-tech hubs: Dallas, Silicon Valley, Washington, and Boston. As a startup, B&B is interested in a desktop setup that requires minimal capital outlay to get up and running. All B&B staffers will need quick remote access to back-end systems for e-mail, file sharing, print services, Office apps, and a SaaS-based CRM package from B&B's 25 attorneys travel frequently and will use fat-client laptops. The 75 paralegals, divided roughly equally among the four offices, will access their virtual desktops via HP thin clients.

Each vendor will submit pricing for all software and services required to satisfy the business requirement. B&B's IT manager will add in the costs of other hardware and maintenance, and will factor in his $100,000 salary across all 100 systems to develop an accurate model for total cost of ownership. Given the youth of the VDI market and the different desktop delivery methods of the vendors in this Rolling Review, head-to-head comparisons won't always be possible. We'll focus on the installation and implementation process, enterprise management features, provisioning, performance, and resource usage. We'll wrap up our Rolling Review with a comprehensive analysis on feature, performance, and cost differences among all participating vendors.