Most VARs have at least fielded questions about some form of desktop virtualization, either terminal services or virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and many are deploying it in the field now.
Kevin McDonald, executive vice president of Alvaka Networks Inc., in Irvine, Calif., sees VDI — technology in which user applications and settings are maintained and deployed from server-controlled images — as something of a silver bullet for users with strict compliance requirements.
Others agreed that there is a real need for deployment in many accounts. "We see more and more interest and we've seen a ton of proof-of-concepts and pilots although still not a whole lot going into production. No one is jumping head first into the deep end of the pool," said Chris Ward, director of solutions architecture for GreenPages Technology Solutions, a Kittery, Me, VAR.
But since most customers "get" the advantages of server virtualization, they want to recognize similar savings and benefits at the desktop, he said. The difference is that, on the server side, it was easy to see how virtualization could save money. "There was a lot of low-hanging fruit," Ward said.
The desktop is different because there are more desktops than servers and there is more variety in terms of the applications, utilities and patches deployed and a lot of user-initiated customization that the IT department may or may not know about, VARs said.
The availability of solid VDI technologies from VMware Inc., Citrix Systems, Inc. can spark fruitful operational conversations with customers, Ward said.
"You can look at patch management, software updates going from Windows XP to Windows 7 and can illustrate VDI advantages there. Then there's a lot [VDI] can do in disaster recovery. You can make it a business continuity play," he noted.
VDI segments into four big pieces -- the operating system, the applications, user data and user profiles.
"The utopia is to split out all those components so they're independent, and [the] apps are the biggest challenge. It's hard to unglue them from the operating system," Ward said.
"That packaging process takes a lot of man hours for testing and is difficult to repeat from one customer to another -- all the Microsoft install options are different," he added.
Application virtualization offerings such as App-V from Microsoft, VMware's ThinApp and Citrix XenApp make delivering applications to end users simpler.
End user profile management is also a pain point, but the availability of new tools to manage personalized desktops will boost adoption, VARs said. Unidesk Corp.'s new personalization and provisioning software works with VMware View and Citrix XenDesktop to maintain end user profiles. Software from AppSense, Liquidware Labs, RES Software and Immidio also claim to ease user profile management and provisioning.
"I wouldn't necessarily say 2010 is the year of VDI, but I would say there's been a lot of innovation there … a lot of new players. Atlantis is making headway and of course VMware and Citrix are the gorillas in the room," Ward said. Atlantis Computing makes software to alleviate storage issues that can arise out of VDI implementations.
VDI as compliance, security booster
For VARs that must keep their business customers secure and operational, boning up on VDI is a good idea, said Alvaka's McDonald. As the technology matures, the VARs themselves can be the source of the desktop or they can manage the data center, which is the source, he noted.
Of course, not all businesses are ideal candidates. "You don't want to sell VDI to an art studio -- where they need local power or to an architecture/engineering firm where users are working with 2-gig files -- but the majority of the planet is not using their desktops in that way."
Both terminal services and VDI technologies can be used to maintain and control user desktops, but VDI allows a higher degree of customization of individual applications and brings more power to remote desktops, McDonald said.
Companies that must comply with HIPAA regulations are ideal candidates for VDI, he said.
Those rules for companies in healthcare mandate that a business must know where the data is at all times, be able to report on who has seen it and absolutely know if it has been seen by or lost to unauthorized personnel, McDonald said.
VDI comes in handy there because the technology can control which applications a user can access, the status of patches at the administrator level and also control the usable functions of a given PC. For example, with VDI, an administrator can prohibit the use of portable USB storage devices, McDonald said.
Inertia, price perception still hurt VDI adoption
Some VARs are less bullish about the prospects for real and profitable adoption of desktop virtualization, however.
"We see very little interest in it at all," said George Brown, CEO of Database Solutions Inc., a VAR based in King of Prussia, Pa.
Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies of Fairfax, Va., sees significant interest, but it hasn't translated into business -- so far. "Being able to spin up a bunch of desktops is really helpful, but most of our customers are SMBs so we haven't signed a lot of deals," he noted.
For one thing, the cost of virtualizing desktops is not negligible and it can be hard to explain to customers what that money buys them.
"We did a complete outsourced pitch for a customer on hosted desktops and they were scared by the price. It's a monthly fee, but it seemed to them an expensive monthly fee despite us all knowing that business desktops are more expensive," Sobel said. "The problem is [that] SMB people are used to the concept of a $500 PC -- even though that $500 doesn't even include the price of Office," he said.
In this case, doing the math, the customer with five users and two servers would have paid what amounted to be $2,000 to $3,000 a month for the virtualized solution. Compare that to the price of updating five PCs and two servers, which can be $15,000 for the servers and another $10,000 to $15,000 for the desktops. "If you figure $30,000 [for the whole] install and divide by 12, it's $2,500 a month before any ongoing maintenance services of any kind," Sobel said. "It's not necessarily a big change in price, but it's a mental jump for businesses not used to recurring charges."
VARs will have to get better at posing real price comparisons between virtualized and nonvirtualized desktops before the year of desktop virtualization is finally here.