Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) threw its weight behind virtual desktop management earlier this month, announcing a blueprint called the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), labeled as a guide for integrators.
Rather than a packaged product, HP's virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is designed as a guide for end — user companies or resellers who want to centralize much of the administrative support for end users by replacing operating systems and applications running on their desktop machines with virtual OSes running on a server in the data center.
Currently most virtualization software is designed to run several virtual servers on one physical computer, using software from EMC Corp.'s VMware division or Microsoft Corp.'s Virtual Server. HP's VDI combines hardware and software, including a virtualization management tool from HP, to run virtual systems that users can then connect to from a thin computer or standard desktop or laptop.
"What we are offering is really some blueprints for customers, or channel partners on behalf of the customers, to put this together," said Doug Strain, product manager of virtualization at HP.
HP — which analysts said is backing VDI as a way to add sales of its own servers – joins a market already led by San Jose, Calif. — based Wyse Technology Inc. and Austin, Texas — based ClearCube Technology Inc.
Although that brings more competition to those vendors, it bodes well for the idea of virtualizing desktop machines as well as servers, said Chuck Beaton, president and CEO at Tech Access Corp., a Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y. integrator specializing in thin clients.
"The [HP] model is just endorsing the technology, and the fact that larger vendors are talking about it means the technology is going to take off," Beaton said. "We're seeing that this VDI is definitely something we need to incorporate into the fold."
The technology may be good news for the channel, which could use it to shift business away from selling hardware and more towards providing support, said John Humphreys, program director of enterprise virtualization at IT analyst firm IDC in Framingham, Mass.
"Selling solutions is a hell of a lot better than passing along hardware. Would I rather sell a lot of desktops or would I rather sell a solution that's going to drag consulting with it?" he asked. "For those channel partners who are considering it my comments would be, 'Yeah, absolutely you're going to want to be a part of this," he said.
However, a shift such as VDI takes time, and resellers should be careful not to leap too quickly in that direction, Humphreys said. IDC analysts are compiling statistics on the growth of VDI and are "enthusiastic" about the growth potential. But, he said, the specific numbers are not yet ready to be released.
One key service resellers will be able to provide is consulting during the initial transition from desktops to VDI, said Matt Brudzynski, senior research analyst with London, Ontario — based Info — Tech Research Group Inc. Companies hoping to switch over their desktops will have to consider factors such as how powerful a server they need and how many virtualized systems must be able to run at a time.
"I think the channel partners are in a unique position, because this is a fairly easy thing to do, but they can make it even easier because they can come with a hardware [and] software solution that's almost turnkey," he said.
In fact, all of Wyse's business is conducted through resellers, said Mike Brunner, Wyse director of sales operations. Wyse accompanies new partners for their first one or two deployments to make sure they're comfortable with the process, Brunner said. Beyond that, Wyse is not interested in becoming a services provider.
"We're educating the channel. They're our customers," he said.
The idea that thin clients, or dumb terminals as they used to be known, will take over the corporate world is not new, but the VDI approach is more promising because it requires less of a shift for end users, Humphreys said.
Users will still have their own version of the operating system, which they can customize with their own backgrounds, applications and other elements – the only difference is that those systems will be run in a centralized server instead of at each user's desk.
"There has definitely been vendor hype and that, I'd say, is the catalyst," Brudzynski said. But he added he expects VDI to do well in the near future.
"The business case really is straightforward, the implementation is straightforward, so I would say the penetration that we see today will be really significant over the next two years," he said.