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IT pros still kicking tires on virtual desktops

Is VDI just another buzzword or can it simplify, or even revolutionize, desktop management? The IT pros at BriForum this week are trying to figure it all out.

CHICAGO - IT professionals at the BriForum 2008 conference on desktop virtualization held here this week say they like the concept of managing a single Windows OS image that is remotely delivered to and shared by thousands of users.

This is the ultimate promise of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technologies. It may seem like manna from heaven for the IT administrator charged with everyday desktop management. The capability with its full promise, however, is still years away.

Citrix Systems Inc. appears to be the closest with its image management technology. "If you want to manage [the OS] as truly one image that users share, only Citrix can do it at this point," said Brian Madden,

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founder of BriForum and independent industry analyst.

The other main VDI players, VMware, Quest Software, Qumranet and Ericom Software, are edging closer, Madden added.

Newcomer Qumranet Inc. has its own edge in that it is the only VDI player that has an all in one package that integrates a hypervisor, broker and protocol. There is no need for IT to blend a hypervisor from one vendor with the broker technology or protocol of another vendor and so on.

Like VDI overall, Qumranet is pretty new. Yet IT shops are adopting virtual desktop infrastructure technology to fill in when applications won't run on Terminal Services.

Centered Networks Inc., in San Francisco, is testing VDI -- in particular technologies made by Citrix and VMware to see if the tools can run applications that don't run well on terminal servers.

"We won't use [VDI] as a replacement technology for Terminal Services, though, because of cost and manageability issues," said Christopher Grecsek, a member of the virtual desktop hosting company's IT staff.

Citrix has bested VMware for the time being, getting its edge from technology it acquired from Ardence, although he finds VMware's multimedia delivery protocol capability interesting as well. "We are having problems with video ... multimedia, and if VMware can make pain points go away …who knows?" Grecsek said.

Same old, same old

To many attendees, VDI is just an old idea in a new wrapper.

"There are a lot of tools out there that, to me, do the same thing as VDI -- like Terminal Services and Citrix Presentation Server," said Bob Menning, practice lead of Appleton, Wis.-based systems integrator Inacom Information Systems' application delivery team. "Too many vendors are playing the me-too game [with VDI] and losing sight of what they do best."

Mark Hanford, IT architect with Hewitt Associates, a global recruiting and consulting firm based in Lincolnshire, Ill., views VDI as another tool in his war chest, but said he believes it won't have a major impact in enterprises.

"It will be used in specific cases, for example, like developers needing compilers but a company not wanting to put compilers on every workstation because of a potential for data leakage," Hanford said. "Other than [that] I don't see enterprises replacing desktops with VDI."

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