Virtual Desktop Vendors Headed Toward Mainstream

Citrix, other firms add new tools for running Windows clients off of servers

Virtual desktops were once a relatively drab technology for call centers, schools and other undemanding IT environments. But a new breed of desktop virtualization tools is being aimed at mainstream corporate users by large and small vendors alike.

In addition, Microsoft Corp.s recent releases of Windows Vista and Office 2007 have some companies rethinking how they want to deploy future desktop software upgrades. Microsoft itself helped that process along earlier this month by adding a software license that lets customers with Software Assurance maintenance and upgrade contracts run their Windows clients in virtual machines on servers.

Michael Koval, CIO at Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. in Fairfax, Va., is receptive to the new desktop virtualization offerings, having had positive experiences with earlier products such as Citrix Systems Inc.s Presentation Server, as well as server virtualization software from VMware Inc.

Were definitely looking at all of the options, Koval said. Long & Foster has used Presentation Server for the past seven years to deliver applications hosted on servers to more than 3,500 employees and 16,000 affiliated real estate agents. Besides centralizing management, the Citrix software has enabled the real estate firm to provide applications to end users on an as-needed basis, reducing the number of software licenses that Koval needs to buy.

Citrix acquired application streaming vendor Ardence Inc. in December, and two weeks ago, it announced a virtualization product called Desktop Server. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based company claims to be the only vendor offering all forms of thin-client and virtual desktops under a common management infrastructure.

Thats good news to Koval. Its definitely more attractive, he said, because then I dont have to go upstairs to ask for money to overhaul my entire infrastructure. I picked Citrix many years ago because they already had a lot of services under one roof. That trend has only continued.

New-Product Wave

Citrix isnt the only vendor introducing new products. Virtual Iron Software Inc., a developer of server virtualization tools in Lowell, Mass., and Provision Networks Inc., a desktop virtualization vendor in Reston, Va., announced last week that theyre teaming up to offer a virtual desktop package thats priced at $120 per client.

And Austin-based Clear­Cube Technology Inc. said two weeks ago that the latest version of its PC blade software, due next month, includes a connection broker that can manage virtual desktops via links to VMwares server virtualization tools.

Virtual Toolbox

Citrix Desktop Server 1.0:

•  Delivers Windows clients to desktop systems from data center servers.•  Supports virtual desktops, PC blades and Microsoft's Terminal Services software.•  Scheduled to be released during this quarter.

ClearCube Sentral

Version 5.5:

•  Manages combinations of VMware-enabled virtual desktops and physical PC blades.•  Includes an abstraction layer for supporting other virtualization technologies in the future.•  Scheduled for general availability next month.

Although desktop virtualization is technically possible using VMwares software alone, logistical hurdles make that approach cumbersome for most users, according to Brian Madden, principal analyst at The Brian Madden Company LLC in Silver Spring, Md.

The smart vendors took a lot of notes and went to developers to make [virtual desktops] happen, Madden said. Thats why youre seeing a wave of products just now hitting the market.

But, he added, most of the products remain point solutions, offering application streaming, terminal services or desktop virtualization but not all three. Citrix is the only vendor to have announced a true end-to-end offering, Madden said.

Despite the new offerings, users such as Station Casinos Inc. are staying on the sidelines for the time being.

Station would seem to be a good candidate for virtual desktops. At its various properties, the Las Vegas-based casino operator has 3,500 Windows-based PCs that are shared by 15,000 employees over three work shifts daily. Many of the PCs are lightly used; 30% dont even have Office installed on them.

But Steve Bastille, IT director for server and desktop systems at Station, said he sees no economic incentive to move to virtual desktops at this point.

We have not been able to justify the additional server hardware costs and infrastructure needed, he said, pointing to the need for network upgrades and the purchase of other software licenses.

Frank Yawn, IT manager at Time Warner Cable Inc.s office in Greensboro, N.C., has used Ardences software for the past two years to stream applications to 400 call center PCs. But Yawn has little interest in adding other types of virtualized desktops. Whenever you introduce something new, he said, rarely does the cost go down.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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