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Desktop Virtualisation Made Easy

Keith Schultz | Jan. 25, 2011
Three low-cost, low-fuss VDI solutions prove that desktop virtualisation is within anyone's reach.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, USA, JANUARY 5, 2011Ever since VMware coined the term, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) has conjured images of large data centers, beefy servers, centralised storage, and complex software stacks. It's a given that each VDI installation requires numerous servers, software packages, and storage systems in order to provide desktop virtualisation for more than a small handful of users, so VDI just has to be both expensive and complicated to deploy. Right?

As I found out while evaluating three entry-level VDI bundles, this doesn't have to be the case. My goal was to find out just how muchor how littlewas needed to provide a scalable virtualised desktop system for up to 50 users. As with just about all matters computer related, there are many ways to skin a virtualised cat, and some will fit into an existing network infrastructure better than others.

The VDI products I tested are Kaviza VDI-in-a-box, NComputing vSpace and L-Series endpoint devices, and Pano Logic's Pano Express. All three provide centrally hosted, general-purpose desktops to end-users for less than US$500 per seat. With all three products, I was able to connect to Windows XP Pro or Windows 7 Pro desktops hosted on a single piece of hardwareno network storage necessary. While all three solutions set up easily, worked well, and will meet the needs for about 80 percent of businesses, each one did have some shortcomings. IT organisations will have to carefully evaluate any potential solution to make sure it fits in with their use case.

In general, even the simplest VDI solution is made up of five components: a connection broker, a remote access protocol, a back-end virtualisation platform, a storage system, and client devices. The VDI solutions reviewed here addressed these components a bit differently, and these variations will be key to choosing which among them is the best fit for your organisation. Each solution overlaps another in some areas, but they all have a feature or two that make them unique.

The virtualisation in VDI
One key difference among the solutions is the choice of virtualisation platform. Both Kaviza and Pano Logic sit on top of a bare-metal hypervisor, or Type 1 virtualisation infrastructure, which hosts both the management component and the desktop virtual machines. Pano Logic includes the VMware or Microsoft virtualisation infrastructure as part of the bundle, while Kaviza requires an existing virtualised infrastructure (either VMware or Citrix XenServer). NComputing, on the other hand, provides its own form of virtualisation, called vSpace, which is more akin to Terminal Services than VMware, Hyper-V, or XenServer. NComputing's vSpace is an application that needs only a Windows XP Pro or Windows Server 2003 box to run on, allowing up to 30 concurrent users on basic, off-the-shelf hardware.


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