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How disk streaming enables single image management for traditional PCs

The industry has been itching for a strong disk streaming tool for a while now, and Dell is finally delivering that with Wyse WSM.

Many organizations deploy virtual desktop infrastructure

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(VDI) to get single image management, but you can actually glean the benefits of single image management (less storage, easier patching) with disk streaming technology. Here's how Dell and Wyse WSM can improve desktop management with disk streaming for traditional PCs.

Disk streaming: A history

Disk streaming went by the wayside for the past few years. Many people remember Citrix's acquisition of Ardence, which resulted in the disk streaming software now called Citrix Provisioning Server (CPS). Originally, CPS was a standalone product that could stream disk blocks across the network so you could boot computers on the fly, much like application streaming works today. Over time, Citrix internalized the product, and now you can't get it except for use with XenDesktop.

Still, Double-Take Software had a product called Flex that did the exact same thing, and Dell even partnered with Double-Take to release an OEM version. Recently, however, Double-Take was sold to Vision Solutions, and the Flex product has been left off that company's roster of products. Dell no longer offers its Flex derivative either, so the desktop management industry has been left without a broad-use disk streaming tool for a while. 

Last year, Wyse released WSM, which does the same thing as Double-Take Flex and Citrix CPS. (Check out this intro video on YouTube.) The most attention it got was with the announcement of Wyse Cloud PCs, which are essentially thin clients that can run Windows where the disk image is delivered by WSM. The marketing documents were a little fuzzy on the breadth of WSM, though. Depending on what you looked at, it appeared that WSM may only work with Cloud PC devices, or that, since it was advertised as delivering desktops "from the cloud," it might be some sort of client for a cloud service.

More on Dell and Wyse:

Dell and HP churn out VDI hardware as thin client war heats up

Dell's Wyse acquisition transforms VDI thin client market

Dell acquires Wyse for thin client desktop virtualization

It turns out Wyse WSM is the broad disk streaming tool we've been looking for. I can't think of anything better for the technology than to get it in the hands of Dell as part of its acquisition of Wyse. Since Wyse was never in the PC game, it wasn't in the company's interest to market a product to people with PCs. After all, if you were buying a PC, you weren't buying a Wyse terminal (and Wyse was a hardware company, first and foremost). Now, Dell can use it as a broader desktop management offering and promote it not only as a thin client provisioning product but as the all-around disk streaming tool that it is.

Getting single image management without VDI

Disk streaming single-handedly addresses one of the main reasons that people deploy VDI: to get single image management. With VDI, a single disk image can be used for every virtual machine, meaning there is less initial storage required (because each user boots from the same image and only differences after boot are saved) and patching is much easier because you only need to update one image. Disk streaming accomplishes the same thing, except it's with any computer on the network.

Disk streaming tools work at boot by using PXE to contact a TFTP server and pull down the tiny client that registers the computer with tool itself. From there, it starts sending the individual blocks that system needs to boot across the network. When there's enough information to boot Windows, the boot-up process starts while more data streams across the network for future use. It may sound like a slow process, but it works amazingly fast on a standard LAN because Windows only needs a fraction of the data on a disk to boot. Once booted, the disk streaming tool only sends bits as they're needed.

Depending on central configurations, the data on the device can be persistent between boots, it can be non-persistent or it can be wiped clean each time. That means that each time a user logs in, they're given a brand new, clean copy of the exact same desktop -- all without using VDI!

Granted, that doesn't address applications or data, but there are other solutions for all the other features. Disk streaming, though, can make life easier for those still managing traditional PCs. Since Wyse focuses on virtual desktops, Dell could even promote Wyse WSM as a way to use both physical and virtual with the same image. In fact, a user could turn on a physical desktop at the office or log in to a virtual desktop session and get the same exact image using Wyse WSM.

The bottom line is that Wyse and Dell are a match made in heaven. If you think WSM disk streaming might help you now, take a look. Otherwise, keep an eye on it and see what Dell does as it starts to mesh the Wyse technology with its own desktop management palette.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Gabe Knuth
is an independent industry analyst and blogger, known throughout the world as "the other guy" at BrianMadden.com. He has been in the application delivery space for over 12 years and has seen the industry evolve from the one-trick pony of terminal services to the application and desktop virtualization of today. Gabe's focus tends to lean more toward practical, real-world technology in the industry, essentially boiling off the hype and reducing solutions to their usefulness in today's corporate environments.

This was first published in June 2012

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