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When VDI and application virtualization collide on a single platform

Windows Server 2008 R2 will support VDI and Microsoft Terminal Services. Find out if consolidating virtualization technologies will simplify things or create problems.

With the release of Windows Server 2008 R2, Microsoft will add a new version of its Hyper-V hypervisor. It will also update Terminal Services to support both desktop and application virtualization on the same server OS.

The new version of Terminal Services, which has been renamed Remote Desktop Services (RDS), is due out in 2010. While this inclusion is certainly not the most significant feature in Windows Server 2008 R2, it does signal a new level of maturity in the virtualization industry -- a willingness to combine two important virtualization capabilities in the same platform and challenge traditionally separate products such as VMware's View and ThinApp.

The prospect of blending VDI and Terminal Services is not a new idea, and established products such as Ericom Software's PowerTerm WebConnect competes directly with Citrix's XenDesktop and XenApp products on both a pricing and performance. The Ericom platform also supports a wealth of independent hypervisors including those from VMware ESX/ESXi, Microsoft Hyper-V, Oracle VM, XenServer, Virtual Iron, Virtuozzo and others.

It's technically feasible to put VDI and Terminal Services on the same platform; it can potentially simplify the IT environment, experts said. Avoiding separate products eases deployment and interoperability concerns that often accompany multiple products. For example, rather than install XenApp and XenDesktop, or mix products such as VMware View and XenApp, both virtualization capabilities can be installed on a single platform.

There can also be a potential financial benefit to "blended" products, reducing purchase costs and recurring license fees that accompany separate products. Cost reductions can also be identified in lower maintenance and staff skill-set requirements.

For example, rather than patching both independent VDI and Terminal Services products, IT staff need only worry about patches and updates for a single platform. "It's more of a management benefit," said Dave Sobel, author of the book Virtualization: Defined. A Primer for the SMB Consultant, and CEO of Evolve Technology, a solution provider with headquarters in Fairfax, Va. "You have less to manage -- fewer products to be aware of."

Companies that leverage both VDI and Terminal Services still need some staff expertise in each area, but should no longer face the task of mastering different user interfaces or disparate consoles.

What are the benefits to consolidation?
Will a combination of virtualization services really matter to the IT industry? While there are no notable disadvantages to merging VDI and Terminal Services functionality, some experts question the tangible benefits of such consolidation. "You can't scale VDI," said Rand Morimoto, president of Convergent Computing, a solution provider with headquarters in Oakland, Calif.

Morimoto cites the practical limitations of VDI deployment given its server resource and connectivity demands, while Terminal Services can support greater numbers of end users with far lighter resource requirements and greater suitability for mobile users. "Ninety percent of the people out there probably only need the capabilities of Terminal Services," he said. "I really don't see VDI being deep into an organization."

Still other experts note that the entire issue may be moot with continued evolution in hypervisor technology. "The other scenario we're starting to see is hypervisors that are local to the desktop," said Gary Chen, research manager for enterprise virtualization software at IDC, a Framingham, Mass., market research firm.

This approach essentially places the virtual machine (VM) on the bare-metal endpoint -- distributing virtualization rather than centralizing it. This is particularly noteworthy for laptops and other mobile endpoints that may not otherwise be appropriate for VDI due to connectivity needs. "In terms of the execution, virtualization is happening on the edge, it's not in the core data center anymore," Chen said.

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