In many enterprises, end users won't accept virtual desktops unless they believe that vendors can deliver an improved desktop experience.
The dilemma facing IT managers is this: Employees want the flexibility of having their own PC personality, but managers want a standard way to manage desktop virtual machines (VMs).
Vendors are progressing in both areas. For example, this week Citrix Systems Inc. will release details about XenDesktop 3.0 as well as a range of technologies specifically aimed at improving data delivery and the user experience. These technologies will become available this year.
XenDesktop 3.0 was expanded to handle not just virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), where VMs are hosted on the server, but also streaming applications to the desktop.
The release builds in some profile management features that will let end users keep their personalization settings, cookies, etc., and store them separately. The settings can reside on the desktop or a server where a central store will synchronize them, Citrix said.
The release also stated that IT shops using the XenServer hypervisor will see a 2X performance boost. IT shops using other hypervisors, such as VMware ESX and Microsoft Hyper-V, will not experience any change.
Adaptive HDX technology
Citrix will also unveil a brand called HDX, which encompasses technologies in the server, the client, on the network and in an appliance. All aim to improve graphic rendering and data transmission.
Some available HDX-branded technologies are already part of XenDesktop 3.0. HDX MediaStream works with the Citrix ICA protocol to compress data to endpoints and then render them locally. HDX Plug-n-Play expands support for USB devices so end users can use the peripheral of their choice and HDX Broadcast improves network performance in high-latency and low-bandwidth environments.
Also available is HDX IntelliCache, which caches data and graphics throughout the infrastructure to deliver them from the most efficient location.
The company also released HDX Networking this week -- an appliance for use with the application virtualization platform XenApps. This appliance digs into the ICA protocol and finds redundancies, thereby cleaning up data transmission. Citrix said the platform lets IT shops accommodate four times more users with the same application and bandwidth.
In mid-2009, Citrix will release HDX RealTime to boost voice and video using bi-directional encoding and streaming technology. HDX 3D can boost graphics performance.
In the second half of 2009, Citrix will make available HDX Adaptive Orchestration. This smart rendering technology can analyze a server, network and endpoint device and dynamically decide where to render a file for the best user experience.
Pricing for XenDesktop 3.0 will remain at $75 to $395 per concurrent user, depending on the edition. The HDX appliance is included for use with XenApps 5.0 Platinum edition. IT shops with subscriptions can upgrade at no charge, the company said.
Users demand personalization, flexibility
One IT expert who tested XenDesktop and has considered using virtual desktop devices, such as those made by Pano Logic, Inc., in Menlo Park, Calif., said improving the end-user experience is crucial for mass acceptance of virtual desktop technology.
David Mickelson, vice president and chief technical architect at Loomis Sayles & Co., a Boston financial services firm, said he's seeking technology that would allow for the shared-pool concept versus a one-to-one image.
"The concept of [desktop virtualization] sounds great, but when you have a lot of user customization you wonder if it's not just worth taking a snapshot of their desktop and sticking it in the data center," Mickelson said.
The firm is considering storing full images in the data center, but memory storage costs are high. Enhanced personalization capabilities in XenDesktop 3.0 bring the idea of shared pooling back into play, he said.
Citrix virtual desktop momentum
Citrix has momentum in delivering personalization on the desktop, but the company isn't alone in its march toward dynamic desktops. VMware Inc., introduced VMware View last September to address some of these issues; however, its desktop strategy isn't quite as complete as Citrix's, said Mark Margevicius, a research director and vice president at Gartner Inc., in Stamford, Conn.
VMware still depends on its Remote Desktop Protocol, which is not designed to do what Citrix's ICA will be able to do, Margevicius said. VMware has signed partnerships with Hewlett-Packard, Sun and Teradici Corp., all of which offer their own protocol.
Other vendors offer several of the pieces too. RingCube Technologies Inc. and AppSense offer some portable personality elements. Teredici has enhanced protocols for video and voice, as does Hewlett Packard. Quest Software Inc.'s Provision line offers USB support and some bandwidth enhancements.
"For me, it's about making the user experience [on a virtual desktop] better than on a user desktop," said Andi Mann, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, in Boulder, Colo. " The way people perceive their desktop is important. People see a change in experience as unbeneficial."