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VDI products with low infrastructure, licensing costs do exist

Citrix XenDesktop and VMware View too pricey? You may want to consider less expensive VDI options from Red Hat or Kaviza.

Virtual desktop products are expensive to install mainly because most require you to upgrade your infrastructure on some level, and the licensing prices are higher than the average small IT shop can afford.

But take heart. There are ways to deliver virtual desktops without selling your young to pay the tab. Some companies go with workstation virtualization products, which require little to no back-end infrastructure. However, they don't offer the same level of security that server-hosted virtual desktops provide.

Virtual desktops should only cost $500 to $600 per user, not $1,000.

Ovidiu Mot,
IT director, Credit Counseling Society

That's why Ovidiu Mot, IT director at The Credit Counseling Society in British Columbia, took a chance on a smaller company's virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) product over workstation virtualization and better known products from companies such as VMware, which he uses to virtualize servers.

"If the price was right, I might have bought VMware View. Same with Citrix [XenDesktop]," Mot said. "But I can't think of a use case to justify the cost. Virtual desktops should only cost $500 to $600 per user [in capital expenditure], not $1,000."

Mot chose a product from a small company called Kaviza because it delivers virtual desktops without any of the infrastructure requirements and costs of popular VDI products. Licensing costs were also more reasonable than the alternatives. "It is the cheapest of all of them with the least amount of back end requirements," Mot said. "We couldn't afford to buy the servers and networking that those other products require."

Kaviza consolidates its provisioning and management features into a virtual appliance so that IT managers can set up their VDI environment with one piece of software and local server storage.

"In the simplest case, all you need is a [VMware ESX or XenServer] hypervisor," Mot said. "Once it is up and running, your first desktop can be available within a couple of hours."

All 60 employees at the nonprofit credit counseling organization now use Kaviza virtual desktops. The desktops are delivered via HDX, Citrix's remote desktop protocol, to PCs that have been repurposed as thin clients or actual thin clients. VDI has helped to cut staff desktop management support calls by 95%, Mot said.

"When I do get a call from a user, I usually solve the problem on the phone. I tell them to log off; we destroy that desktop and give them a completely new one from our cloned golden image that works perfectly when they log back on," Mot said.

No offline support
But there are drawbacks to using Kaviza's technology. It requires third-party personalization software from companies such as AppSense, and it lacks offline support. This could be a problem for companies with a high percentage of remote and mobile workers.

Those limitations are common among all server hosted virtual desktops, though. VMware just started offering offline support with a local mode feature in View 4.5, but it hasn't added a profile management component yet. Citrix offers very basic profile management and added XenClient to XenDesktop 5.0 this month for offline support, but XenClient is a first-generation release, and many IT pros add third-party profile management products.

Kaviza's licensing cost is $125 per concurrent user with Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) and $160 per concurrent user with HDX. That's low compared with VMware View, which is priced at $150 per concurrent user for the Enterprise Edition and $250 per concurrent user for the Premier Edition, plus the cost of infrastructure. The same goes for XenDesktop, which costs $225 for the Enterprise edition and $350 for the Platinum edition.

Red Hat throws its Fedora into the ring
The best known entry with open source credentials is Red Hat Inc.'s Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV) virtual desktop product launched this year. It is based on the Simple Protocol for Independent Computing Environment, or SPICE, which Red Hat acquired from Qumranet two years ago. Red Hat began bundling the adaptive remote-rendering protocol into its operating system with the public beta of Fedora 14 in late September. The final release is expected in November.

Red Hat's server hosted desktop virtualization runs on the KVM hypervisor, and end users connect to virtual desktops running Microsoft Windows or Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) desktops via thin clients.

SPICE consists of a driver that lives in the guest operating system, a virtual graphics adapter at the host level and a client component. With those three elements, Red Hat asserts that SPICE is more adaptive than protocols built during the Microsoft Terminal Services era and that it's able to handle high-definition video and videoconferencing better than RDP.

For instance, SPICE can offload some of the graphics processing to more powerful client devices or process graphics at the host level inside the virtual desktop. This affords higher ratios of virtual machines (VMs) per host and improves the overall return on investment (ROI), said Navin Phadeni, senior director of virtualization business at Red Hat.

But Red Hat's desktop virtualization product is nascent, and some customers have run into snags, notably during the installation process. For instance, one RHEV user couldn't get Red Hat virtual desktops to work because, oddly enough, they require Microsoft Active Directory. The previous release of RHEV worked with an OpenLDAP-based directory service, but the current release does not. That said, Red Hat continues to advance the product.

Many IT managers won't consider Red Hat's virtual desktop product because it doesn't run on popular hypervisors VMware, XenServer or Hyper-V. It's fully integrated with KVM, which is used as a primary virtualization platform by only 1% of IT shops, according to the 2010 Virtualization Decisions Survey.

But IT pros have the option of throwing KVM (RHEV) on some servers to support a cluster of Red Hat-based virtual desktops for less than what they would pay for proprietary products. RHEV itself costs $499 or $749 per socket, per year for a maintenance subscription, depending on the edition, and the virtual desktop licenses are $15 to $22 per desktop, per year.

Let us know what you think about this story; email Bridget Botelho, Senior Site Editor.

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