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Cisco adds virtual desktops to its infrastructure strategy

IT shops are accustomed to Cisco in the enterprise. Now the networking company wants to wiggle into virtual desktop infrastructures and thin-client devices.

IT pros have a new option for virtual desktop technology -- Cisco Systems.

The company earlier this week said it would offer a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and endpoint devices, and it has formed partnerships with the biggest vendors in the market.

The Cisco Virtualization Experience Infrastructure (VXI) will support VMware View 4.5 and Citrix XenDesktop 5 and integrate with a long list of Cisco technologies. It will also tie in management, security applications and storage systems from EMC, NetApp and Microsoft.

Cisco is not known for its desktop technology prowess, but the company has recently expanded beyond its networking roots. It's most notable play is in server hardware with the Unified Computing System (UCS), which some IT pros give good marks for running pools of virtual desktops.

Part of the company's interest in VDI is in making remote desktops, which are known to offer poor video performance. Cisco is also looking to support its videoconferencing products, such as WebEx. Cisco already offers WAN optimization products for remote desktops.

Since networking and bandwidth can make or break virtual desktops, Cisco is not an odd presence in this market, one expert said.

"Virtualizing the desktop is hot trend, and one in which the end device matters little in terms of management and requirement," said Mark Margevicius, an analyst at consulting firm Gartner Inc. "The network and protocol matter more."

Cisco has a smart strategy with VXI because, regardless of who wins the VMware-Citrix battle for the virtual desktop, most VXI projects will be running on Cisco network devices and UCS, said Shannon Snowden, a virtual desktop consultant at New Age Technologies Inc, a virtualization consultancy in Louisville, Ky.

Collaborating with VMware and Citrix and making virtualization accessible on any device, complete with high-quality streamed video, directly responds to enterprise concerns about virtualizing desktops, Snowden said.

"For desktops, it's all about the quality of the end-user experience, including the capability to watch streaming video. This is a problem for everyone," Snowden said. "They all see the size of the desktop market that could be virtualized if they can actually, as an industry, deliver a good as local desktop experience with VXI."

Cisco VXI is available now from Cisco and partners. The company will also provide VXI services to help IT pros with strategy, planning and design.

Cisco devices for virtual desktops
In addition to XVI, Cisco will deliver two of its own zero-client devices --called Cisco Virtualization Experience Client (VXC) devices -- for VXI.

Cisco's VDI will also be supported on smartphones, laptops and tablets (including the Cisco Cius business tablet) via new client applications from VMware, Wyse Technologies and Citrix. In addition, all VXI devices will embed Citrix Receiver and HDX technology.

The Cisco Virtualization Experience Clients and Cisco Cius will be generally available in March 2011. At that time, Cius, which uses the Android operating system, will support Citrix Receiver, VMware View and Wyse PocketCloud.

Let us know what you think about this story; email Bridget Botelho or follow @BridgetBotelho on Twitter.

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