While IT pros weigh the pros and cons of the ways they can deliver virtual desktops, vendors do their best to discredit the methods that don't benefit their bottom line -- particularly Intel and Microsoft.
Server-hosted VDI products from Citrix and VMware deliver virtual desktops to non-Intel and non-Windows devices, impacting Intel's client CPU sales and Microsoft's Windows PC business. So, it's no wonder that these two giants want server-based computing to fail before it becomes mainstream technology.
It's all to be expected. Both companies have a large legacy business and have a lot to lose with virtual desktop technology. From Intel's view, the few additional chips it will sell on servers hosting VDI won't come close to making up for the many more chip sales it will lose in replaced PCs.
"The fact is, VDI delivers desktops to devices that Intel doesn't have a play in," said Ian Song, an analyst with IDC, a technology market analysis firm. "Microsoft's story is a bit different -- its VDI profits are abysmal, but its end goal is to sell Windows licenses, and whether that's local or virtual doesn't matter to them, because [Microsoft] gets paid either way."
Intel's client virtualization cheer
Where Intel can make money off of desktop virtualization is with client virtualization -- where desktop VMs run directly on laptops and other CPU-powered devices. In fact, Intel has teamed up with some client-side virtualization vendors to promote technologies that run virtual desktops on laptops and other fat-client devices that keep "Intel Inside."
Intel vPro CPUs include virtualization assist technology and some features for managing virtual machines on the desktop, but vPro doesn't improve VM performance, and virtual desktop management tools are readily available with virtual desktop software.
Ken Fanta, IT director in the University of Wisconsin's Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, uses a client virtualization product called Wanova Mirage on HP Elite laptops with Intel vPro. He uses it to deliver Windows desktops to about 175 end users, and said performance is good because Mirage uses the client device resources. But he said he hasn't activated the vPro management features because he doesn't need them -- Wanova includes a management console on the backend, and he doesn't see much use in paying for vPro features he doesn't need.
Whether all the features in vPro are useful, Intel pushes the use of that chip for client hypervisors, such as Citrix XenClient -- which only supported Intel vPro chips up until last month, when Citrix added non-vPro chips and AMD graphics to its XenClient Hardware Compatibility List. While XenClient runs on non-vPro chips, they have to be Intel.
Intel also recommends other bare-metal client hypervisors -- including Virtual Computer's NxTop and MokaFive, and other client-side virtualization products, such as Wanova Mirage. Customers using any of those products need Intel chips because those technologies rely on local hardware resources to run desktop VMs.
Microsoft's halfhearted VDI support
Microsoft offers some VDI technologies, but it's not really the company's strong suit. Further, there is no evidence that Microsoft will champion this technology any time soon.
According to IDC’s Song, "App-V is the rock star of Microsoft's desktop virtualization portfolio, but its VDI suite is really a set of tools that only deliver basic desktop virtualization, and it doesn't scale well, so [Microsoft] defers to Citrix or Quest for large-scale deployments."
Microsoft's desktop virtualization offerings are strategically self-serving, with the goal of pushing Windows 7. In a recent Windows for your Business blog post about desktop virtualization, for example, Microsoft touts the cost benefits of its application virtualization tools, App-V and Med-V, which move Windows XP shops to Windows 7. Then Microsoft emphasizes the drawbacks of server-hosted VDI, recommending it in limited cases.
While Microsoft doesn't have a mature VDI product yet, it still wins if customers use VDI, especially Citrix XenDesktop. The companies have a close relationship, so Citrix customers can use Microsoft's remote desktop protocol -- RemoteFX, or App-V with XenDesktop -- and Microsoft still gets a piece of the pie.
Of course, Microsoft and Intel aren't the only companies with self-serving approaches to desktop virtualization. So, Song said, IT pros should weigh vendor VDI strategies carefully, and consult with independent integrators to discuss options that are appropriate for their environment.