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Intel says client virtualization isn't better than VDI, just smarter

Makers of client virtualization products love that Intel supports their model over server-based VDI, but the chipmaker really doesn't care.

It's innate for vendors to push their own agendas and do whatever they can to win the favor of enterprise customers. All savvy IT pros know this, but they don't let it confuse their technology decisions.

So, when client virtualization vendors say their approach to desktop virtualization is superior to server-hosted VDI and point to Intel Corp.'s support for credibility, it's natural to wonder why Intel endorses those products. From a sales standpoint, it makes sense for Intel to support client hypervisors and workstation virtualization because those products require end points that run Intel processors.

But the notion that Intel supports client-side virtualization at the detriment of server-hosted VDI doesn't sit well with the chipmaker.

Following publication of the article "Wintel cheerleads for client virtualization to whip VDI," Intel emailed saying the suggestion that Intel promotes client virtualization because it benefits vPro chip sales is a "mischaracterization of Intel's approach to virtual desktops."

"We do not discredit the value of VDI," an Intel spokesperson wrote in an email. "Intel views it as a step in the evolution of traditional desktop management to a future of intelligent desktop virtualization where VDI will still be an option.

"Our take is that Intelligent Desktop Virtualization is the desired future state because it balances the role of intelligent clients, networks and servers, and that centralized management and local execution offers a better user experience (no latency for apps to work, for example) and better economics. But I don't see this as discrediting VDI."

That same week, Virtual Computer's CEO said during an interview that Intel promotes client virtualization in favor of VDI partially because of the favorable impact client virtualization has on Intel CPU sales.

Is the PC chip market suffering from VDI?
Market data shows that worldwide PC microprocessor unit shipments in the second quarter of 2011 (2Q11) declined 2.9% compared to 1Q11, and the numbers were about flat compared to 2Q10, according to the latest PC microprocessor report. That data includes chips for PCs, x86 servers and workstations, so it's difficult to determine what impact, if any, server-hosted VDI and thin-client adoption has on desktop chip sales.

IDC reduced its forecast for year-over-year growth in microprocessor unit shipments for 2011 from 10.3% to 9.3%, and that reduction comes as thin client device adoption increases.

IDC forecasts worldwide shipments of thin clients to grow from about 3.8 million units in 2010 to about 8.7 million units in 2015. "That's stellar growth, and we expect VDI to play a strong role in that market expansion," said IDC Research Director Tom Mainelli.

Still, Intel denies any bias. Dinesh Rao, a business unit manager with Intel, said during an interview last week that the company's Intelligent Desktop Virtualization crusade is not designed to be self-serving. He said it's all about helping customers increase server VM density by offloading workloads from the server to the client.

Of course, workloads can only be offloaded to client devices that have CPUs and memory resources -- so those end points can't be thin clients. Client-side hypervisors and workstations products from vendors such as MokaFive, RES Software, Scense, Virtual Computer and Wanova all rely on devices with Intel chips and all of those companies' products are endorsed in Intel's desktop virtualization campaign.

One could assume that Intel won't publicly play favorites because Intel has close partnerships with VDI vendors such as VMware.

But the company also benefits from server-hosted VDI because those highly consolidated virtualized servers run on Intel chips, too. So Intel makes money either way.

While the overall processor market growth is flat at best, Intel continues gaining market share. Intel finished Q2 2011 with 94.5% market share, up from 93% market share in 2010. During that time frame, AMD earned 7% market share -- a loss of 3.1%.

Plus, the PC market is still exponentially larger than the thin client market and it continues to grow. The IDC's current PC forecast shows growth from 347 million units worldwide in 2010 to about 541.6 million units in 2015.

"So while it's clear that a growing number of businesses will transition some of their workers to thin clients and away from PCs, we do not believe that thin clients will have a dramatically negative impact on shipments in the PC market," Mainelli said.

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

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