Like an "emperor's new clothes" scenario, VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) seems to offer so much but at a price tag that's hard to justify. That's not to say VDI has had little or no value for IT: VDI was born of issues IT managers faced around centralized desktop management, migration issues, and support frustrations, and no one is denying the need to centralize management or address management support issues. However, VDI fails us in many ways, starting with the fact that devices require high-bandwidth connectivity to access user systems. We want the centralization of VDI with the performance and responsiveness of a locally installed OS on a PC.
VDI, although appropriate in certain circumstances, is not the answer for the majority of users in the enterprise. Just look at the number of PCs purchased: Hundreds of millions of PCs were sold in 2011 compared to 6 million thin clients.
Where do you turn if desktop centralization is a concern and VDI doesn't fit the bill?
- Back to Terminal Services? Some of the same frustrations will resurface, starting with the requirement to have connectivity to access the desktop, as well as the less-than-perfect display experience.
- Client-side hypervisor options? Perhaps. In the past I've explained the value of products like Virtual Computer's NxTop, which promote desktop virtualization through hypervisor-based clients that have saved versions of the client-side VM stored in a central location.
Now there's a third type of desktop virtualization to consider: intelligent desktop virtualization (IDV), which brings together both IT needs and user wants.
A tour of Wanova's Mirage IDV approach
I recently had a chance to check out an IDV product, Wanova's Mirage, which takes a PC running Windows XP or Windows 7 and installs a 2MB client onto it, then saves the PC's image onto a Wanova Mirage Server, which runs on Windows 2008 R2.
Mirage doesn't just upload the full image of the system; it also determines what files and data are already on the Mirage Server, then sends only the differences to the PC, in a process called calculating the delta. This saves on bandwidth and storage. In addition to this on-the-fly deduplication, Mirage uses proprietary WAN protocols to ensure high-performance connections.
At the same time, the Mirage client takes an inventory of the entire system (hardware and software) so that IT can perform inventory management more easily. Disaster recovery is also much easier if a person has a problem with his or her system. If someone drops a laptop on a business trip, an IT admin can grab a new laptop, install the Windows and Mirage clients, and sync the saved data from the Mirage Server onto that new laptop over a LAN or wide area network. It can also restore that PC image to a virtual machine.