Five things I need from VDI

VDI needs some key features to make it big. Here are some suggestions.

While we watch the whole world jump into virtualization with both feet, VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) is a logical step. In a nutshell, this is a wide-ranging term essentially describing the method of using a virtualization environment to run desktops that are then presented to end-users via thin or fat clients. It's yet another way to try to slay the one-physical-desktop-per-user beast.

I am fairly positive toward VDI in general, unlike Randy Kennedy, but it's still a very new technology, albeit one that borrows heavily from more mature technologies like RDP and virtualization itself. That said, there are a number of things I'd like to see from VDI vendors in the near future:

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1) Give me Windows 7 support. Now.

Yes, I know it's still beta, but this should be an imperative. Just about every VDI pilot is proceeding with Windows XP desktops, and Vista is already an orphan. If that means that Windows 7 is where everyone jumps when XP finally dies, then fine. But I need to pilot Windows 7 now. Otherwise, the fundamental differences between sysprep and image management on XP and Windows 7 will force me to run another pilot in the not-too-distant future. That's not feasible.

2) Give me ready-to-go PXE clients

Yes, ideally every user will be running a low-power diskless thin client in a full VDI build, but gee, I have hundreds of workstations that can function as higher-power thin clients now. They also have the added benefit of being full workstations in an emergency. I need to leverage that investment, especially in an economy where IT dollars are shrinking. So let me do both quickly and easily -- give me a PXE client. That way, all I have to do is change the boot order on my workstations and boot them straight to a VDI login.

There are ways to do this now by using open source tools like Thinstation and a mishmash of browsers in kiosk mode, the Java plugin, or the VMware View client shoehorned onto a Thinstation build (Note: The next version of Thinstation should have the open client as a default option!), but they're not as hardened as they should be. Also, the VMware View Open Client is a wonderful thing, but it doesn't support sound and USB redirection, which leads me to....

3) Give me a real Open Client

If you're a VDI vendor, a Linux-compatible client is an absolute must. Many thin clients run Linux, so we all know that you have developed Linux-compatible clients. Let us download them. VMware's View open client is just this sort of project, but it's hamstrung by the lack of sound and USB redirection. As I understand it, this isn't a technical problem, it's a political/licensing problem. Fix it. Now.

4) Give me better multimedia support

This is hit-or-miss, depending on the client and the virtualization environment, but these days any VDI build must have relatively flawless video playback. If I head over to YouTube on a VDI workstation, it should look, sound, and feel just like a real workstation. It might not seem like a deal breaker, but when you're running a pilot and looking to assuage user fears that by removing their workstation you're condemning them to constant problems, they'll point to sluggish Flash videos and choppy audio right away.

You try telling a marketing person that they don't need to watch online videos and such, especially their own promotional videos they're trying to make viral. They'll take your head off.

5) Help me tie up Microsoft's loose ends

This is somewhat related to the Windows 7 request. There should be an integration utility provided with a VDI package that handles at least some of the deep dark Windows massaging that needs to occur to have a successful VDI implementation. It wouldn't be too much to offer an installation wrapper that prompts an admin for a Windows XP/Vista/7 ISO image, VLK key, and a few other tidbits, and then creates completely ready-to-run images. Let me boot them, install my apps, declare them gold, and go from there.

There are more. These five are a good starting point, however. As it stands now, VDI is a viable proposition but some greasing of the proverbial wheels will help matters dramatically. So let's get cracking, and help IT lower costs yet again.