Everyone wants to escape the horror of rising energy costs. So why not run fewer servers? That’s the no-brainer benefit of server virtualization and consolidation, which is already saving forward-looking companies big bucks in kilowatt hours of electricity, not to mention in hardware and server administration. No wonder so many enterprises are eying fresh virtualization territory: the humble desktop.
[See also: VDI in the OR ]
You don’t have to be a genius to realize that collapsing a dozen desktop systems with 500-watt power supplies into a single server with a 2000-watt power supply saves power and cooling costs. It’s also obvious that collapsing a few hundred workstations into just a few physical servers would slash the power bill much further, while reducing the overhead of desktop system repairs and replacement parts. With cheap desktop terminals, total power consumption per seat drops dramatically, as does the heat generated by hardware, resulting in lower air conditioning costs.
This idea isn’t new. Thin clients coupled with Citrix and Microsoft Terminal Services have provided the traditional method of pushing desktop sessions from the back office to the front room, but those solutions don’t fit everywhere. Application incompatibilities abound and the relative fragility of a single Windows server instance running dozens of desktop sessions has always been a concern.
Hence the sudden proliferation of VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) solutions. Riding the virtualization wave, everybody and his brother are offering VDI products that deliver a full desktop (or virtual system) to a thin client. “We’re seeing customers who really want to move away from terminal services for application incompatibility issues, among other things, and this is a clear alternative,” says Mason Uyeda, Sun Microsystems marketing manager for desktop virtualization. “VDI is like putting gasoline on the virtualization fire.”
VDI report card
The basics of these solutions are very similar. A thin client boots on the network and makes a connection to a desktop session broker. This broker is a piece of middleware that handles session requests on one side and pairs that request with an available virtual system. The details of how this works vary greatly from vendor to vendor, with some offering SSL connections from the client, while others do not. Protocol support to the desktop session is generally Microsoft’s RDP (Remote Display Protocol) or Citrix’s ICA (Independent Computing Architecture).
VDI changes the way sessions are delivered to the clients. Rather than a single system hosting multiple sessions on a single OS, each client connects to a separate, independent virtual system running under VMware, VirtualIron, or some another hypervisor. In this way, each system is isolated from the others and feels just like a “real” desktop.