Q&A: What You Need to Know About Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

What you need to know about moving to virtual desktops.

Considering a move to virtual desktops? Is the technology suitable for your enterprise, and how do you choose between zero clients and thin clients? To sort out these and other issues about VDI, we turned to Aly Orady, CTO of Pano Logic, a company that specializes in virtual desktop technology.

What are some of the key high points in the short history of virtual desktops and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technology?

In the history of VDI, clearly the introduction of the zero client was a key turning point -- up until that point the only way to do VDI was with a thin client, which is essentially using a PC to access a PC (very inefficient). Since then, a number of innovations in storage and storage management have advanced VDI. Linked clones and thin clone technologies now available from multiple vendors help manage the costs of storage and reduce the management burden, and most recently the availability of cost-effective SDD’s has really changed the performance game when it comes to VDI.

Are such desktops and VDI technology suitable for all enterprises? Is there a minimum number of installed systems you’d need before considering VDI, for example?

Desktop and VDI technologies are suitable for all different types of enterprises. If you’re considering a move to VDI, start out with 25 installed systems. It will be an easy way to start reaping the benefits and rewards of VDI.

Within a virtual desktop infrastructure there are zero clients and thin clients. What are the differences? What are their strengths and weaknesses?

Although other desktop virtualization products rely on thin clients, the zero-client computing approach is to stretch the system bus from the data center to the endpoint by removing the processor, RAM, and storage from its hardware. Zero-client computing redefines the delivery and management of end-user computing by radically centralizing desktop management making it possible to have an endpoint device that contains no processor, operating system, memory, firmware, or software, completely eliminating endpoint management and security breaches while slashing energy consumption as compared to a PC.

One of the strengths of the thin-client architecture is that it is also compatible with terminal services. Thin clients were initially created for terminal services and later adapted for use with virtual desktops. Hence, thin clients give a level of flexibility to those migrating from terminal services.

What are some of the popular misconceptions about these technologies?

One of the biggest misconceptions is that VDI won’t work for my users. Most people who try VDI particularly on a zero client are pleasantly surprised to find that they get a very similar experience to a PC. A recent study conducted by the Sarrel Group, a technical assessment consultancy, conducted benchmark testing of desktop virtualization and PC performance for everyday, real-world tasks, such as scrolling through Excel and PowerPoint or streaming video. The key findings illustrated that desktop virtualization performance, specifically zero-client computing, has reached a comparable benchmark to physical computing.

What are your recommendations for enterprises selecting a VDI solution?

Consider the full cost of the VDI solution. When you deploy VDI, there are a number of components that you need. Think about the up-front buy and what the additional add-ons and support are going to cost you. With thin clients, there is a lot of additional management software that you need to get thin clients to work in a VDI environment. Add up the full cost.

What is the future of VDI? Do you see any particular trends in the coming years?

VDI is a journey. The trends that we see in the coming year will be more users making the move to VDI as they build confidence in the technology. Server virtualization started in 1997 and it wasn’t really until 10 years later that people became comfortable enough with the technology to deploy mission-critical applications. Until then, they used it in testing and development, application servers, and other non-critical functions.

With VDI, we are seeing a similar rollout. Enterprises are using VDI because they know it’s the future but are being cautious about which user populations they start with. The introduction of the zero client was a huge leap in the journey of VDI. Now that zero is here and here to stay, there are still a few leaps to make it easier to manage. I believe we’ll also see big moves in storage technologies in the coming years.

What products or services does Pano Logic offer related to our discussion?

Pano Logic is heavily involved in zero-client desktop computing. Pano Logic's all-in-one hardware and software solution -- Pano System -- redefines the delivery and management of end-user computing by centralizing desktop management. The Pano Logic zero-client platform is a complete end-to-end solution purpose-built for desktop virtualization, simplifying the complexity and management of virtual desktops and slashing TCO by as much as 80 percent. The patent-pending Pano Direct technology eliminates the need for costly processing power at the endpoint, making it possible to have an endpoint device that contains no processor, operating system, memory, drivers, firmware, software, or any moving parts, completely eliminating endpoint management and security breaches while slashing energy consumption by up to 95 percent compared to PCs.