Hunt around Apple's app store, and you'll find several iPad apps from well-known names in the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) space: There's VMware's View, Citrix's Receiver and Quest's vWorkspace to name just three.
What's happening is something quite unforeseen: tablet computers--by which of course I mean the iPad, as Windows and Android tablets have so far been a no-show--are turning out to be the saviors of VDI. That's the whole virtual desktop idea so beloved by server virtualization technology companies like VMware and especially Citrix.
Let's face it: Most big companies and many smaller companies are already sold on the benefits of server virtualization, and every cloud computing service in the world relies on virtual machines. But VDI is a whole different and rather troublesome kettle of fish for hypervisor vendors. The problem is that no one is actually using it. Not in any significant numbers, anyway. It's always seemed like a vaguely good idea, even back in the mid-1990s when Larry Ellison was harping on about his Network Computer just to spite Microsoft. But that's not enough to make anyone go so far as to actually deploy it.
The problem with VDI is that PCs have become so darn cheap that you may as well just use them rather than messing around delivering virtual desktops to dumb terminals. Especially since users hate them because they can't store stuff on them locally and they can't load their own applications on to them. By the time you've bought all the infrastructure to support VDI (the servers and the SANs along with the dumb terminals), the benefits of virtual desktops have disappeared in a giant mushroom cloud of hardware costs, software licenses and user ill-will.
Citrix, for one, is aware of the problem, and it has been working to drive down the cost of dumb terminals. Its latest wheeze is its HDX-Ready System on Chip, which it hopes will make it possible for the likes of Wyse, TI, LG, Huawei, HP, Dell and all the rest of the thin-client merchants to make sub-$100 terminals with built-in support for HDX, Citrix's hi-def, network and performance accelerating technology. It's also looking to make the infrastructure required to get going with VDI cheaper with the introduction of VDI-in-a-Box 5, a package for SMEs that does away with the need for a whole load of hardware including management servers and SANs, using a grid of standard servers and direct attached storage (DAS) instead. The product uses technology Citrix acquired with Kaviza earlier this year.
One of today's burning issues for today's IT people is employee-owned devices, and the fact that those pesky users want to access the company network on their smartphones or process their emails and use applications from the corporate private cloud on their iPads. Since they feel they can't stop it, some enterprises are going so far as to embrace this trend: BYO used to be short for BYOB--bring your own bottle; these days, BYO is short for BYOD--bring your own device, or BYOC--bring your old computer. Less fun for those inclined to party, but useful for spendthrift IT folks and virtualization vendors alike.
That's because for anyone thinking of tipping their company's toes in the waters of desktop virtualization technologies, this is all too convenient. It means they can forget about network computers, dumb terminals, thin clients, zero clients or whatever else you want to call them, and tell employees to BYOiPad. Stick on a copy Citrix Receiver, VMware View or vWorkstation, and they're good to VDI.
Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.