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5 VDI Alternatives You Can Implement Now

By Kenneth Hess (Send Email)
Posted September 23, 2011


If you're still laying hopes on virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to solve your desktop support costs and problems, you may be waiting a very long time. VDI is expensive and doesn't live up to local desktop performance standards. Sure, there are some benefits to centralized desktop management, but the costs are still too high for practical implementation. Here are five VDI alternatives to consider before betting the farm on a stranded technology.

1. Wanova

Wanova's VDI alternative might surprise you in its elegant simplicity. With it, you set up a single gold desktop operating system image and image any desktop device with it: Desktop PC or laptop, regardless of make or model. To gather driver sets for diverse computer types, you need only install the Wanova desktop agent software on a system.

If you don't like cloud-based storage for your desktop image and individual computer backups, use your own data center. Cloud storage isn't required. Wanova's software deduplicates files from all systems connected via agents. You have a single copy of Windows, a single copy of Microsoft Office, a single copy of any software program and a single copy of any shared file. The storage savings alone will pay for the solution, and you'll save yourself the trouble of setting up a VDI environment.

A single copy of Windows means only one copy of Windows to patch, update and deploy. The same goes for any software program. For example, if you must roll out a new version of Visio, update the single stored copy and any differences in the new copy, and the copy contained on workstations will synchronize without administrative or user intervention. Once you experience Wanova's solution, you might believe that "Wanova" is Swahili for 'Magic.'

2. Remote Desktop Services (Windows Terminal Services)

When you consider all of the VDI alternatives at your fingertips, Windows comes with a built-in solution: Remote Desktop Services (RDS). Depending on your licensing agreement with Microsoft, this solution might be the least expensive of all by comparison. At worst, you'd need RDS Client Access Licenses and possibly Server Client Access Licenses for the server systems to which the clients connect.

RDS, even at $200 to $300 per client, is significantly less expensive than an equivalent-capacity VDI solution. A desktop services solution delivers the performance users expect, plus IT and management stays happy with its centralized management of data storage, software and backup.

The beauty of this solution is that users can enjoy a localized desktop experience when not connected to the RDS for a truly mobile solution, whereas VDI offers only a connected solution.

3. Containers

Container virtualization is a foreign concept for many IT professionals and C-level executives. This type of virtualization leverages the operating system's running kernel to create multiple pseudo machines that behave as if they were independent computers. With container-based virtualization, you may reboot a container, install software to a container and assign individual users to a container--all without affecting the host system on which the container runs.

Traditionally, UNIX and Linux systems have used containers, also called jails or zones, to isolate processes from the host. Parallels has also implemented this technology on Windows. The Parallels version of containers, called Virtual Private Server (VPS), isolates Windows systems in much the same way as its UNIX and Linux counterparts.

Container virtualization is an extremely cost-effective method for delivering servers and desktops because of the container density per host system. The host system views each container as a separate process as it would any other process running on the system. Hence the very high guest-to-host density. When you purchase a VPS from an ISP, it is probably a Parallels container you're using. You can also tell by the price that this is a very economical technology.

4. Citrix XenApp

Using XenApp, you could set up a generic desktop for each user and provide all user-required applications via Citrix's application virtualization solution. If the user's desktop hardware fails or the operating system becomes corrupt from viruses, malware or other software anomaly, desktop support personnel can quickly provide the user with a replacement or reimaged system. The user experience isn't tied to the operating system but rather to the applications she uses.

Additionally, Citrix provides XenApp client software for almost every computing platform, including tablets, smart phones, laptops, desktops, servers and multiple operating systems. This takes the user experience away from the traditional desktop computer and places it on any device the user has at her disposal.

5. 2X Computing

2X Computing is an inexpensive alternative to Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop for application and desktop delivery. 2X supplies clients for multiple operating systems, platforms and devices including thin clients. The 2X solution is also hypervisor agnostic, which gives you the power you need without the single vendor lock-in. This feature makes it possible to employ multiple hypervisors in your data center without having to purchase multiple products for each type of solution.

Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. He is also the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, which was published in October 2009. You may reach him through his web site at http://www.kenhess.com.

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