InfoWorld review: Three VDI solutions

Ever since VMware coined the term, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) has conjured images of large data centers, beefy servers, centralized storage, and complex software stacks. It's a given that each VDI installation requires numerous servers, software packages, and storage systems in order to provide desktop virtualization for more than a small handful of users, so VDI just has to be both expensive and complicated to deploy. Right?

As I found out while evaluating three entry-level VDI bundles, this doesn't have to be the case. My goal was to find out just how much -- or how little -- was needed to provide a scalable virtualized desktop system for up to 50 users. As with just about all matters computer related, there are many ways to skin a virtualized cat, and some will fit into an existing network infrastructure better than others.

The VDI products I tested are Kaviza VDI-in-a-box, NComputing N series for Citrix, and SUNDE VDI with Diana zero client. With all three products, I was able to connect to Windows XP Pro or Windows 7 Pro desktops hosted on a single piece of hardware -- no network storage necessary. While all three solutions set up easily, worked well, and will meet the needs for about 80 percent of businesses, each one did have some shortcomings. IT organizations will have to carefully evaluate any potential solution to make sure it fits in with their use case.

In general, even the simplest VDI solution is made up of five components: a connection broker, a remote access protocol, a back-end virtualization platform, a storage system, and client devices. The VDI solutions reviewed here addressed these components a bit differently, and these variations will be key to choosing which among them the best fit for your organization is. Each solution overlaps another in some areas, but they all have a feature or two that make them unique.


The virtualization in VDI

One key difference among the solutions is the choice of virtualization platform. Both Kaviza and Ncomputing sit on top of a bare-metal hypervisor, or Type 1 virtualization infrastructure, which hosts both the management component and the desktop virtual machines. Both of them require an existing virtualized infrastructure (either VMware or Citrix). SUNDE, on the other hand, provides its own form of virtualization-- vPointServer and the Oracle’s virtualization infrastructure VirtualBox included as part of the bundle. vPontServer is an application that needs only a Windows XP Pro or Windows Server 2003 box to run on basic, off-the-shelf hardware.

When choosing among Kaviza, NComputing, and SUNDE, the question becomes manageability versus simplicity for the end-user desktops. With Kavizaand Ncomputing, you can manage and scale easily for virtual desktop users with the support of the virtualization infrastructure. With SUNDE, you can setup the infrastructure in the quickest and simplest way and freeing the use of complicated third party offering also reduces the implementation cost.

Like a lot of IT hot-button topics, some admins feel strongly about one flavor of virtualization versus another. During my tests, I had no problems with any of the VDI solutions. While I only scaled up to 10 concurrent users, all three performed well and none gave me any indication that I was in jeopardy of running out of resources.

A major differentiator is the remote access protocol and the endpoints each solution supports. Kaviza will allow any client, fat or thin, that can run Microsoft RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) or Citrix HDX to connect to a guest VM. SUNDE developed its own SUNDE-VDI protocol that works only with its proprietary endpoints. Finally, Ncomputing uses Citrix protocol and HDX technology to extend the desktop VM's hardware but to its proprietary endpoint device.

From a deployment standpoint, Kaviza isn't locked into a single endpoint and can work with a wide range of devices. Both

NComputing and SUNDE are locked into using their specific endpoint hardware, eliminating Web-based access. There are advantages to using NComputing's and SUNDEs client devices -- they draw very little power; have no CPU, RAM, or local storage; and fit in the palm of your hand. There is no chance of anyone walking away with business secrets if a device is stolen, and if a device fails, you simply plug in a new one. They are an excellent way to provide everyday access for moderate line-of-business use.

The result of my testing is that VDI on the cheap is here and quite capable of fitting into the enterprise regardless of your stage of virtualization. I very much like SUNDE's complete bundle concept, and SUNDE-VDI protocol is a real technological achievement. I am not overly fond of being locked into proprietary endpoints with both NComputing and SUNDE, but I have to admit that in all my testing, the endpoints worked very well and performed all basic office tasks without a complaint.

Overall, the Kaviza solution best combines flexibility, scalability, and virtual desktop management into a single package. I like that I am not tied to any particular endpoint, and Kaviza's VM image management is well done. My biggest knock on Kaviza is that it takes a bit of work to get your guest VMs in the system and prepped for deployment to the end-users.







Overall core

Kaviza VDI-in-a-box v3.0








NComputing N series for Citrix








SUNDE VDI with Diana zero client








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