Citrix acquires appliance vendor to make VDI simple enough for SMBs

Even companies with skills and resources often don't think making VDI work is worth the effort

Citrix Systems is expanding its menu of options and, in the process, its lead over VMware in the virtual desktop business by acquiring Kaviza, which sells an appliance-based VDI server designed to give SMBs a drop-in ability to build virtual desktops.

Citrix bought an undisclosed amount of Kaviza last April for an undisclosed amount of money, with the intent of using its VDI-in-a-box as a way to counter complaints by end users that desktop virtualization is just too complicated.

VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) is the most radical form of virtual desktops. Rather than run an operating system, applications and data on a user's local machine, all those things run in a virtual machine on a server in the data center.

Implemented correctly, VDI all but eliminate hands-on support and reconfiguration of desktop PCs – not to mention increase the security of data, make them more virus-proof and give IT more control over what apps are run on its infrastructure.

If a user's desktop is infected, becomes unstable due to corruption in OS systems files or causes any other trouble, it's simple to just shut it down on the server and relaunch another VM with exactly the same data and apps. Problem solved.

Making it work means a big investment in new servers to run all the new virtual machines, expanding network bandwidth, huge increases in storage and I/O and still doesn't eliminate all the cost of hardware or support on the user's end – they still have to type on something, and even the thinnest-client hardware costs something to buy, install and maintain.

Despite the benefits, it's tough to overcome the complexities. You have to make sure "VM storms" don't swamp the network and SAN in the morning as everyone signs on at once and solving the problem of how to keep the files containing a user's personalizations, personal data and installed files live and attached to the VM as it is relaunched, or moved from one server to another during load balancing.

Because they have smaller IT budgets and fewer IT people to help (often none), SMBs benefit a lot more, proportionately, than big companies would from almost any type of virtualization.

A lot of it is too complicated for them to manage on their own, which is why cloud-based services are even more popular among SMBs – they don't have to do the implementation.

Kaviza, like appliance vendors who sell security, email and other services that would otherwise require advanced technical skills, tries to build a market among SMBs by giving them a box that takes care of all the complicated bits and gives them the benefit of VDI without the work.

Like most appliances, it tends to get more effective as the size of the organization it supports drops.

Complexity and administrative overhead add up quickly with VDI.

Citrix specializes in complexity and administrative overhead – at least, in building software that gives IT departments enough control over them to make a million forms of desktop virtualization work.

Most of Citrix' virtual-desktop business is built on traditional shared-application setups, which are conceptually just one graphical step ahead of stone-age green-screen terminal-services applications.

Citrix virtualizes the hell out of the desktop, though.

It streams individual apps from back-end servers, streams whole OSes with apps, does full-blown VDI, runs all three versions to tablets or smartphones, and has client software that will run on almost every PC and non-PC device available that is above a minimum level of intelligence.

It doesn't do SMB very well; at least, it doesn't do VDI for SMB very well.

It apparently believes Kaviza does, and that there are enough small businesses out there that want to eliminate the need to send their single part-time IT person out of the "data center" where he's replacing the hard drive someone's kid pulled out of a laptop and fed to the dog, so he can explain to computer-illiterate customer-service or front-office workers (again) that the little plastic ring that extends from the computer when you push a button is for DVDs, not a place to put your coffee.

Citrix has been making a lot of noise lately about expanding (even further) its ability to send virtual OSes, apps, user data and anything else to any device any employee might carry. In VDI that isn't really practical unless it's willing to remove a lot of the work of getting it all functional.

Buying Kaviza's VDI-in-a-Box "for its ease, affordability and completeness" is an admission VDI can not only be easier than it is, and that Citrix is willing to admit it could use someone else's technology to figure out how to do it.

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