Citrix, Cisco update virtual desktop "experience"

Silly name, slightly updated hardware, VoIP phones for thin clients.

Cisco and Citrix have updated the "end-to-end" virtual-desktop package they rolled out in early September. The new version has some of the same problems of the old and -- at least in the press materials and background many customers use to cost-justify purchases -- introduces some new ones.

The original paired Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) with Citrix' XenDesktop to provide what the companies estimated was 300 users' worth of servers, networking fabric, storage and virtual-desktop software.

Other than couple of new pieces of hardware, it's the name that gets the most work, but not necessarily for the better.

Rather than having to drag around a name like Cisco Desktop Virtualization Solution with Citrix XenDesktop, the updated version debuts as the Cisco Virtualization Experience Infrastructure (VXI), which is shorter but also much more annoying because the long version doesn't tell you what the product is supposed to do, and the short version (XVI -- pronounced as the letters X, V and I) has hardly anything to do with the long name.

Cisco added two new thin clients and a tablet called the Cisco Cius (due to ship in March), all of which will work with XVI implementations that use the Citrix Receiver thin-client virtual-desktop client.

The release cites a Gartner study showing the TCO of a virtualized laptop should "reduce support costs by 51 percent, an item that accounts for 67 percent of PC-related IT expenses." Which, I think, means you take the total TCO of a laptop, subtract 33 percent, then take half the cost of the remainder, and that's the chunk virtualizing the laptop could potentially save by keeping users from installing bad software.

That's a third the TCO of the whole notebook, but there's no way virtualizing the notebook is going to keep the whole thing from needing any support (Ever dropped one? Ever washed a dirty one? ).

Most analysts say virtual-desktop projects break even at best, and many cost more to install or run than standalone PCs. The Citrine I spoke to was Natalie Lambert, who directs product marketing for XenDesktop after a high-profile career as an analyst at Forrester, who didn't mention the questionable stat, but did talk about how efficiently the integrated hardware/software package could be rolled out, in modular chunks able to support 300 or 400 end users via any of the seven delivery methods XenDesktop claims.

Unfortunately, while the software and hardware are designed to work well together, Citrix supplies templates to make it easy to create users for either VDI or shared-hosted-OS sessions, the two are not so tightly packaged or integrated that you can get them as one easily installed units.

If you buy direct you have to buy one from Citrix, the other from Cisco, though VARs and resellers will to the install or configuration for you.

One innovative twist is the integration of Cisco's VXC2100 thin-client with its 8900 and 9900 VoIP phones, which handle audio and video more effectively than typical thin clients, making the whole package a "package for virtual desktop video" as some news outlets described it.

Not really. The better thing is support for Receiver, which could support iPhones, iPads and even the Cisco pad that's due in March.

Like the last edition, the XVI doesn't sound like a drop-in solution for virtual desktops, but it is more efficient for many companies to buy the networking and server components in one package so they can both use the same high-bandwidth fabric and manipulate performance by jacking up memory on the servers and bandwidth and I/O on the network connections. It's a bit of a cheat compared to virtual desktop infrastructures that can support multimedia virtual desktops without being juiced and goosed, but it's a lot better than installing the same thing without being able to jack up -- er -- optimize the networking solution for optimum performance.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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