January 05, 2011, 9:05 AM — 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.
[ VDI can deliver a thin client experience similar to that of a desktop PC, but challenges remain. See InfoWorld's VDI Deep Dive Report. | Keep up to date on virtualization by signing up for InfoWorld's Virtualization newsletter. ]
The VDI products I tested are Kaviza VDI-in-a-box, NComputing vSpace and L-Series endpoint devices, and Pano Logic's Pano Express. All three provide centrally hosted, general-purpose desktops to end-users for less than $500 per seat. 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% 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.