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6/23/2011
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Can Video Game Firm Outplay Traditional VDI Options?

Cloud video game company OnLive uses its high-speed network to jump into the market for virtual desktops. Here's why its technology looks compelling compared to traditional VDI.

One of the barriers to desktop virtualization, frankly, is an artificial one erected by Microsoft, and I brought this up with Perlman. In April 2007, Microsoft offered a new type of license for using Vista virtualized, called VECD (Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktop). It didn't actually give you any new functionality, it just made it legal for you to use Windows on a virtual machine. In March 2010, Microsoft renamed this license VDA (Virtual Desktop Access) and decreased the price somewhat, from about $120 a year to $100 a year in perpetuity, for any non-Microsoft devices that access the Windows 2007 virtual desktop. Windows PCs that are enrolled in Microsoft's Service Assurance with an annual fee are exempted from the VDA requirement.

Perlman responded that the cost reductions can be had through avoiding all of the scut work associated with PCs. He cited costs associated with installation and maintenance. Then he pointed out that if the new virtual desktop service works "just fine over all networks, even a horrible network," that this lowers the cost quite a bit. He has a point. During the demo, he showed the audience how Speedtest.net showed several hundred megabits per second on both download and upload--because the desktop really resides in a data center where bandwidth is plentiful. Of course, this is nothing new to clouderati, but it may well be a selling point to C-level execs who just want more power at a cheaper price.

Perlman also noted that they're not just another desktop virtualization vendor. They're taking a page from their video game operation, as well as from Netflix, melding the content (in this case, apps) with the desktop virtualization offering. He notes that Netflix broke the mold on the way that vendors offer movies: Netflix's streaming service didn't offer the latest releases, but it made it incredibly convenient to acquire the content.

"Now," he says, "they have more subscribers now than Comcast. We're doing the exact same thing with applications." He envisions that the distribution--a la Apple's iPhone App Store--will create a renaissance for enterprise apps that "has never been possible before because of the challenges involved in delivering them." It's true that the various mobile App store ecosystems have created a content revolution, but it remains to be seen whether that translates to the desktop--so far, Apple's Mac App Store hasn't exactly caught on fire.

And many other questions remain, of course. Pricing will be everything, but again, Perlman is confident that the multi-purpose video gaming cloud will provide significant economies of scale. We'll see. Also, enterprises will need to understand how the files that are generated with these desktop offerings will be stored and managed.

In 20 years of watching technology develop, I've noticed that many of the truly innovative breakthroughs don't get generated from the enterprise at all--they're coming from porn and gaming. So, I do find this somewhat intriguing, and I'll be watching with great interest to see how this gaming-spawned version of VDI develops.

Jonathan Feldman is a contributing editor for InformationWeek and director of IT services for a rapidly growing city in North Carolina. Write to him at jf@feldman.org or at @_jfeldman.

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