IBM has announced a public desktop cloud through which it will deliver virtualized desktops to thousands of end users per customer site at a time. IBM will virtualize the desktops via the products of either VMware or Citrix Systems to match a customer's current environment.
Both VMware and Citrix produce virtual desktop infrastructure products; they supply end user access control to desktop provisioning servers and management consoles for thousands of concurrent users. With the help of partner Desktone, IBM is offering such services from its one-year-old Web services cloud.
The IBM Smart Business Desktop on the IBM Cloud is a new approach to virtualizing desktops. Due to several potential pitfalls, creating enterprise virtual desktops has been slow compared to the enthusiasm for server virtualization in the data center. IT managers seeking to undertake such a move have to assure end users that their virtual experience will rival using their own machines.
Arthur Chiang, VP for end user services, said application responses through the IBM cloud approach will rival desktop speeds, but the virtual desktops will not be able to run full motion video or multimedia in their first iteration as a cloud service. Unlike server virtualization, desktop virtualization requires a set of upfront architecture decisions that dictate how the process will proceed.
On its Web site, partner Desktone, a supplier of what it calls desktop-as-a-service, sums up the dilemma: "Desktop virtualization is an attractive concept because of its potential to streamline management and support, enhance security and -- hopefully -- reduce IT costs. But in reality, [it] requires too much upfront capital and complicated integration" As a result, it said, implementation of virtualized desktops "is lagging."
IBM is trying to address that reality through its Smart Business Desktop. Chiang said the cloud desktop service is subscription-based, with no upfront capital expenses. IBM will ensure that a customer's desktop virtualization integrates with its existing Microsoft Active Directory or other identity management system.
IBM already offers Virtual Storage Optimizer as a cloud service. When applied to desktop virtualization, Virtual Storage Optimizer allows a customer to recognize the commonly used parts of users' desktops and store master copies of them, adding the specialized applications and personalized settings as each desktop is built for the user at the start of the day. That move reduces the storage that would be required if each user's full desktop were saved each day.
Managing user desktops from centralized servers is one way to reduce end user technical support costs, provided the practice doesn't run up extra storage and other expenses in the process. The end user applications that become available in the virtualized desktops are taken from the customer's own existing set, not applications provided by IBM, Chiang said.
IBM's cloud service for desktops becomes available in October, Chiang said. Pricing will depend on the size and nature of each implementation; no representative pricing was available, he said. The data centers from which the desktops will be served will be either in the U.S. or Europe, he added. In addition to the typical laptop or desktop as the end user machine, IBM is also offering Wyse thin clients as a virtualized desktop display.
In addition to Smart Business Desktop in the cloud, IBM for a year has offered an on-premises desktop virtualization and integration option with the customer managing desktops through his existing data center.
InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on server virtualization. Download the report here (registration required).