Virtualized desktops can significantly reduce the IT time, travel and expense to support end users, but for many small-to-midsize companies, running and supporting the back-end requirements for supporting a virtual desktops, like VMware View, aren't a good trade-off.
Scottsdale, Arizona-based Virtuon, Inc. recently announced its Virtual Desktop cloud-based service, offering Windows desktops as virtual machines provisioned through the cloud, available on a per-month subscription basis. Once an account has been created, users can install applications and personalize their settings, just like with physical desktops, and access "their" desktop environment.
According to Virtuon, the virtualized desktops are accessible from any web browser, including on thin-client devices, the Apple iPad, and even on smartphones including iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile.
Virtuon Virtual Desktop is based on VMware View. "We're a VMware Enterprise partner," says Forrest Blair, CEO, Virtuon.
Additionally, says Blair, Virtual Desktop makes it easier for application developers to offer Windows-based products through the cloud without also developing a SaaS version.
VMware View normally uses a downloaded browser plug-in to connect to the user's VM session in the cloud. However, for machines where that is not an option, like locked-down hotel or library systems, or mobile devices, users can access their Virtual Desktop using a RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) connection through the browser.
Virtual also supports VMware View's off-line mode, which involves downloading the virtual machine and a VM player (only to machines that can run these, of course), according to Koustubha A. Deshpande, Virtuon Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer. "Users can check out their image and use it offline. Once you are online again, it synchs with the online version.
Virtual Desktop is a good match for small-to-midsize business, according to Blair, because it requires little or no IT staff. "It's good for 'spikey' needs, for employees who move around to various locations a lot, and where there the staff changes quickly, where you're looking for 'follow-me' desktops.
"We've been testing Virtuon Virtual Desktops as way to provide our employees and clients with our Windows environment in a secure, hardware-agnostic way," says Steve Porter, CIO, Touchstone Behavioral Health, headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona. "We are trying to get away from owning and providing laptops for our mobile staff.
"We don't want to be concerned about what else is on their machines," says Porter. "And we want to reduce the IT overhead of supporting them -- Tucson is two hour away from our main office -- on a good day -- so sending somebody to work on a machine takes up most of their day. We have about 180 people in over four locations, who need to be online -- and many of these people have their own computers, or access to one."
Because Touchstone staff do not always have Internet connectivity, or not sufficient bandwidth, "We needed a persistent image for when there isn't connectivity, that would provide a secure environment which would store information and synch in back when connectivity became available, but that we could let 'time out' automatically," says Porter. "And be able to do a mass upgrade, like to Windows 7, by simply giving them a URL."
Currently, reports Porter, "We've got about a dozen instances of Virtual Desktop, on a range of machines, including a three-year old notebook. I've got an HP Mini with an Atom CPU, two gigabytes of RAM, running Windows XP Pro, and Virtuon works just fine on it."
Additionally, Porter sees Virtuon Virtual Desktops as a simple safe way to let clients use Touchstone systems in a controlled fashion. "The only time I would have clients using my equipment would be in highly structured learning environments, and only on-premise... Using a hosted virtual desktop in this manner just gives me some control over a standard image presented in my instructional setting."
Available now, Virtuon Virtual Desktops start at $39.95/month per desktop, for a minimum of ten users, with volume pricing beginning at 100 users. Virtuon Virtual Desktops can be provisioned for Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7. Virtual offers additional software for Virtual Desktop accounts, such as Microsoft Office for $20/month; users can also, if accounts are not locked down by IT, install their own software. Virtuon also has options for virtual machines with more disk space, RAM, including the Data Engine option for users who want to do more compute-intensive tasks.
"We expect to cost 50% or less compared to a regular desktop deployment," says Blair.