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Dell Delivers Desktop-as-a-Service

Dell partners with Desktone to become a direct supplier of virtual desktops. Here's how this twist on desktop virtualization differs from Citrix XenDesktop and VMware View.

Charles Babcock

May 6, 2012

4 Min Read

Dell will be at Citrix Systems' Synergy user group conference in San Francisco this week, talking about its ability to deliver virtual desktops in partnership with VMware and Citrix Systems. No surprises there. More surprising, however, is its partnership with a younger and smaller company, Desktone.

Desktone provides virtual desktops through a cloud-based, desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) platform, and will work with both Citrix and VMware virtual machines. As such, it is "hypervisor agnostic," said Desktone CEO Peter McKay in an interview.

Dell's Desktone-based service, Dell Simplified DaaS has been available to a handful of customers for a month, and is now available to all, Dell announced Monday.

Desktone is different from Citrix XenDesktop or VMware View, in that it provides virtual desktops from servers in an external data center, giving an IT department a portal-based management console through which it may manage the desktops that company employees create.

[ Want to learn more about how VMware is trying to catch up with the rapidly changing field of desktop virtualization? See VMware's New Bid To Simplify Desktop Virtualization. ]

Dell will take Desktone's multi-tenant platform, Desktone Cloud, and use it for provisioning end user desktops for customers from its own data centers. By adopting Desktone as a partner and offering Desktone Cloud, Dell is taking its first step away from supplying physical end user machines, toward directly supplying virtual end user desktops, or desktop services to run on different devices, from its data centers.

Desktone used to be strictly a supplier to VAR virtualization suppliers working with Citrix and VMware, or large-service suppliers such as telcos. Over the last year it has acquired 25 data center locations and offers DaaS from them. It launched Desktone Cloud in late 2010. Desktone's partnership with Dell gives it a big brother that is also adopting this novel approach and saying it works fine.

McKay said Desktone Cloud does all the things in the cloud that virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) does on premises. Doing it in the cloud solves several issues for the customer associated with implementing end user virtualization. The cloud service has to scale to meet demand for heavy user provisioning at the start of a workday. It has to know which servers to install that are best suited to run virtual desktops, then keep them running. And it has to master all the end user presentation protocols that a broad set of users are likely to demand.

VDI is simply the consolidation of an organization's physical desktops on central servers as virtual machines. The virtual machines are designed to provide end users with their accustomed desktops, and depending on the network connection to the end user, make the wait time the same. Instead of a powerful PC hardware, users may adopt a thin client, Apple Mac, tablet, or aging PC. When VDI is delivered as DaaS, it's the same thing--but the centralized servers are external to the customer and are accessed over the Internet.

McKay said Desktone does the same thing that on-premises systems do: it generates a Windows 7 or Windows XP golden image for each identified group of users and can rapidly provision multiple virtual machines off the golden image. Different groups will be equipped with the correct set of applications. Desktone saves each user's personal settings and information so the desktop can be personalized beyond the golden image. It stores the minimum information needed at the end of the day so that the personalized desktop can be recreated, without requiring disk space to store the whole thing.

Desktone can also generate desktops for Linux, Windows Server, and Microsoft Remote Desktop Services (RDS) terminal services users. Any of these virtual desktops can be activated through a single Desktone management console made available to IT administrators.

"Our approach was, we knew VDI was complex and that a large part of the market didn't want to build it out in-house. We knew customers would be willing to outsource, so we built Desktone as a multi-tenant system in the cloud," said McKay. VMware View and Citrix XenApp, on the other hand, are both designed for on-premises installation.

Desktone can access Active Directory on a customer's premises and leverage it to identify users and assign types of virtual machines and their privilege levels, McKay said. Some users might get twice the amount of memory of others; some might get more powerful CPUs.

It can work with the protocols preferred by the customer for delivery of desktops, including those provided by the major suppliers, including Citrix Systems HDX and FlexCast, PCoIP used by VMware, or Microsoft's RDS.

Customer IT departments design and build, then upload their preferred golden images to the Desktone cloud. Most restrict users to two or three basic desktop types, which can be personalized off the golden image, McKay noted.

Desktone also provides DaaS through such partners as Rackspace, Quest, NaviSite, Netelligent, and Marubeni.

The pay-as-you go nature of the cloud makes ROI calculation seem easy. It’s not. Also in the new, all-digital Cloud Calculations InformationWeek supplement: Why infrastructure-as-a-service is a bad deal. (Free registration required.)

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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