Cisco touts video solution for virtual desktops

Enterprises are increasingly interested in virtual desktop technology for its ability to securely distribute and control applications used by staff.

But not all applications work well, including two important ones: Voice and video.

To meet the challenges of these real-time applications, Cisco Systems Inc. has boosted the performance of its VXI virtualization platform with new appliances and formed an alliance with Citrix Systems Inc. to expand its WAN optimization solutions.

Cisco said Wednesday that early next year it will start selling the Linux-based VXC 6215 virtual desktop thin client appliance (pictured), which includes a media engine to process voice and video at the endpoints for faster transmission; and the VCX 4000 software appliance, which does the same thing but can be installed in existing Windows PCs for organizations who still see value in their existing hardware.

In addition, the upcoming version 4.5.1 of Cisco’s Wide Area Appliance Application Services (WAAS) WAN optimization software will be tweaked to give performance enhancements to users of Citrix’s XenDesktop virtualization solution. WAAS is used in Cisco WAVE WAN optimization appliances and in its ISR routers.

The new virtualization appliances enable a “significant reduction in bandwidth in terms of what’s going back to the data centre, reduces radically the amount of processing,” Phil Sherburne, Cisco’s vice-president of enterprise architecture and systems, told reporters and industry analysts.

“What this leads to is enterprise-grade voice and video … for that virtual desktop environment.”

The new VCX appliances join the VXC 2100 and 2200 hardware devices announced last year and went on sale in the spring. Those units, however, don’t have the media-boosting power of the VXC 6215 and 4000. All four are certified for XenDesktop and VMware View.

The partnership with Citrix [Nasdaq: CTXS] is aimed at meeting the other challenge with virtualized rich media, getting it across the wide area network to branches. A Cisco [Nasdaq: CSCO] official said with access to Citrix’s remote access HDX technology, it could customize a range of services such as quality of service, WAAS’ WAN optimization protocols or Cisco’s MediaNet architecture for enhancing video. It could result in taking rich media “to a whole new scale,” he said.

It isn’t clear there’s great pressure from enterprises for running video over virtual desktops. John Sloan, lead analyst at Info-Tech Research in London, Ont., who was at the briefing, didn’t recall much interest from the organization’s research. However, he added, Cisco’s focus on improving video capabilities in its desktop virtualization solutions makes sense given video is an area the equipment maker has chosen to focus on.

It is interesting, he added, that Cisco points to the advantages of desktop virtualization to meet the increasing movement by organizations to let staffers bring their own laptops and tablets, but the VXC 4000 initially will only run on Windows XP and 7.

Cisco said compatibility with other operating systems will depend on customer demand.

Zeus Kerravala of ZK Research, also said the announcements made sense given that the biggest value of desktop virtualization is that it allows IT departments to run whatever it wants on staffers devices.

Jeff Seifert, Cisco Canada’s chief technology officer, told a Toronto briefing that the difficulty in running rich media over virtualized desktops has been holding back VD here. Some public sector customers want to know how to efficiently deliver video and voice to large audiences, he said, as do organizations running call centres. An unnamed Canadian bank that tried to deploy video on the trading floor of its brokerage division but found it swallowed too much bandwidth, he said.

He said the VXC 6215 and 4000, which essentially separate voice and video for separate processing, should meet those needs.

The VXC 4000 will be available in December, but will initially only support voice. Video support will be included next year.