Sun takes second crack at desktop virtualization

Canadian telecommunications firms are among the first to adopt desktop virtualization here, according to Sun Microsystems, which released an update to its own infrastructure software on Wednesday which will compete against the likes of VMware.

Sun Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) 2.0 is designed to allow users to access their full desktop environment from nearly any client device without installing software and includes support for virtual desktops based on the Solaris OS, Windows, Mac OS X or Linux and provides access from any supported client device, the company said. Sun introduced VDI last year.

Edward Moffat, a desktop solutions architect who works with Sun Microsystems of Canada in Markham, Ont., highlighted the public sector and financial services as two of the key verticals that might make use of Sun VDI 2.0. But he said the benefits of centralizing the management of desktop images could likely be applied to many other industries.

“The telcos are all doing this today at various levels,” he said. “Some have a couple of hundred (seats) and one I know has a couple of thousand seats.”

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While VMware has its own popular VDI product, Moffat said Sun has a couple of advantages over the competition. While desktop virtualization tools have been designed as “connection brokers” between one thing and another, Sun’s VDI works across multiple platforms.

“That flexibility takes a huge load off the IT shops, where intuitively you’d think the opposite – you’d think it would be more work to support these client devices,” he said.

Sun’s VDI also uses protocols optimized for wide-area network performance, rather than Microsoft’s remote desktop protocol (RDP). This could bring some advantages for companies that are using desktop virtualization across multiple continents.

“The large, national organizations (in Canada) have only two or three data centres. You don’t want to get standing up servers in every city across the country,” he said. “We have all these Internet providers along the lines of Bell, EDS and so on who are in a position to host desktop sessions in their two or three largest data centres.”

Vancouver-based TSI Terminal Systems has been using VMWare’s ACE enterprise desktop management product for provisioning virtual workstations in relation to a massive ERP rollout the company embarked on two years ago.

Michel Labelle, the company’s network and terminal support manager, said the key for Sun will be to offer something that complements other infrastructure provisioning and management tools. TSI, for example, uses not only VMware but Citrix as well.

“The fundamental thing we’re realizing is that the ability to keep a customized desktop is the killer feature,” he said, adding that TSI is hoping to extend virtualization across its entire fleet. “From a user community standpoint, they’re much happier because they have the ability to do certain things and make changes.”

Moffat said a key feature of Sun VDI 2.0 is the ability to create pools of virtual users based pre-built templates for groups that have similar needs. A large call centre, for example, might have three shifts of employees and would normally need 1,500 licences of an OS or other applications.

“(Sun VDI) allows the infrastructure to spin up an XP licence, if you will, with an image and all the associated tools a user would need,” he said, referring to this as a “gold” image. “At the end of the day or shift that image is destroyed and made available to next person who needs it.”

That means the call centre might need only 500 licences, he said.

Also on Wednesday, Microsoft released the complete feature-ready code for its upcoming Hyper-V, virtualization software that will be added to its recently-launched Windows Server 2008 product.