Virtual desktops are on the march

Virtual desktops are the next mountain to climb if you're an IT or datacentre admin. So far so obvious, I hear you mutter.

Virtual desktops are the next mountain to climb if you're an IT or datacentre admin. So far so obvious, I hear you mutter. So what's new?

I've discussed open source storage before, suggesting that the barriers to use of OSS for storage were more technological than cultural, given its adoption rate. Evidence that the adoption of OSS for storage is happening and that this is coming true is not hard to find. Among the latest straws in the winds is Nexenta's release of a virtual desktop software system.

Desktop virtualisation is increasingly popular, if researchers are anything to go by. Reasons aren't hard to find. The ending of Microsoft support for Windows XP mandates that many corps upgrade. And since migrating from the old OS to the new isn't a straightforward 'stick it in the CD drive and run the script' jobbie, it makes sense to think about alternatives to just buying a few pallet-loads of new hardware at a cost to the corp of squillions.

There's a lot more to say for it: centralisation of management which means better security as a result of more up-to-date applications and OSes, reduced costs of hardware, and better control over costs.

According to Nexenta CEO Evan Powell, a big barrier to adoption of virtual desktops is complexity, which drives up the cost of installation and testing. Another barrier is the high level of storage performance required, especially for write operations, numbers and sizes of which are particularly high for desktop OSes.

Powell, incidentally, remains passionate about open source, and sees Nexenta's return of code to the community-developed OpenSolaris as core to the business. But his company has also just launched NexentaVSA for View, a system for deploying virtual desktops into VMware environments.

According to the company, it converts the deployment process that normally takes up to 150 steps into a four-step process. It is said to automate the the processes of configuring and rebalancing the desktop infrastructure, provide better visibility into performance issues, and allows you to use high performance storage such as SSDs as caches to speed up write operations.

Of course, this system really only supports one type of virtual desktop infrastructure - there are plenty of other ways of providing desktops remotely other than stuffing them into VMware-hosted VMs. How popular they are though isn't, in my view, that important: what is important is that the method delivers the desired outcome.

But if the VMware route is the chosen one, Nexenta's new system could help - especially if you combine it with Virsto's eponymous VMware-based software that effectively sequentialises (and so speed-boosts) the highly random I/O load that virtual machines -- and especially desktops -- desktops present. The V company has just launched another SKU of its product, so that it now runs on Microsoft Hyper-V, VMware ESXi and now Citrix Xen.

Further thoughts as they occur but feedback meanwhile welcomed.