VMware update strives to place virtual desktops in modern context

VMware announced a series of updates to its virtual desktop (VDI) line today at VMworld in Las Vegas.

The announcement attempts to set the virtual desktop in a more modern context, by offering customers a range of options in the cloud, on-prem or hybrid. What’s more, it’s trying to reduce the cost by partnering with a variety of hardware vendors from HP to Dell and even the ultra low-cost Raspberry Pi. It also announced a partnership with IBM to run the cloud version of the virtual desktops on IBM’s infrastructure service, Softlayer.

The company claims it has solved deployment speed issues with this update by providing more efficient pooling of the resources feeding the virtual desktops. This should lead to faster deployment and a more persistent desktop feel, even during peak access times, such as first thing in the morning.

VMware also has tuned the system to work well on a tablet, allowing employees to access all of their work in a virtual shell on an iPad or similar device.

Virtual desktops have always offered the promise of easier management along with tighter security, but the market has never really lived up to the early hype. The idea was that instead of giving everyone a loaded PC, you would give them a much cheaper dumb terminal and feed them the tools they need to do their job each morning.

It was tantamount to bringing back the mainframe with dumb terminals, but instead of a costly mainframe, you had a pool of resources available from an off-the-shelf PC network, which presumably would be much cheaper and easier to operate.

Unfortunately, when everyone turns on their computer at 8:30 am, it puts undue pressure on the networks and the resource pool. While the cloud offers the same type of upside as the virtual desktop including the ability to use much lighter-weight PCs, the argument goes that you have tighter control with VDIs and they’re more secure (at least in theory). That’s because the desktop gets blown away every night at the end of the shift and your employees aren’t on the open internet.

According to some figures, the virtual desktop market size has topped out at around 8 percent of enterprise PC deployments, far below the 30 percent some were predicting five years ago. That makes it a niche solution for finance, education and some other settings that want firm control over their computing environment.

VMware and Citrix were two of the earliest to market. Other vendors include Microsoft, HP, Dell, Red Hat and other traditional enterprise players. AWS also offers a native cloud version, Amazon WorkSpaces, and recently announced billing by the hour.