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VDI technology better, faster and cheaper, but adoption still slow

Allen Bernard | Sept. 26, 2013
Virtual desktop infrastructure has come a long way since the terminal service days of the 1960s. Heck, VDI has come a long way since the 2000s thanks to plummeting prices for clients, better graphics cards and improved administration. By and large, though, VDI deployments remain more of a niche solution.

"It wasn't about saving money," says Alan Pawlack, Aetna's head of network and distribution engineering. "It was about flexibility to the business and reacting to the business shifts - where they wanted to do business, starting up new offices or new extensions to the company."

The recent advances detailed above let Aetna realize the benefits of its early investments, Pawlack says. So did negotiating better terms with Microsoft - a process that gives many companies pause. "The licensing stack is still artificial, and we'd love to see that simplified," he says. "The overhead of the bureaucratic process is not needed."

Meanwhile, for American Electric Power, cost remains a secondary consideration in a post- Stuxnet world. The primary driver, then, is the capability to manage and secure data and systems centrally.

"This seemed to be a sound practice to provide us with the opportunity to manage our administrative costs and provide a solution that is compatible with the business needs," says Derek Myers, senior manager of infrastructure and complex services.

Case Study: City of Barcelona Consolidates VDI with Windows Server 2012

However, a long-overdue desktop refresh and Windows 7 migration in early 2012 really drove the decision to adopt. Even then, the rollout was limited; to date, about 13 percent of the company's 23,000 employees use desktop virtualization.

As that number increases over time, the utility should begin to see some return on their investment, Meyers says. "When we looked at the number of units we realized we were not going to have an immediate cost savings on the first push. It's an up-front investment."

VDI Users Can Live on Cutting Edge - For a Price

For Florida Atlantic University's College of Engineering and Computer Science, going the VDI route was part leading-edge thinking - leaders wanted to complement a newly open LEED-certified building with green technology - and part curiosity about what they could do with the latest round of technology advancements.

According to Mahesh Neelakanta, director of IT for FAU's engineering department, the thinking was, "if we can do [VDI] for our office staff and our researchers, we can pretty much handle any type of staff in the university."

Not only do FAU's 2,300 engineering student remotely access high-end engineering applications such as MathLab and AutoCAD remotely, Neelakanta also supports FAU branches in other parts of the state.

Normally, such graphic-intensive programs are poor candidates for VDI. Aetna and American Electric Power roll out VDI for office workers and outsourcers who use the same set of applications with little user-level customization.

FAU, on the other hand, can push 3D graphics to remote users by using PCoIP and zero-clients from Teradici,as well as server-side K1 and K2 graphics cards from nVidia, which virtualize and share GPU processing with all running VMs. For 3-D graphics, meanwhile, FAU relies on 18 10Gbps Lenovo blade servers, 1Gbps nVidia K1 GPUs and ATI 3-D accelerator cards. Each server will eventually be able to support up to 16 concurrent users - but at $16,000 per setup, they are costly.


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