By: Clive Longbottom, Head of Research, Quocirca
Published: 18th July 2013
Copyright Quocirca © 2013
The promise of VDI—virtual desktop infrastructure—is theoretically sound. Call it thin client computing, server-based computing or whatever—the idea is good. The capability to host and manage a person’s desktop centrally while allowing them access to it from any device through any connectivity method makes so much sense. That information can be centralised and security therefore managed is a good side product, too.
It’s a pity then that the experience does not often match the promise. Slow response times; the need to be continually patching VDI images; VDIs that are live but unused and so using up licences (as well as resource) all conspire to make VDI something close to anathema to the IT department.
Sure, steps have been taken to minimise some of the issues. When VMware moved into the VDI space, it acquired ThinStall to help it in minimising the size of the VDI image and to stream some applications to the desktop or laptop device. Citrix has acquired WAN acceleration capabilities and applied self-service portals so that users can gain access to applications themselves. Centrix Software and RES Software have provided multiple different ways of minimising the problems around VDI, with a great deal of effect in many areas.
However, VDI still fails to produce on its true promise.
So, how about this as an approach? You have a single 'golden' base image which is essentially just the operating system. Everyone gets this. On top of this is the capability to build the applications the user needs in real time, brand new each time they need the desktop image. Need to update or patch an application? Do so—once and once only; every VDI image that uses the application from there on is automatically up to date. Applications run at native speed—they are not server dependent, but use the in-built cpu/gpu of the device (no matter what the device is). When the user finishes their session, the VDI session is not just closed, but completely wiped—everything is 'clean' every time.
Nirvana? A pipe dream? Not if Numecent has any say in matters, no. Numecent is a company that came to market a few years back with a new way of provisioning applications to users which it called "Cloudpaging". Numecent’s clever little elves found that an application could be dissected and put back together again in a way that allowed a far smaller amount of the overall application to be sent to a device before it could be run. If you look at something like Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop, 80% of the code is in there 'just in case'. Not everyone will use the table function for Word or the free transformation tool in Photoshop. If they don’t need it, why give it to them? If they do need it, provide it to them when they need it—not before.
A cloudpaged application is therefore very small—and it can run on any device. This gets around problems with standard VDI approaches where server farms need to be designed and provisioned to meet the needs of running however many users there are—and all the applications they will be running at any one time. A relatively small server farm can support a lot of cloudpaged VDI users—and millions of cloudpaged applications, as the real workload is using the native power of the device.
Then there is the data side of things. The application appears to the user to be completely native, tied in to the desktop and with all file associations and so on tied to it. The data or file can reside anywhere—if it is already on your device, it is worked on and put back there. However, a better way is to have the file or data elsewhere—centralised in the data centre or even on an external service such as Dropbox. The user works against the file as they see fit at local device speeds—and when they have finished their session, it can be as if the file had never existed, as far as the user is concerned. All pointers and 'memory' of the data disappears with the VDI session—just leaving the results where the organisation wants them.
Imagine how this could change your bring your own device (BYOD) strategy. If someone leaves the company—no bother. All the data and applications remain with you—not with them.
Licensing also becomes easier. As the VDI images are not persistent, licenses are handed out as the user needs them. No more over-licensing based on spinning, but unused, VDI images. Indeed, Numecent enables software vendors to take existing applications with perpetual licences (or even dongle-based licenses) and move them to subscription based licensing with no code changes.
Lastly, but very nicely, Numecent can be very clever in how it mixes the capabilities of the device and the application. Running the desktop on an iPad? Wouldn’t it be nice to use gesture capabilities with Photoshop? It’s there—pinch and stretch to zoom in and out; tap to choose.
It all sounds a little smoke and mirrors until you see it. Numecent felt that it had to go into 'stealth mode' as it hardened its technology and figured out how best to play what it had as an offering.
It is now out of stealth mode and it seems to have a lot of interest from software vendors and end user organisations. Its new offering is a white-labelled, multi-tenanted AWS platform, providing software vendors and channel a very quick way to get applications to users without the need for putting in place their own infrastructure. This will run alongside existing on-premise software for those who want the ultimate in self-ownership and the capability to run the software in a single-tenanted cloud environment should the customer want to do so.
Cloudpaging could be the answer to the problems that VDI has encountered: it is well worth looking at Numecent and what it is offering.
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