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Microsoft Plunges Into VDI Pool

While client and desktop virtualization was always something Microsoft knew it couldn't ignore, it has always loomed large as a threat to Redmond's Windows franchise. But a group of coordinated announcements today suggests Microsoft is going to put more emphasis on both application virtualization and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technology.

Microsoft has taken several key steps to make its Application Virtualization (App-V) and VDI stack both more appealing from a licensing perspective, as well as from an implementation standpoint.

"It's a coming out party," IDC analyst Al Gillen said in a telephone interview. "Microsoft had been very disinterested in client virtualization, or at least in promoting client virtualization. This represents a fundamental shift of strategy for them. They really have not endorsed client virtualization anywhere near the level of sincerity that they needed to. It's ground-breaking from my point of view for Microsoft to do this."  By not putting emphasis on VDI, Microsoft risked seeing VMware and Citrix continue to expand its presence, Gillen points out.

Microsoft kicked off its announcement with a Webcast talking up its added focus on VDI with a panel of customers, along with Gartner analyst Mark Margevicius, to extol VDI in general and Microsoft's place in the equation.

The popular travel site Expedia Inc., for example, is well into the rollout of a catalog of 600 applications to 7,000 distributed desktop users as part of a migration from Windows XP to Windows 7, and is now doing a proof-of-concept on VDI, said Chaz Spahn, a senior systems engineer at Expedia in a telephone interview.

"We looked at SCCM [Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager] or application virtualization technology and saw it gave us faster time to delivery," Spahn said of the App-V decision, noting it is appealing for use with call center agents and remote developers, who are typically contract workers distributed worldwide.

"We find at Gartner that the level of interest in desktop virtualization without exception is very high right now," Margevicius said on today's Webcast. Customers across sectors ranging from health care, government, finance and manufacturing are all interested in it due to its potential to ease administration and deployment as well as address concerns about compliance and security. "The distributed nature of PCs is very much at risk in terms of data being compromised," he said.

What is so noteworthy about today's announcement?  Microsoft said customers no longer have to purchase separate licenses to access Windows in VDI environments. For non-Software Assurance customers, Microsoft has added a "Windows Virtual Desktop Access subscription" priced at $100 per year per PC or thin client device.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is upgrading its VDI stack, adding support for Remote FX graphics acceleration platform into Windows Server 2008R2, support for dynamic memory enabling memory on VMs to be changed on-demand and the elimination of the need for hardware-based virtualization. Also today, Microsoft added to its longstanding partnership with Citrix Systems, where it will extend Citrix HDX technology in XenDektop to RemoteFX.

"While some if it isn’t quite ready yet, from a competitive perspective they want the market to know what's coming and get the market excited about their portfolio," said Jeff Groudan, director for thin client computing at Hewlett-Packard, in a telephone interview. HP used Microsoft's launch to announce its Remote Desktop Client (RDC) add-on for its portfolio of Windows Embedded Standard (WES)-based thin clients.

Today's announcements also follow Microsoft's recent release of App-V 4.6, an add-on to the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack and Microsoft Application Virtualization for Terminal Services. Key to that upgrade is that it allows organizations to deploy applications in a single storage area network (SAN), rather than require them to be spread out across VMs.

Microsoft had no choice but to take the plunge into the client virtualization pool, observers say. Among other reasons, it's critical to Microsoft's effort to become a player in the overall mobile computing space, Gillen says. "Mobile devices are becoming important and it’s a space that Microsoft doesn't own," Gillen says. "Client virtualization is one of the things that really marries together traditional client computing together with mobile computing and Microsoft was going to be a non-player if they didn’t get in their and compete."

If you're a customer, are you looking at VDI and application virtualization for your organization? And for partners, do you see a rich opportunity for services dollars here? Drop me a line at [email protected].

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/18/2010 at 1:14 PM


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