Cisco Virtual Desktop Experience

Considering the success of Cisco’s virtualization friendly UCS platform it should come as no surprise to hear that Cisco is intending to extend its data center virtualization footprint to include desktop virtualization as well. However as last week’s  announcement of the Cisco Virtualization eXperience Infrastructure (VXI) shows Cisco does not expect a straight repeat of its server virtualization strategy to win the day. While Cisco’s plan to encourage mass adoption of desktop virtualization is based on the same Unified Computing System (UCS) that is behind Cisco’s current server virtualization strategy, it’s approach is distinctly different.

Instead of offering a tangible product platform like the Vblock, Cisco is basing its strategy on bringing together a combination of its own networking and compute technologies with third-party storage and desktop virtualization software then packaging the whole thing together as a reference architecture for server hosted virtual desktops. In a further deviation from its Vblock strategy, VXI is much more open in its implementation.  Cisco has chosen to partner with both Citrix and VMware to provide the software components necessary to deliver virtual desktop environments. However Cisco still prefers to partner with VMware over Citrix for the core hypervisor and virtual infrastructure management services that underpin the provision of virtual desktops.

Cisco VXC2100

Alongside the core VXI announcement Cisco is introducing two new thin client devices.  The two Virtualization Experience Client (VXC) devices along with the previously announced Cius table, provide Cisco with the means to deliver all the hardware necessary to provide an end to end desktop virtualization solution without the need to establish any more partnerships with hardware vendors. The VXC thin clients will be offered in two form factors; the VXC 2200 is a conventional small form factor tower that stands less than 5 inches high. Given the diminutive form factor, it appears that Cisco has missed an opportunity in failing to provide a VESA mount option for theVXC 2200; a configuration that has  been widely adopted by other thin client manufacturers. The VXC 2100 is less conventional in its approach; designed to plug directly into the back of Cisco’s Unified Communications IP phones. However, while the VXC 2100 offers physical integration of phone and thin client, it does not as yet offer any integration of services or management. Both thin clients come equipped with four USB ports and can support two monitors as standard.

IP phone integration aside, there is little to distinguish these devices from the many competitively priced alternatives offered by established thin client vendors.  Both the VXC 2100 and 2200 both support RDP, HDX and PCoIP, however with no legacy base to take into consideration, Cisco could have looked to integrate support for HDX and PCoIP in a single device. Providing support for both Citrix and VMware’s remote display protocols from the same client device, would have strengthened Cisco’s position as being platform agnostic and been of significant benefit to Cisco’s potential customers who would then be able to make changes to the supporting desktop virtualization software platform without having to undertake a wholesale desktop replacement at the same time. As it is, both devices will come in two versions, one designed to support Citrix’s HDX protocol and the other supporting the VMware/Teradici PCoIP protocol, support for RDP is offered on both devices.

At the same time as announcing the new VXC thin clients, Cisco provided a further update on the forthcoming Cius tablet, stating that it will support VMware’s View client , the Citrix Receiver, and the Wyse Pocket Cloud desktop virtualization client, although Cisco is not yet revealing if any of these clients will ship with the Cius.

Separating the endpoint and data center components of the VXI architecture is Cisco’s existing portfolio of Cisco’s Catalyst and Nexus series switches along with its Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) WAN accelerators and Cisco ACE load balancing appliances. by standardizing on its own networking appliances Cisco simplifies the sales and implementation process, however at the same time it fails to take advantage of the secure gateway components that both Citrix and VMware offer. There is of course nothing to stop a customer from including these components in its own implementation of a VXI based desktop virtualization solution but Cisco does not call attention to this possibility in as a part of VXI.

In summary Cisco’s approach to desktop virtualization should go a long way to increasing customer confidence in a complex and fast evolving technology.  Cisco should expect a degree of success with VXI  based on the moment that it has already achieved with UCS, but must not assume that this is enough to win over all customers in all environments.

Simon Bramfitt (118 Posts)

Simon is an independent industry analyst covering enterprise desktop, mobile and application virtualization, delivery and management technologies. He is an experienced solutions architect with unmatched insight into the challenges of designing large (200,000 seat plus) high availability presentation and desktop virtualization systems. Simon was invited to join the Citrix Technology Professionals (CTP) group in May 2010 and joined the Virtualization Practice in September 2010

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