Centralisation without Virtualization

The centralisation of desktop services can generate cost savings through simplified management and faster, more reliable implementation time. But, the process of centralisation through virtualisation has a number of costs associated with it for example:

  • Hardware costs – storage for maintaining disk images; servers to hold the virtual hosts
  • Hypervisor Management costs – while some hyper-visors, Hyper-V for instance, may well have no license cost they all incur a management and maintenance cost
  • Migration costs – the process of understanding the capacity requirements for migrating desktops to a virtualised environment can itself be costly and time consuming.

The start-up cost can be an inhibitor, especially for SMBs, to generating savings. Can desktop management costs be reduced without VDI?

If I’m honest, there are situations when I think the answer is ‘yes’.

But, on the other hand, implementing a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)  has additional benefits – in terms of reduced network traffic; the ability to deploy to home workers; to provide better redundancy or to introduce a new operating system without introducing new end devices. In this instance, when introducing a VDI solution how are users to access the new service? With “old end devices” or new? Many VDI solutions rely on a client side component to deliver “PC-like performance” from a centralised service. This in turn begs the question – how are you to manage those end devices?

How can you generate the savings centralisation and better management brings without virtualisation? If you can make use of other benefits of a VDI – what tools are available that allow you to reprovision and maintain the end devices you have?

Turning a PC into a Thin Client

To turn your existing devices into VDI terminals you can do one of two things – lock down the existing OS (most likely a Microsoft OS such as Windows XP) and only run the VDI client of your choice; or change the device run into a thin client.  To lock down the OS you’ve products such as 10zig’s ThinDesktop; or Thinlaunch: yet, the issue here is you still should be patching and updating the core operating system. The alternative would be to convert that device into a thin client – here you’ve solutions such as Devon IT’s VDI Blaster, IGEL’s Universal Desktop Converter or 2x’s ThinClientServer.

Introducing these products can be more cost effective than replacing your devices with new terminals – typically costs for these solutions are less than $80/device. But all of these rely on you connecting to a VDI environment – is there any way of achieving centralisation without VDI?

Citrix Provisioning Services

A feature of Citrix XenDesktop Enterprise and Platinum Editions is the inclusion of the Citrix Provisioning Services’ software streaming technology. Software Streaming allows computers to obtain software from the network, as needed, in real-time. In doing so, administrators can remove the need to manage a each individual computer’s operating environment. In most cases, computers can fully perform their duties without a hard drive or compact flash installed.

An advantage of streaming is that it can not only be used to support physical devices (Blade PCs, Desktop PCs and even Server devices) but also hosted desktops: allowing you to manage delivery of software from a central point to the most appropriate device type for your users – and reducing the requirements for storage in your virtualised environment.

However, Citrix’s Provisioning Services for Datacenters (for Servers) indeed Provisioning Services for Desktops (erm.. for desktops) does have its own infrastructure in order to deploy and manage those central images to devices, and this is only available with for organisations who invest in Enterprise and Platinum licenses. That start-up cost inhibitor raises its head again.

Double-Take Flex

Double-Take recently announced their Flex product’s availability in EMEA. Flex is a product set aimed at organisations that want to centralise the management and deployment of desktop environments – be that in a VDI or standard enterprise desktops. Double-Take Flex can help you manage and maintain desktops and thin clients centrally – Microsoft Windows 7, XP Pro, Vista or USE Linux Enterprise Server and Red Hat Enterprise Linux can all be delivered to devices that don’t need to have a local hard drive. In a similar manner to Citrix’s Provisioning Services, Flex delivers one centrally managed image and streams it to all your PCs,  reducing the time and therefore cost for tasks such as OS upgrades, patch management or new application installations. Desktop,  or indeed server images,  are configured centrally and one time only on the Double-Take Flex server.

Unlike other solutions Double-Take Flex doesn’t rely on a delivery controllers to broker connections between the end devices and the disk image – minimising the infrastructure requirements. Double-Take Flex is made up of a Management Server console, a Storage Server console and the Double-Take Flex clients: it can make use of existing services rather than needing new hardware.  It can turn any Windows server into an iSCSI SAN and allow you to launch and provision virtual or physical servers and desktops for recovery, migration or backup using a combination of traditional host-based and new iSCSI storage-based technologies.

Know that Clones Need Personality

Deploying a centrally maintained image means user receive a clean image each time they start the machine. This makes the device more reliable – but if there is no method of saving user preferences and data between sessions administration savings are wiped out though loss of productivity. To remedy this, DoubleTake incorporate a RES Powerfuse add-on as part of the license cost.  RES Powerfuse automates the management, creation and dynamic composition of a user’s workspace – meaning that individual profile and workspace settings are managed and delivered independently of the master boot image.

Regardless of how often a master image is updated or where a user logs in, an users settings are go with them.

Is Centralisation without Virtualisation truly Flexible?

Delivering a desktop image from a central server is not without its disadvantages. It requires a good network infrastructure; it can’t be deployed off-line, it is difficult to support remote devices, its not a useful solution for home users for instance. If you’ve a number of different PC models you’ll need to consider the implications of having different hardware drivers in your image.

Yet – tools such as Double-Take Flex help you reduce the effort required to manage your desktop infrastructure – and so in turn help to drive down costs. Each license for Double Take Flex costs around $140 – which is lower per device than say an SMB focused VDI solution such as Kaviza. Its likely, with a solution such as Flex, that you don’t need to purchase additional hardware but can reuse what you already have. Cost benefits of centralisation without the virtualization.

That’s not to say a VDI won’t give benefit – there is no silver bullet for providing desktop services. There are solutions can also be used to reduce the hardware requirements for a VDI infrastructure, but being able to stream a single image to devices to meet particular needs means you can maintain one solution that covers both your VDI and your desktops that can’t be virtualized.

Solutions like Double-Take Flex provide an option to make use of cost savings through cenralisation without major infrastructure changes – and give you flexibility to manage different delivery mechanisms in a consistent way. Still, introducing a level of virtualisation is still required – not necessarily to run virtual hosts , but to decouple user settings to allow the single image to be used by multiple users. You can drive down desktop management costs without VDI, but not without virtualisation tools.