Citrix invests in Kaviza – VMWare’s VDI to suffer from EMC demands?

On Tuesday 6th April it was announced that Citrix has invested an unspecified amount of money in Kaviza.

Kaviza state that their grid architecture eliminates the expensive  infrastructure that VDI solutions – such as Citrix XenDesktop and VMWare View need. With Kaviza’s solution all the functionality needed to provision and manage virtual desktops is consolidated into a single virtual appliance that scales on commodity servers.

Will this announcement herald a major take-up of VDI? Indeed, can you really offer a turnkey solution to support your desktop centralisation strategy?

“With an increasing focus on desktop virtualization, Citrix’s investment in Kaviza is to support the startup’s efforts in building a VDI solution for the SME market,” said Andrew Cohen, Citrix senior director of strategic development. “We are closely watching the growing need for virtual desktops for the SME market, and the early success for Kaviza suggests that the SME market could be well served by their solution. Citrix is very impressed with the simplicity of the Kaviza solution and believe that it could serve certain segments of the market very well.”

It could be suggested that using standard servers to deliver a centralised desktop environment sounds very much like delivering Presentation Virtualisation (PV).  However, Kaviza rightly point out that PV can, in some instances,  not be a good fit for a desktop solution: we’ve discussed this at length in our Enterprise Desktop Strategy and Presentation Virutalization Solutions whitepapers. And importantly – PV is one operating system, many users – Kaviza’s solution is based around each user having their own operating system.  In giving their headline ‘VDI-for-under-$500’ Kaviza suggest that a commodity server with 8 CPU cores, 32GB of RAM and 250GB of storage costing $3000 – $4500 can serve at least 30 desktops. While a similar specified server is likely to support far more PV users, the greater simplicity of managing a set of desktop instances from a central location will undoubtedly appeal to a number of organisations – especially SMEs who have administrators more atuned to supporting a desktop environment than a server farm.

$500 per Desktop? Really?

This is indeed Kaviza’s claim – apportioning a commodity server, plus license costs VMWare’s ESX and for Kaviza’s VDI management and delivery environment across 30 desktops – the cost per desktop image would be @ $500. Its interesting that the cost  for a Microsoft VDI OS license is missing from that figure – but then again, you’d have that to finance regardless of your choice of VDI supplier – and only if you chose a Microsoft desktop OS: but bear in mind, there may still be additional costs.

Kaviza’s license cost is currently $125 per concurrent user – putting the costs below Citrix’s XenDesktop – and around the costs from vendors such as Ericom, Quest  and Systancia. Kaviza’s current v2.2 only supports VMware’s ESX hypervisor – although Kaviza have also announced that v3.0, due mid 2010, will add support for Citrix XenServer and Microsoft Hyper-V – potentially driving costs down even more as both these hypervisors have no license costs.

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a high initial cost for implementing VDI – but costs that are more akin to a standard desktop renewal

Should I Rush Out and Buy VDI Now?

Citrix is undoubtedly investing  to better understand if Kaviza’s solution will entice the sizeable  SME market to make a move to VDI by reducing the initial infrastructure cost of introducing a centralised solution and by simplifying the management of that environment so  that centralised savings costs aren’t lost through poor configuration and inexperienced management.

However the headline costs for this solution are based on ‘spending your PC refresh budget’. Effectively you utilise this type of solution to deploy, say, Windows 7 without buying new devices. Granted, this saves you buying new desktops – but you still still have to buy new equipment. But the goal of desktop centralisation is to reduce the cost of supporting and maintaining the environment:  how do you go about updating applications quickly to reduce down time, how do you go about recovering user data, saving user settings so that users have a consistent  and productive experience, to think about managing your desktop environment differently to use it more effectively.

Having a resource grid that allows you to expand out back-end services that deliver and manage your desktops is going to be a benefit – especially for smaller organisations who don’t have large IT teams.  This announcement will (has possibly if you’re reading this) generated attention to VDI as a solution for customers who had considered it too complex for their environment. But, VDI is still one offering in a range of desktop deployment strategies, poorly considered and planned projects, no matter how easy to set-up, will still fail.

Is this a Citrix Point Against VMWare?

As Bernd Harzog discussed here back in February in The Grid Approach to Desktop Virtualization, Kaviza, and Sychron have a VDI solution that doesn’t have a reliance on a SAN infrastructure to host the desktop images. Citrix have their Provisioning Services that can stream a single image to virtual machine instances – that service is delivered as an option for higher end implementations and, its a more  expensive solution and while it doesn’t require a SAN it does require additional hardware and support:  increasing cost and complexity. Bernd suggested EMC sees VMware as a driver of more high end storage sales (which server virtualization has certainly proven to be) and that if VMware were not owned by EMC, VMware would probably be free to at least offer an option to customers that does not require shared virtual machine storage.

Bernd suggested that “the wild card in this promoting a VDI solution that doesn’t require SAN storage is certainly Citrix” – and with this announcement, that certainly appears to be the case. Citrix have invested in a VDI delivery method that appears far less complex and more readily scalable than more ‘traditional’ VDI solutions. However, the underlying technology that allows Kaviza to not rely on shared storage in turn relies on VMWare’s linked clone function. Fundamentally, VMWare already have the services to replicate this style of simplified delivery if they so desire. They too will undoubtedly monitor how successful this marketing exercise is, with the advantage of not gaining some additional ESX exposure.

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