Linux-Based VDI a Reality

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), also known as desktop virtualization or hosted desktop, is typically used to move Windows desktop environments into a datacenter, where they reside on a server and are "pushed" out to end users.

It's not just for Windows desktop environments anymore, however. Today, IBM unveiled a partnership with two other providers that will allow the popular Linux distribution Ubuntu to be used in a desktop virtualization architecture.

IBM is working with Virtual Bridges and Canonical to produce a complete VDI solution that it believes can compete directly with Windows-based offerings from companies like VMware, with VMware View, and Citrix with XenDesktop.

Ubuntu is generally perceived to be the most user-friendly Linux desktop version, and is offered as an alternative to Windows by some OEMs, including Dell. Canonical maintains and supports Ubuntu.

Virtual Bridges is responsible for the VERDE platform, which manages the hosted desktop environment. It uses the KVM hypervisor for virtualization. KVM is analogous to Microsoft's Hyper-V and VMware's ESX hypervisor, except that it's a "Type 2" hypervisor; Type 2 hypervisors run inside another operating system, in this case Linux, rather than on bare metal, like Hyper-V, ESX and XenServer from Citrix.

IBM's part in the triumvirate is to provide applications that are similar in functionality to Microsoft Office. Included are programs for e-mail, calendaring, word processing, spreadsheets and more. They will be based on IBM Lotus Notes 8 and IBM Lotus Symphony. Inna Kuznetsova, director of IBM Linux Strategy, said the applications are based on open standards and should have strong interoperability with their Microsoft counterparts like Word, PowerPoint and Exchange.

Pricing is variable, starting at $59 per desktop, and peaks at $288 per desktop, depending on how many features and applications are included, and required levels of service and support. For instance, the IBM suite of products could be deleted entirely, instead relying on the open source software suite from that competes with Microsoft Office.

The price point may appeal to many IT shops, especially in a struggling economic environment, Kuznetsova says. "Customers want to focus on saving costs in this environment. Using Linux, they save considerably [over] using Windows- and Office- based solutions," as much as 50 percent, Kuznetsova estimates.

Potential savings are based on three key factors, according to an IBM press release:

  • License fees for Microsoft Office and Windows
  • Hardware requirements, which are lower for Ubuntu than Windows XP and Windows Vista
  • Savings on power and cooling costs, since a Linux-based VDI solution can run on less powerful hardware.

The fourth cost-saving factor IBM considers is PC support reductions, but those are harder to quantify, since there is a much greater supply available of Windows administrators and IT support staff than there is for Linux. According to the Virtual Bridges Website, only Linux and Sun Solaris servers can be used as backend platforms for VERDE.

Linux-based VDI faces other significant hurdles. One of the largest is that Linux desktops are still perceived as less user-friendly than Windows, and users have a significant comfort level with Windows and Office from years of usage.

Kuznetsova believes that the cheaper price point can overcome those obstacles, and points to the interoperability between the open source office suites and Microsofts' as reasons that administrators may be willing to give Linux VDI a tryout on their networks.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization & Cloud Review. Follow him on Twitter @VirtReviewKeith.

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