The traditional reason for considering virtual desktops in place of conventional PCs has been TCO, with much of the saving coming from the ongoing management and administration benefits. But those savings largely accrued because of the difficulty of managing large numbers of PCs, so small businesses couldn’t really benefit unless they went down the DaaS (desktop as a service) route.
But a new development has lowered the upfront cost of virtual desktop implementations, and that may result in organisations taking another look at the technology, even for smaller rollouts.
Citrix and its partners have developed a system on a chip that supports the company’s HDX technologies, allowing hardware vendors to build low cost yet high performance thin clients. That HDX Ready SoC is now appearing in products that cost as little as $US99 (that’s the price of Centerm's GM810).
Sure, you don’t get a screen, mouse and keyboard thrown in at that price, but the low power consumption makes it an attractive alternative to repurposing old PCs as thin clients through the use of appropriate software.
And HP has announced the t410 All-in-One (AiO) Smart Zero Client at $US429. The ‘zero client’ name comes from the way the electronics are built into the 18.5-inch display, and the whole unit is driven by Power over Ethernet, which reduces the amount of cabling required. The keyboard and mouse are apparently extra cost options.
Other vendors that have announced more conventional thin clients using the HDX SoC include Atrust, NComputing, and Australia’s own ThinLinX.
On top of that, the $A41 credit-card-sized Raspberry Pi computer-on-a-board has been shown to be capable of acting as a thin client with XenDesktop for a complete virtual desktop or Citrix Receiver for individual applications.
Sure, you still need to invest in a server with adequate horsepower, but typical office PCs aren’t used anywhere near its full capacity so an SME is unlikely to need a particularly sophisticated or expensive server to replace them. For a six-user XenDesktop server, Citrix suggests a dual quad-core CPU (min 2.5GHz) with at least 16GB of memory and four 150GB SAS 6Gbps 15K disks in a RAID 10 configuration.
Another reason for looking towards virtual desktops is that it makes it possible for employees to use ‘their computer’ when they’re out of the office by connecting from a home computer or even a tablet or smartphone. This means the benefits of desktop virtualisation go beyond cost savings to improving productivity and delivering IT in a way that better fits contemporary working life.