IBM launches Ubuntu-based VDI solution

Kevin Goodman (founder of RTO Software, previous BriForum presenter, and co-creator of the Logon Process Wall Chart with me) gave me a heads-up about IBM partnering with VDI-vendor Virtual Bridges and Canonical, the commercial sponsor of Ubuntu Linux, to deliver an Ubuntu-based VDI solution.

Kevin Goodman (founder of RTO Software, previous BriForum presenter, and co-creator of the Logon Process Wall Chart with me) gave me a heads-up about IBM partnering with VDI-vendor Virtual Bridges and Canonical, the commercial sponsor of Ubuntu Linux, to deliver an Ubuntu-based VDI solution. This is interesting because it avoids the various Microsoft licenses (Windows Vista Enterprise, VECD, and Office, just for starters), which they estimate can be $500-$800 per desktop.

It seems that these three companies will be fighting an uphill battle on two fronts. First, they need to find people who actually want their users to run Linux desktops. Second, they need to have an offering that is as rich (in the VDI sense) as XenDesktop or View 3. (I mean really, for as much as we complain about today's VDI products, they're still pretty advanced. For example, will the IBM/Virtual Bridges/Ubuntu solution have a good display protocol, single-instance storage, VM migration, etc.?)

Linux as a desktop Windows replacement?

There are mountains and mountains of conversations about this on the Internet already, so we don't have to get too far into those details. Personally, I don't have too much experience with Linux. I install it about once every two years or so just to see what all the fuss is about. And usually after a few days, I'm like "eh? whatever" and I switch back to my previous OS. Canonical was at VMwold this past September, and I picked up an Ubuntu desktop install DVD. (Which, by the way, was super easy to install into VMware Fusion on the Mac. Yyou just drop the Ubuntu disk in, click the button in Fusion to create a new VM, and it auto-recognizes the Ubuntu disk and does the whole "easy install" for you. It's about four clicks, and you have an Ubuntu Virtual Machine!) Ubuntu seemed cool, and I like that now they have nice themes and cleartype fonts and stuff, but after a few days, I missed the "real" version of Office and I missed the fact that I didn't really know how to do anything.

Of course those are just personal feelings, and certainly if I was forced to use Linux I could make do. But enterprises don't pick platforms based on personal feelings, they pick platforms based on (1) being able to run the required applications, and (2) the typical price/performance/support costs/features mix.

But #1 is that this platform has to run their applications. And I just don't see that being Linux for the time being. (Maybe in another five or ten years when we're all running Rich Internat Apps in the cloud, but for now, we live in a Windows world.)

We even explored the notion of trying to run Windows apps without Windows six months ago, perhaps with a combination of something like WINE and/or ThinApp. But that ultimately proved to not really be practical, and the only way to access seamless Windows applications on a non-Windows device is to connect to them via server-based computing (Citrix XenApp, Quest, Ericom, etc.). Of course that's still "Windows" and kind of defeats the whole purpose of the excercise.

IBM, Virtual Bridges, and Canonical as a VDI solution?

As I wrote previous, the other front on which these three companies must fight is the actual "VDI-ness" of their solution. I'm not even sure I ever heard of Virtual Bridges before today. It looks like their VERDE (Virtual Enterprise Remote Desktop Environment) product is what's being used for this VDI solution, but what kind of hypervisor does that use? Does it support multiple users sharing a master disk image? What remote display protocols does it support? Does it support audio, USB, multi-monitor, and multimedia? (Their website is light on detail.)

All-in-all I think this is an interesting concept, and I always like competition. Maybe this offering will become more interesting in an RIA (rich internet app) world, but for now, this is a niche within the niche. (Of course that's always what Linux has been on the desktop, right?)

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