Cisco enters VDI fray with "VXI" (Related: New leader in the "most press for least product" race!)

Yesterday Cisco announced something called Cisco "Virtualization Experience Infrastructure" (VXI), which is a "complete system" which addresses "the current state of fragmented solutions which complicate virtual desktop deployments." The VXI website has dozens of documents and videos about this thing (good for them!

Yesterday Cisco announced something called Cisco "Virtualization Experience Infrastructure" (VXI), which is a "complete system" which addresses "the current state of fragmented solutions which complicate virtual desktop deployments." The VXI website has dozens of documents and videos about this thing (good for them!), and I've spent the past few hours skimming through them and trying to figure out exactly what the hell VXI is.

And to be honest, my explanation of what VXI is after hours of reading is really no different than Gabe's tweet based on about 30 seconds of reading yesterday afternoon. He wrote: "This Cisco VXI thing looks to me like a reference architecture that they stuck a SKU on to."


As you know, Cisco has a lot of different products: UCS blade-like virtualization hosts, virtual switches, WAN accelerators, unified communication and corporate collaboration, VoIP phones, soft phones, VPNs, load-balancers... and if you take everything Cisco makes and combine it together into a single environment, ya know... you'd have a decent desktop virtualization platform. (Assuming you can get through the 50,000 pages of documentation.) Throw in some Citrix XenDesktop or VMware View and maybe some thin clients, and BAM!--you've got yourself a virtual desktop environment. (Err.. "Virtualization Experience Infrastructure," to use their words.)

And really that's what yesterday's announcement was. Once you get through all the marketing-speak and press release quotes and reasons why they claim we should virtualize our desktops, Cisco VXI is just a gigantic virtual desktop reference architecture where they throw in just about every Cisco product they can. And what does that look like? Here's an overview from Cisco's 724-page VXI configuration guide: (And that's just the Cisco hardware... this diagram doesn't show the logical VMware View or Citrix XenDesktop components, databases, servers, brokers, etc.) Yikes!


The other part of yesterday's VXI announcement is that Cisco will be entering the thin client business. Well, actually the press release said they collaborated with Wyse to create some client devices. They're creating a couple different form factors, including one that looks like a traditional thin client as well as one that physically integrates with their IP phones.

ciscovxc2200.jpg ciscovxcphone.jpg

You might also remember that last June Cisco announced an Android-based business tablet called Cius. They'll also support that as a client. Of course you don't have to use Cisco clients--their marketing materials pointed out that they'll also support Wyse, Devon-IT, and IGEL thin clients. (So pretty much anyone except for hp.) Other than the inclusion of Cisco's unified communication client in the remote Windows VM, these clients and the way they access the environment are just like any other thin client.

Cisco is saying that this whole VXI thing is available immediately, with the thin clients coming out next March. They're selling it via a few different SKUs (right on Gabe!), with a base SKU that's good for ~300 desktops and then additional add-on SKUs for more desktops and other options. Of course in the 1,000+ pages of documentation I skimmed through last night, I didn't come across any pricing information.

So where's this leave us? I'm not blown away by anything here. It's good to know that if you'd like to put a Cisco sales rep's kid through college, you can now do so with an end-to-end virtual desktop solution too. Other than that, this is sort of like, "Virtual desktops? Yeah we do that too."

Good luck.


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You're missing the point with VXI. Saying it is just a reference architechture would be like saying VCE Vblock is just a reference architechture for VMware products, EMC products, Cisco products and management. VXI is comprable to Vblock in that it is essentially a stack for virtual desktops - including a mix of legacy technologies but also incorporating new innovations and partnerships. And like both Vblock and NetApp FlexPod, VXI centers around the myriad Cisco UCS innovations for compute. The virtual desktop market has been adrift without a framework for enabling an effective enterprise deployment. VXI remedies this.


@roidude, you say "The virtual desktop market has been adrift without a framework for enabling an effective enterprise deployment." But what about all the reference architectures that hp has released? Aren't those similar to VXI? (Except without the single SKU?)


Personally I think this is more about Cisco entering the market as opposed to where it stands today. They are too big to ignore and I am sure we will see more from them in 2011. Overall it's good that more people will be talking about our space. In the end WE the customer will decide what fits our needs. I am sure MS has to react to this in some way....



I confess that I am completely ignorant about the HP reference architectures, but given the lack of innovation in HP's answer to UCS with its BladeSystem Matrix, I would be surprised to see anything groundbreaking. VXI, on the other hand, incorporates the myriad innovations of UCS itself along with the convergence of UC and virtual desktops. While the higher UCS VM densities are touted by Cisco as a primary financial benefit, I suspect the UC/desktop convergence is going to be far more impactful. VXI provides the ability to consolidate overlapping expenses and eliminate separate back end infrastructures for voice and VDI. It enables desktop, voice, video, Telepresence and collaboration on a single device which is accessing a virtual machine running on a UCS in the data center.


@roidude2 - I'll be more than happy to buy several VXI systems right away. Just tell me how many kids of yours are getting ready for college.

Can I at least finish my morning coffee before I get served my daily f------ dose of Kool-aid????

For just one day, let's pretend we're not a flock of grazing sheep. Please!!!



Perhaps you should take the time to understand what VXI truly is before you blandly dismiss it.  When Cisco UCS debuted last year, it received similar (though better reasoned) reactions from both competitors and the press who didn’t comprehend what it was.  HP called it a “giant switch”. Byte and Switch called it, “next year’s servers…shipping this year”. According to ComputerWorld, a Dell executive referred to it as a “one-size-fits-all blade server”.  Of course, in a little more than a year UCS has disrupted the data center status quo, set the industry abuzz and is displacing long-term data center competitors seemingly at will.  VXI has the potential to similarly revolutionize the virtual desktop space.


Cisco VXI is the start of something more than Virtual Desktops, it's about collaboration and it seems like it will add benefits to desktop virtualization to be more successfull.

When comparing the reference architectures for Cisco, Dell, and HP IMO I was more so impressed with the Cisco + NetApp + XenServer combo than the others.

Granted I would like to add XenServer Intellicache and XenDesktop 5 into that mix. Even though I heard initially XD5 won't support intellicache, maybe a few months from release it will.


A giant lure is what it is. Go ahead and bite.


Ok sure.. let's say that collaboration will be huge for 2011, and that Cisco's unified communications and collaboration suite are where it's at... What I don't understand though is that the Cisco collaboration stuff is available to run on any desktop environment.. i.e. you can pop that stuff into XenDesktop on HP, View on Dell... whatever. So it's not like you need Cisco VXI to get Cisco collaboration in a virtual desktop environment.

Secondly, and somewhat unrelated, I question whether collaboration will be a desktop virt driver anytime soon. Sumit's blog post that @Icelus linked to doesn't actually say why or how he thinks collaboration will be huge, other than the usual "business is changing" BS. Personally I don't know why I'd want to hitch my collaboration cart to my desktop train.. it just seems that I should keep these as separate projects, lest my desktop virt becomes Duke Nukem Forever.

And finally, not to pick on Sumit too much.. but he's also talking about Flexcast? Um... what? This Cisco VXI thing is only about VDI and TS.. no Flexcast in sight!


I will respectfully disagree with this being about drinking any kool-aid.  Plain and simple this is about UCS and what UCS brings to the table for virtual desktop infrastructure compared to any other reference architecture from HP, Dell, etc.  I agree with @roidude2.  We currently are a very large HP shop and we recently spent some time with Cisco in San Jose talking a lot about UCS and walked away with a very different opinion than what we walked into the room with.  After nearly a week of heavy white boarding, discussion, and debate with product managers, engineers, and architects we walked away with the fact that UCS is really the best data center platform for enterprise scale desktop virtualization. Please note, I did not say compute platform or smb.  UCS is much more than just processor and memory on a system in a blade enclosure which is really what HP or anyone has brought to the table.  It is about truly virtualizing compute, network, and storage at the frame or rack level and removing management and overhead aspects of that from the hypervisor.  Where it is also extremely relevant for desktop virtualization is the amounts of memory that put into a two socket box for a fraction of what any other vendor can do.  Whether someone is talking about dedicated or shared virtual desktop infrastructure, this is a wrapped solution that is intended to scale for the enterprise.  Just as an example, you can talk about network virtualization.  Today with any other solution, the hypervisor has to address the overhead and management of breaking up physical NICs into virtual nics for the virtual hosts in the system.  UCS handles that at the frame and not at the compute later so that the hypervisor is focused on addressing exactly what its intended for.  This may not be a huge deal in normal server virtualization, but we all know in the desktop world anything taken by the hypervisor means less resources for the virtual machine which for us is a customer’s desktop.  For desktop virtualization to work at scale is needs to provide the exact same experience for the same or less cost.  Like @appdetective what I’m most excited about is this creates attention to the space and hopefully will drive more focused innovation within the datacenter to continue to look for ways to remove what is the biggest barrier to large scale adoption, cost.



The post is trying to get people thinking that Desktop Virtualization is more than just 'better management of IT services'. It enables a people centric approach rather than the archaic device centric method which is liberating for everyone.

Any services that IT can deliver ontop of desktop virtualization will further cement it into our society. Collaborative services are no different.

Personally, I am not impressed with VXI as it is right now, but I will keep an eye on this space.

Some more interesting news, Cisco UCS + VMware View partnership announced:

It's all about UCS.


@tjbruni13 - Wait until HP pays you a visit to articulate their own vision. I bet you'll walk away with yet another outlook on things.

Look, it's plain and simple. This site has done a great job over the years articulating VDI's  roadblocks, shortcomings, and its state of readiness. How does VXI help overcome these challenges? It's a marketing ploy, that's all it is.


@edgeseeker - Met with HP about a month before Cisco.  Saw the long term vision.  Interesting story around strategies on power and cooling controls.  However, nothing to the level of CIsco strategy to truly merge compute, network, and storage into central framework where infrastructure growth just adds on instead of adding individual components.  Plus HPs VDI specific infrastructure was about putting compute and storage in a box/rack which is only about 2/3 the way there.  Like I said before I think Cisco is going to force innovation and drive down costs to compete which is good for all of us.  Also, I know Brian joked about the cost being equivalent to putting kids through college.  This is probably true when you compare for small scale (couple hundred users).  If you are talking about enterprise scale (thousands of users) which is row or rows of servers depending on the size of your data center, Cisco will be a lot cheaper than the competition.


@tjbruni13 - I believe you. Let's see how things develop moving forward.


@appdetective - I hear you, but I think they're too big to take seriously, frankly. Cisco wants to have a dog in every fight, and we know where that almost always leads: to the dog house.



nice analogy.

reminds me of Oracle VDI...


Looking at the announcements yesterday, I felt the most important part was the upcoming thin+phone devices.  Especially since Cisco is working with the existing VDI vendors on the back-side.  That makes sense to me.


What would far more interesting than a phone with bolted on thin client, would be to see Cisco integrate a SOC version of thier UCM SIP Softphone onto a regular thin client.

That way, we could have reliable, task worker IP telephony in with a headset with minimal space impact.

At the moment, I see callcentres and offices full of task works with seperate digital telephony systems that cost almost as much as thier RDS + thin client environments. Due to the varous limitations on audio streaming in most RDS setups (VDI is a bit different, but still limited) they cant integrate these systems to reduce the amount of hardware investment (and management overhead) on a desk.

So how's about a regular thin client box (with options for rdp/pcoip/hdx/remotefx) with some built in SIP circuitry and a plug to stick a headset into - run the SIP on the same POE cable a seperate VLAN (Like the LAN passthru mode on the Cisco deskphones do already) and they've got an instant winner of a hardware product on thier hands.

The VXI "platform" doesnt really excite me at the moment - it seems like a good way for Cisco to crossmarket thier existing technology stack into the emerging Virtual Desktop market, without bringing anything to the table that isnt already available (and possibly a lot cheaper and more flexibly) by a variety of other vertical providers.