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How Web-Based Applications Impact VDI

The number and effect of Web-based applications has not yet grown big enough to directly affect VDI. However, they are a relevant topic for discussion because they do significantly lessen the impact of the administration model and desktop delivery for the enterprise, and ultimately will deliver cost savings.

The rise of Web-based applications will make a huge difference in how applications are delivered to users and, more importantly, how they are managed. In effect, all an end-user needs with his desktop computing device is a browser, making the composition of the desktop significantly simpler, since a browser is typically available by default on any current computing platform.

Administration Requirements
Web-based applications invariably make life significantly easier for IT desktop administrators. They no longer need to worry about how to get the client-side application to the user's desktop device, given that a browser is all that's required. Any data migration or application upgrades are performed in the data center, and therefore once again require no interaction with the client device since everything is stored and accessed centrally.

Let's consider Salesforce.com, the uber Web application example. A company using Salesforce.com only has to manage which users are allowed to access what parts of the database. How that data is used and dealt with is managed by the application itself in the Salesforce.com data center. As long as users have relevant credentials and a device with a Web browser such as Internet Explorer, Firefox or Safari, they are ready to go.

The catch with Web-based applications is that you must have an always-on connection to the location where the application is stored. It may be the public Internet for accessing a cloud solution such as Salesforce.com, or a virtual private network for accessing a private cloud solution such as an internal finance application. So in the example of Salesforce.com, the IT team really has only to concern itself with whether the user has Internet access and a browser.

Application Delivery into the Virtual Desktop
So, let's go full circle to the initial point of application types impacting VDI. A key aspect of how applications impact VDI involves the basic question of how to get the application into the virtual desktop, and consequently to the user. Most early adopters chose to build all of the required applications into the virtual desktop and then provide desktops to users on an individual basis. This was the only method available and was very costly due to significant storage costs.

Today, with the benefit of hindsight and the fact that the technology has moved forward significantly in the last couple of years, the preferred model would be to make use of application virtualization (such as Microsoft App-V) and/or to stream applications in real-time to the desktop. This allows the component desktop to come forward, reducing the cost to build, deliver and manage virtual desktops within the enterprise. However, the clear downside to the latter approach (streaming the applications into the virtual desktop) is the delay in how quickly the application makes it to a usable state at the desktop as the application is spun up in real time.

For example, one of the most prevalent applications is Microsoft Office, which would typically result in roughly 600MB as a virtualized application. This represents a sizable chunk of data to be delivered / streamed to every virtual desktop, every user, every single day. Granted, this data transfer is all within the confines of the data center, but it is still data that needs moving around on a daily basis and hence is costly when you multiply out the sheer volume of data transfers across the user population.

With a Web-based application, you need not worry about application provisioning into the virtual desktop image. By virtue of your use of a VDI desktop, you already have connectivity; therefore, if you are using VDI it is a given that you will have access to Web-based applications. 

So then, the Web-based application must be the Holy Grail that the enterprise has been waiting for, mustn't it, with central management, simple desktop administration with nothing to stream/download to the virtual desktop, and easy centralized upgrade management? Well, not quite. There is little provision for offline access and we are some way from having ubiquitous connectivity, unfortunately. On top of this, we need to wait for the application set to be converted across into the Web-based model. We then find ourselves walking into a whole different challenge regarding the personalization options across multiple Web applications -- but that is a future blog topic in the waiting.

Posted by Simon Rust on 01/21/2011 at 12:49 PM


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