OpenStack company Piston adds virtual desktop infrastructure

Takes aim at Citrix by becoming first OpenStack-based cloud company to add virtual desktop features

Piston Cloud Computing is the first OpenStack-based company to embrace virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), marking OpenStack's entrance into the VDI market dominated by Citrix.

Piston's VDI, set to be announced Tuesday, is offered through a partnership with Gridcentric, a Toronto-based startup that specializes in VDI technology and, somewhat ironically, has backing from Citrix. As of now, the VDI technology will only be supported in OpenStack through the Piston Cloud OS offering, but Piston CEO Joshua McKenty says VDI and desktop as a service (DaaS) are a natural technology progression that the OpenStack community, including big-name tech players like HP, Dell, Rackspace and IBM, may look to themselves in the near future.

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Virtual desktops allow the central management of a suite of desktops, which are accessed through a thin client or some gateway application. McKenty says increasingly, customers are asking about virtual desktop functionality, in part as a mobile device management (MDM) approach to tackle the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend.

Gridcentric uses a cloning technique to power its VDI technology, called Virtual Memory Streaming (VMS), which it says allows for faster deployment and more efficient management of virtual desktops. Born out of research from the University of Toronto and Carnegie Mellon University, Gridcentric stores a master desktop image on a server that is cloned and distributed as a virtual desktop to users. Traditionally in VDI, each new desktop requires a new bootup, which is taxing on both time and compute resources.

Because most workers in an enterprise setting have similar applications they're running on desktops, Gridcentric's cloning approach reserves the RAM and compute power for only the unique elements of the desktop, McKenty says. McKenty is excited because of its use cases outside of VDI too. A similar cloning idea can be applied for any number of services, such as load balancers, for example. The process, he says, allows hundreds of desktops to be spun up and delivered within seconds. "The VDI use case is really exciting," he says. "We've been seeing so much demand, but the technology has been bogged down by cost and complexity."

The partnership between Piston, one of the main OpenStack distribution companies so far, and Gridcentric has some other interesting wrinkles to it as well. One of Gridcentric's investors is Citrix, which is not only one of the leading virtual desktop providers with its Xen Desktop, but also a competitor to OpenStack with its CloudStack offering. VMware View is another popular VDI offering. Gridcentric CEO Eric Shefler says there have been conversations about Citrix using the VMS technology for its XenDesktop offering, but not in the company's Apache CloudStack open source cloud deployment project.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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