Akamai looks to speed virtual desktop delivery

Akamai's managed service speeds the delivery of virtualized applications and desktops

The desktop is the next frontier for many virtualization adopters. But deploying a desktop virtualization environment raises performance issues for enterprises.

The desktop is the next frontier for many virtualization adopters. But deploying a desktop virtualization environment to a global user base raises new performance issues for enterprises.

This week Akamai Technologies unveiled a managed service designed to speed the delivery of virtualized applications and desktops.

Akamai has tailored its existing IP Application Accelerator service (which speeds browser-based applications) to optimize traffic from virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) products such as those offered by Citrix, Microsoft and VMware. The service includes professional services specific to virtual desktops, customized integrations to VDI products, and concurrent user-based pricing.

Industry research predicts virtual desktop-connected devices will grow to approximately 66 million by the end of 2014, or 15% of all traditional professional desktop PCs, according to Akamai.

A key driver of virtual desktops is the opportunity to centralize the management of desktops, which can cut back on the need to deploy IT staff to sites around the world for desktop maintenance, says Neil Cohen, Akamai’s director of product marketing. “We see a lot of virtual applications and desktops being deployed in the long haul because that is where TCO associated with managing desktops becomes prohibitive.”

But the performance challenges can’t be ignored. “One of the challenges with virtualized protocols is that, similar to Web applications, the further you get away from the infrastructure, the worse the performance gets,” Cohen says.

In addition, the bandwidth consumed by virtual protocols is significant; virtualized desktop computing for 100 users in a branch can easily consume more than a T-1 of bandwidth on its own, Cohen says.

Akamai’s managed services model can be a good match for global VDI deployments, Cohen says. It doesn’t require an upfront capital expense, nor do IT departments have to implement software changes or roll out client software.

Akamai’s virtualization acceleration service uses public Internet links, rather than private WAN connections. Virtualized applications and desktops can be deployed over Akamai's Internet-based network of more than 50,000 servers spread across 70 countries – so enterprises can avoid having to upgrade their private networks to handle global VDI traffic, Akamai says.

Akamai's VDI-targeted service has been designed to reduce latency and packet loss – problems that grow worse the further end users are located from the data center -- using techniques such as dynamic mapping, route optimization, packet redundancy algorithms, and transport protocol optimization.

“We can route virtual protocols over the Internet and apply some of our proprietary packet-redundancy algorithms to essentially optimize the latency and packet loss of those short, chatty interactions between the virtual desktop and the server,” Cohen says.

Independent testing provider The Tolly Group put the service through its paces and reports that Akamai can improve throughput for a Citrix XenDesktop and NetScaler environment by up to 700%.

"Enterprises around the world can leverage virtual desktop solutions to improve user productivity and reduce IT costs," said Kevin Tolly, founder of The Tolly Group, in a statement. "Such a solution is only viable, however, if the wide-area network over which the services are delivered can provide adequate performance and availability. Implementing the Akamai IP Application Accelerator service in conjunction with the Citrix XenDesktop virtual desktop solution provides widely-distributed end users with a very consistent performance."

Akamai’s new targeted service for optimizing virtual applications and desktops is available today. It’s aimed at enterprises as well as cloud computing providers offering hosted desktops as a service. Pricing scales based on the number of concurrent users.

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