Frank Ohlhorst

Unified Communications Goes Virtual


Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) is all the rage, and IT professionals are scrambling to learn as much as possible about VDI as quickly as possible as vendors tout the potential cost savings and benefits about moving over to what amounts to a virtual PC.

Nevertheless, there have always been challenges around VDI – ranging from deployment costs to application. In some cases, VDI has choked on some of those capabilities, simply because of infrastructure issues such as network traffic, contention, latency and so forth. However, as technology advances many of those issues have been mitigated by advanced display protocols, WAN acceleration, faster storage system – at least to the point where an organization can expect to run a virtual PC remotely over the WAN, with enough performance to handle a normal suite of applications.

However, for many, that virtual PC needs to do more than just be able to crank away at Microsoft Office and other traditional line of business applications. Therein is one of the primary challenges with VDI. End users need the ability to communicate in real time (for VoIP, Video, Etc.) as well as have access to the corporate applications – and that has always been the stumbling block for remote VDI. The problem is that WAN latency and so forth wreaks havoc with duplex style communications – video drops frames, VoIP experiences jitter, presentations freeze, and so on.

While it might sound like that makes VDI combined with Unified Communications (UC) a stillborn idea – the truth of the matter is that vendors are taking those problems head-on. Cisco for example, is moving beyond VDI technologies to offer a Cisco Virtual Experience Infrastructure (VXI) – a new, end to end architecture that unifies virtual desktops with voice and video in a way that make the end user experience acceptable for remote users.

The benefits to this approach range from reduced overhead for operational costs to simplified management and easier deployment. Cisco pull that off by focusing more on creating "virtual workspace", a concept that divorces the hardware from the applications in a way that the end user doesn't have to worry about the nuts and bolts of applications, infrastructure or connectivity. Simply put Cisco does all of the heavy lifting, while simultaneously delivering an acceptable end user experience that is both efficient and affordable.