IBM Takes Dead Aim at Microsoft With Virtual Linux Desktop

IBM has teamed with Virtual Bridges and Canonical to offer a new Linux-based virtual desktop solution. The three companies announced the general availability of Virtual Linux Desktop (VLD) Thursday, calling it a cost-effective alternative to Microsoft’s desktop software.

VLD runs open standards-based e-mail, word processing, spreadsheets, unified communication, social networking and other software to any laptop, browser or mobile device from a virtual desktop login on a Linux-based server configuration.

“The solution is a virtual desktop that includes a collection of collaboration software from IBM’s Lotus organization. You get all the collaboration capability you would need for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and text; unified communications, things that allow you to connect voice, video and text oriented-collaboration; social networking things like blogs and wikis and, of course, tried and true things like e-mail, group calendaring and all that stuff,” Jeff Smith, vice president of open source and Linux middleware for IBM, told LinuxInisder.

The range of application available with VLD is a key element of the stack, he continued.

“If you look up the cost, if it comes with all that stuff, particularly if you get it from Microsoft, all of it together represents a big cost … for the licenses for the software; the hardware required to run it, as well as the support required to maintain it,” Smith said.

Virtually Everywhere

VLD is based in part on Virtual Bridges technology that allows users to take the desktop, client side portion of a software stack, substantiate it in a virtual machine on a server and then remote interface to any device on which a customer chooses to use it, according to Smith.

“It’s called virtual ‘VDI’ (virtual desktop infrastructure). There’s been a lot of interest in VDI lately. It’s not a new concept from an innovation perspective, but a lot of people are realizing now that the advances in network bandwidth and server capability and virtualization allow us to do that now in ways that removed a lot of inhibitors that existed in the past,” he explained.

Using VLD instead of Microsoft Office and its related products, businesses will save US$500 to $800 per user, IBM claims. It aslo claimed a $358 per user savings in terms of hardware because there is no longer a need to upgrade hardware to support Windows Vista and Office 2007.

Power consumption will also be reduced, according to the company, leading to a cost avoidance of $40 to $145 per user simply from the reduced power need to run the configuration and another $20 to $73 saving per user from reduced air conditioning requirements.

“One of the reasons people will take a look at this is because the potential to save money is quite substantial. If you don’t have applications and data resident on the client end, and whatever client device you’re using acts like an intelligent network terminal, then the need for deskside support falls dramatically. That’s one of the most expensive things to provide in today’s world, particularly given how dispersed everyone is,” Smith pointed out.

Typical pricing for a 1,000-user deployment is $49 per user, according to IBM. Using the Linux-based technology makes such low pricing possible, Smith added.

Uphill Battle

With its new Linux-based virtual desktop offering, IBM and its partners are headed into an area of the software market where Microsoft reigns supreme and has done so for at least a decade.

Even as companies attempt to deal with financial crises and scale back costs, the question is whether organizations that have run Microsoft operating systems and applications for years will be willing to make the jump and switch to an entirely new offering.

“Ultimately, I don’t think that a Linux solution will compete with Microsoft — Microsoft has the desktop market in the bag,” said Natalie Lambert, a Forrester Research analyst.

In addition, the solution does not mesh with the way most enterprises are currently using virtualization technology, according to Lambert.

“When it comes to desktop virtualization, many companies are looking to the technology to provide Windows environments to non-windows machines, not the other way around. I believe that enterprises have accepted the Microsoft cost. It’s in the budget sheet, and while folks may complain, they are not in a position to change out these applications,” she told LinuxInsider

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