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Move over, Minitel; here come virtual desktops

Le minitel, VDI's precursor

I was just a teenager visiting family in France when I saw my first Minitel, France Telecom’s widely distributed teletext terminal for looking up phone numbers, viewing train schedules, and perusing naughty (!) message boards. While it looks hopelessly archaic now, in those pre-Web days, it was très cool.

Now I hear France Telecom is at it again through its subsidiary Orange Business Services. But this time, instead of targeting every French man and woman, it’s targeting small and medium-sized business (SMB) users with hosted IT services based on virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and low-cost access terminals (i.e., thin clients).

Judging from its website, the OBS Forfait Informatique seems to be based on Citrix XenDesktop, and starts at 99€ (about $125) per user, per month for a basic Microsoft Office pack. Virtual desktops can be accessed from existing desktops, or if you’d rather, OBS will subsidize a thin client from Wyse Technology, much in the same way cell phone carriers will give you a phone when you enter in to a long-term contract. Tarken Maner, Wyse CEO, tells me that Australian carrier Telstra is engaged in a similar project with Google to offer IT services to SMBs.

The idea that cable, telephone etc. providers might someday start offering hosted desktop services isn’t exactly novel — it’s certainly a logical progression — but is nevertheless an interesting development. How long can it be before the France Telecoms, Verizons and Comcasts of the world set their sights back on regular consumers, and offer virtual desktops as a monthly subscription, along with phone, cable and internet? Now that would be très très cool.

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When did thin clients become low cost? By the time you are actual able to roll out an implementation of thin clients, you've burned through any savings you might have expected. Then you're stuck with an expensive, proprietary solution that the vendor is happy to continue to charge you for until your CFO catches on to the game.....
Basilm, It sounds like you have never been through an installation, or you have never seen the bottom line from a CFO's perspective. Having been through several, I can tell you that you need to understand there is more than just the cost of the physical equipment. I'll give you an example I've one I am doing right now, very small, 250 users. Rather than buy 250 $800 workstations, I am buying 250 $150 think clients. Now, I am offsetting that with buying 5 servers to handle the virtualized workstations. Cost: 250 workstations @ $800 each is $200,000 250 thin clients @ $150 each is $37,500 5 servers handling workstations is $50,000 Savings so far: $112,500! Now, we still need the VDI software, in this case VMWare and VDI Cost is : $25,000 for 200VDI licenses and full VMware enterprise. Savings still? Yes. $87,500. Cost of rollout is also less in money and time. Particularly time. Estimated time to roll out workstations is 30 minutes to 1 hour per machine. 250 workstations @ 30 minutes = 125 hours best estimate 250 thin clients @ 10 minutes = 42 hours worst estimate It's about 3 times faster. Finally, operational costs are where you really start seeing the difference. Power consumption on a thin client is 4-10 times less than a workstation. Repairing or rebuilding a physical workstation will take anywhere from 2 hours to all day. A virtual workstation takes about 5 minutes. Setting up a new workstation takes anywhere from 30 minutes to all day, it takes about 2 minutes for a thin client config. Migrating a workstation to a new workstation, as in an upgrade, is a nightmare and can take all day, it takes 5 minutes with virtual desktop. Flexibility to be anywhere, even remote, costs nothing extra with a virtualized setup and is inherent in the design. The larger the organization, the higher the savings. Having deployed both thousands of workstations physically and virtually, I can tell you that the virtual config savings are significant.
Jonathan: I'm curious, you are putting 50 clients per server, so: 1- What specs for the server? 2= What specs for the client? We've definitely not be anywhere close to that.