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VMware VDI no panacea for hospitals' desktop challenge

VMware boasts three new examples of health-care customers using virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), but VDI deployments are still in the exploratory phases.

When it comes to the health-care industry, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) may hold a lot of promise as an alternative to traditional fat clients and Citrix Presentation Server, but it's not a one-size-fits-all solution, VDI players say.

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Indeed, VMware Inc. has announced three new health-care customers using its version of VDI – a combination of VMware Infrastructure 3 and the recently launched VMware Desktop Manager 2 connection broker. But even there, "Uptake on VDI has been more smoke than fire," said Mick Hollison, Citrix Systems Inc.'s vice president of the Delivery Systems division, which is slated to launch its Citrix XenDesktop solution in the second quarter.

Uptake on VDI has been more smoke than fire.
Mick Hollison,
VP, Delivery Systems divisionCitrix Systems Inc.

The three customers are Huntsville Hospital in Huntsville, Ala., Kindred Healthcare Inc., in Louisville, Ky., and Metropolitan Health Hosptial in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Thus far, Huntsville Hospital, has converted about 900 of 1,600 desktops to virtual machines running on IBM BladeCenter H servers and accessed using HP/Neoware thin-client devices. For the time being, the VDI desktops are offered only to clinical staff running a limited set of applications, and the hospital has not decided yet whether it extend VDI to its broader base of 5,400 employees, said Tony Wilburn, network specialist with the hospital.

Nor did the capital up-front costs of the VDI deployment present any immediate savings over a traditional fat-client deployment, he said, although it should cut costs substantially in terms of tech support, power, cooling and manageability.

An example of a smaller deployment is Redlands Community Hospital in Redlands, Calif., which has deployed an 80-terminal VMware VDI solution consisting of ClearCube Technology Inc.'s R2200 PC blades and iPort 8330 thin clients, plus the ClearCube Sentral 5.4 connection broker. The terminals are being used in Redland's new Surgery and Maternal Child Services building to run a hospital information system from Meditech but can't be used to run Obix, a perinatal data system used with electronic fetal monitoring systems. "[Processing] the fetal monitoring strips requires too many cycles on the [client device's] CPU," said Jeffrey Keith, senior network engineer with the hospital. "We're working with ClearCube to fix that down the road."

Indeed, a close examination of VDI in health care suggests that IT professionals there are just beginning to explore its possibilities. Take the VDI pilot program at Florida Hospital in Central Florida, which is exploring VDI as a means of giving a hospital-sanctioned desktop to a team of transcriptionists around the country, explained Steve Beaver, a systems engineer with the organization. On the server side, the hospital has used VMware virtualization since 2000, but when it comes to VDI, "we want to rein in remote workers and explore possibilities."


Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director.

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